Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire creates one of the most unusual antagonists in American drama. Stanley Kowalski has the perfect, happy life before his sister-in-law shows up to disturb his masculine, dominated world.
Audience members may well see Stanley as an attractive character at the play’s start. He is loyal to his friends and passionate to his wife. Stanley possesses an animalistic physical vigour that is evident in his love of work, of fighting, and of sex. His family is from Poland, and several times he expresses his outrage at being called “Polack” and other derogatory names. When Blanche calls him a “Polack,” he makes her look old-fashioned and ignorant by asserting that he was born in America, is an American, and can only be called “Polish.” Stanley represents the new, heterogeneous America to which Blanche doesn’t belong, because she is a relic from a defunct social hierarchy. He sees himself as a social leveler, as he tells Stella in Scene Eight.
Stanley’s intense hatred of Blanche is motivated in part by the aristocratic past Blanche represents. He also (rightly) sees her as untrustworthy and does not appreciate the way she attempts to fool him and his friends into thinking she is better than they are. Stanley’s animosity toward Blanche manifests itself in all of his actions toward her—his investigations of her past, his birthday gift to her, his sabotage of her relationship with Mitch.
In the end, however, Stanley’s down-to-earth character proves harmfully crude and brutish. His chief amusements are gambling, bowling, sex, and drinking, and he lacks ideals and imagination. Stanley is aggressive, dominant, and sexual. He likes his life structured and simple. To Stanley, as the man of the house, he brings home the money, and Stella, his wife, shows him respect because of it. He believes in the gender roles of the home. His plan is that he does what he wants, and Stella waits on him to come home to her. His time with his male friends is important to him. Most important is his sexual relationship with Stella. Life is good until Blanche Dubois destroys his perfect world.
Even the symbols connected with Stanley support his brutal, animal-like approach to life. In the first scene, he is seen bringing home the raw meat. His clothes are loud and gaudy. His language is rough and crude. His outside pleasures are bowling and poker. When he is losing at poker, he is unpleasant and demanding. When he is winning, he is happy as a little boy.
He is, then, "the gaudy seed-bearer," who takes pleasure in his masculinity. "Animal joy in his being is implicit," and he enjoys mainly those things that are his — his wife, his apartment, his liquor, "his car, his radio, everything that is his, that bears his emblem of the gaudy seed-bearer."
With the appearance of Blanche, Stanley feels an uncomfortable threat to those things that are his. Blanche becomes a threat to his way of life; she is a foreign element, a hostile force, a superior being whom he can't understand. She is a challenge and a threat. He feels most strongly that she is a threat to his marriage. Thus when the basic man, such as Stanley, feels threatened, he must strike back. It is a survival of the fittest.
When Stanley hears some gossip about Blanche, he delights in telling his wife and his friend who really likes Blanche. It ruins Blanche’s chances of finding happiness again. The final straw that sends Stanley over the edge into monster category is his rape of Blanche while Stella is giving birth in the hospital. He violates and destroys Blanche, who was already near a break down. His actions send Blanche to the insane asylum. Stanley’s reaction is one of self-righteousness and happiness to have his house back the way it belongs (with Stanley in charge).
His disturbing, degenerate nature, first hinted at when he beats his wife, is fully evident after he rapes his sister-in-law. Stanley shows no remorse for his brutal actions. The play ends with an image of Stanley as the ideal family man, comforting his wife as she holds their newborn child. The wrongfulness of this representation, given what we have learned about him in the play, ironically calls into question society’s decision to ostracize Blanche.