"A Streetcar Named Desire": The history of its scholarship and the rhetoric of its genre




Flowers, Theresa Jane

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A difficult task in modern literature is the art of genre classification, especially in regard to modern drama. A play that continues to be difficult to classify is Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. A close scrutiny of the scholarship of the play clearly shows that over the years critics have encountered difficulties in attempting to place the play into the correct genre. A popular categorization of the play by some critics is the genre of tragedy. Other critics, looking mistakenly at the aspects of humor in the play rather than the genre characteristics of New Comedy, think that the play should not be placed in the genre of tragedy. Commentators at times are ambivalent in their categorization, often stating what Streetcar is not but failing to say exactly what it is. Critics generally fail to take into consideration the rules set forth for generic placement established by such authorities as Aristotle and Northrop Frye.

According to the concept of the intruder-plot play of Emile Augier described by Girdler B. Fitch and genre studies made by Frye, Sonja Foss, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Karylyn Kohrs Campbell, and others, A Streetcar Name Desire can be classified correctly as belonging to the genre of New Comedy.

To support the designation of the play as generic New Comedy this dissertation analyzes such rhetorical elements of the play as plot, character, symbolism, and dialogue. The results of this study include acknowledgment of Stella as an important character in her own right inasmuch as her status and action importantly communicate the comic philosophy; of Stanley in the upgraded role of eiron in which he defeats the alazon, Blanche; and a shift of focus from Blanche as a tragic figure to the emerging family at the end of the play.



Communication and the arts, Language, literature, and linguistics, Genre, Rhetoric, Scholarship, Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams