The Beauty of Tragedy in A Streetcar Named Desire

'A Streetcar Named Desire' And The Beauty of Tragedy

'A Streetcar Named Desire' is a horrifying story. Previn's opera version makes it abundantly clear that it is also an immensely beautiful one.

Zak Erickson

I read Tennessee Williams's classic 1947 play in my senior year of high school. I liked it and went on to watch the 1951 movie version. The play had already impacted me through its beautiful prose and dramatic story; the movie stuck with me because Vivien Leigh's portrayal therein of the protagonist's descent in insanity is disturbing, unforgettable, and a great work of art.

The thing about "A Streetcar Named Desire", a great American play if there ever was one, is that it is a great piece of dramatic tragedy. In a nutshell, it's about a highly flawed person (Blanche DuBois) who still displays a great capacity for seeing life itself as poetry. This is why the play is heartbreaking. Blanche might annoy us at first, but if we do not (internally or externally) weep for her at the end, we have no heart.

Tragedy and life are inseverable. I think that I'm not being too pessimistic if I say that, if we look at the word in the sense of great theatre (think of Sophocles and Shakespeare), we can say that that statement encapsulates the most redeeming part of our existence on this earth: our sorrows (potentially) have the contours of a great work of art. There's a bit (or a lot) of Blanche in all of us, regardless of the specific circumstances of our lives, and while, God willing, you and I will not end up like her, it is a great thing to take note of her endless capacity for receiving beauty in the world around her. Towards the end of the play, Blanche, now definitely insane, has a beautiful line about hoping to die on the sea. The movie omits this. Perhaps Vivien Leigh's portrayal went so far in the direction of portraying Blanche's mental collapse (for a good sample, watch this video from 2:14-2:48) that including it would have seemed anticlimactic. The opera, on the other hand, includes the line and converts it into this beautiful aria.

I walked into the theatre on that Friday perfectly conscious of the horror of Blanche's story. I walked out still fully conscious of that, but with the added full consciousness of the beauty of her story. I suppose that opera does that, blending the epitome of human vocal art with stories of terrible things happening.

I'd never been to an opera before I went to the performance of "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. It's great, as a college student in NYC, to be able to say when I go back in the fall that my first time at an opera was in Argentina. (I certainly hope to go to an opera at the Metropolitan Opera before graduating.) I do not consider it insignificant, what with the need for brotherhood among the countries of this hemisphere and the world, that I went to see a quintessentially American work of art, in an adaptation by a composer born in Germany, in South America, with a leading lady and director from Ireland.

Blanche is a woman bred on the last lingering aristocratic ideals of the antebellum South, traumatized by a sense of guilt in the suicide of her homosexual husband, haunted by the promiscuity she uses as a way to grasp at emotional solace and by the deaths of multiple relatives, and raped by her brother-in-law. I do not presume to comment on life experiences I do not have personal familiarity with, nor do I wish to make generalizations about mental conditions based on their dramatization. I do think, however, that Blanche, in a sense, speaks for all of us, when she goes on with the arduous task of living, and, amidst the horrors she experiences, refuses to let go of a desire to see life as beautiful.

The opera's libretto is very faithful to the play's text, but at one point it includes a very interesting interpolation. A Mexican woman is selling "flowers for the dead" (that much is in the play); in the opera, the woman adds an extended comment about there being flowers in hell. This is, like Blanche's speech about dying on the sea, pretty much an encapsulation of the whole play: Death, omnipresent, becomes something itself very lovely.

When the evils of life confront us and overwhelm, may we be moved by such a terrible and wonderful sentiment.

Related Articles Around the Web
Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

My favorite Editor was feeling under the weather yesterday. All I wanted was to make her a vegan iced matcha latte. With distance forbidding it, I instead decided to write up this quick, easy recipe. I made it to be vegan and organic for optimal health benefits.

Matcha green tea is made from grounded green tea leaf and it comes with the most antioxidant boost ever.

Keep Reading... Show less

This coffee brand is USDA organic. Newman's Own Keurig coffee flavors are all organic. They have French Roast, Decaf, and a Special Blend. I'm in a committed relationship with the French Roast flavor. The smell alone from dispensing 1 cup of coffee sets a whole cafe jazz vibe.

I'm already relaxed when I smell the coffee all ready for dressing. The way I make my coffee is simple and sweet, literally. I add a spoon of organic brown sugar and a splash of organic almond vanilla milk. This cup of coffee has changed my life forever. I have never been so productive in my life and I truly believe it's because the coffee is organic.

Keep Reading... Show less

These organic, cruelty-free skincare products are great for hot, sweaty summers. I use them every day, so you will find my honest opinion about them all. I highly recommend using organic products because they are least likely to be harmful to your body.

This may seem like an extra step when it comes to your beauty routine, but it's really easy. These 5 products could be the start of your next beauty venture.

Keep Reading... Show less

These 5 Black Handbag Designers Should Be On Every Accessory Lover's Radar

With the push to support more Black-owned businesses, we've put together a list of Black owned handbag designers.

Ever since the current upheaval of societal silence happening in the country caused by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, there has been a bigger push for people to support Black-owned businesses.

Granted, there are a lot fo Black-owned businesses to support, it just takes time to find them. With that being said, fashion is a sector, just like any sector really, in a culture that still has people of color calling out for more diversity.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

Feel A Lil' Better: Because Therapy Dogs Aren't Just Cute, They're Working

Your weekly wellness boost from Odyssey.

No matter how good (or bad) you'd describe your health, one thing is for sure: a little boost is ALWAYS a good idea. Whether that's reading a new, motivating book, or listening to a song that speaks to your soul, there are plenty of resources to help your health thrive on any given day.

There are many different ways people overcome obstacles in their lives. Thankfully, the stigma surrounding therapy is slowly (but surely) slipping away and we're opening up about our problems and needs. For some, a good workout is just as relaxing. Others are learning how meditation can be a helpful tool in their mental health journey.

Keep Reading... Show less

Naya Rivera Is Missing, And She Deserves SO Much More Than Being Labeled 'Big Sean's' Ex'

We are all sending prayers to Naya Rivera hoping she finds them so we can find her.

I woke up this morning looking to find Naya Rivera's name trending No. 1 on Twitter. I was reading all of everyone's prayers wishing to find her so she can be reunited with her baby boy who is only 4 years old.

Naya's son's name is Lord and the entire collective is hoping the Lord is with him right now. I'm a firm believer in the Fear of God, I hope all of Naya's love is protecting Lord right now.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments