An Analytical Look at David Ives' "Sure Thing" and Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire"
An essay written two years ago
As prize-fighting boxing champion Muhammed Ali once said, “My toughest fight was with my first wife.” Fighting with the opposite sex can prove to be an arduous task. The act of boxing, however, presents an intriguing metaphor for the so-called “battle of the sexes.” In the realm of dating, there are certain “punches” and “low blows” that are thrown between a couple. It can be a below-the-belt blow to one's favorite music or a sudden “left hook” made by an unsuspecting girl who states she cannot stand Italian food. Regardless, dating, like boxing, can become a mental game of who can outlast whom. Similar to a boxing match, two people on a date consistently bounce around calculated prose between each other, trying to figure out the opponent's “weaknesses.” This notion manifests itself in literature in such works as David Ives' play Sure Thing, a piece employing rapid-fire lines between a guy and a girl getting to know each other. However, this theme is not always prevalent in positive dialogue, as in Tennessee Williams' A Street Car Named Desire, Blanche and Stanley do not go on a date or enjoy any romantic dialogue, but fight each other for supremacy of the house and Stella's affection. Although a boxing rhythm is being imposed on Sure Thing, the persistent fighting between Stanley and Blanche in A Street Car Named Desire can be interpreted to have a similar rhythm. Although these two texts are seemingly opposite in mood and plot, the “ boxing rhythm” bridges this chasm through the rhythm of the dialogue between these characters.
In Ives’ Sure Thing, a guy, Bill, and a girl, Betty, “duke it out” in an attempt to get to know each other and, ultimately, fall for each other. In order to do this, they deliver quick one-liners between each other, similar to the spasmodic jabs of a boxing match. Of course, there is no observable or salient evidence of boxing within the text, but the rhythm of the dialogue can be inferred to mimic the motions of a boxing match. The dialogue is quick, decisive and succinct, similar to the jabs and steps a boxer uses in a fight. There are several questions repeated as well, as the guy or girl has, in effect, stopped the rhythm and said the wrong thing. For instance, in one vignette Betty asks Bill about his love life and the dialogue is punctuated by the sound of a “bell” which further reinforces the boxing theme:
Bill: That’s a very nice offer, but…
Betty: Uh-huh. Girlfriend?
Bill: Two, actually. One of them’s pregnant, and Stephanie-
Bill: No, I don’t have a girlfriend. Not if you mean the castrating bitch I dumped last
(Bell). (Ives 13)
In this excerpt, the dialogue is quick and succinct, like the punches thrown in a boxing match. This couple takes “jabs” at each other through discourse instead of physical punching. Every time a round is over, the bell rings, illustrating a dead-end for the dialogue between the Bill and Betty. Theses “rounds” are prevalent in A Street Car Named Desire between Stanley and Blanche, despite not being a couple or mutually interested in each other.
With the apartment serving as the backdrop for this “fight”, Stanley and Blanche box it out while the rest of the characters are sometimes relegated to spectators throughout the story. Similar to Sure Thing, there is no tangible “boxing ring” or anything having to do with boxing. Instead, Williams injects this rhythm within the dialogue between these characters, creating a stylistic counterpoint of aggression, violence and adultery. In fact, Stanley and Blanche drive the Streetcar Named Desire through the play, dishing out vitriol, lust and suspicion at each other. Blanche is a glamorized though disillusioned woman. She creates fabrications and chimeras of a grandiose life around her to supplant her actual circumstances. Stanley is the epitome of machismo, interested in only the basic pleasures, which are parallel to what a simple animal enjoys. Stella, Stanley’s wife, is the mediator between Blanche and Stanley, though she ultimately fails in preventing these two from verbal or, later, physical violence. Essentially, Blanche instigates the “fight” by entering the apartment and trying to usurp Stanley’s reign, which is partly comprised of Stella’s love and attention. Without even seeing Stanley, Stella immediately sizes him up and subscribes to the idea that the Polish are“ not so-high-brow” (23). There is a dialogue between Stanley and Stella about Stanley, stating:
Stella: Stanley is Polish, you know.
Blanche: Oh, yes. They’re something like Irish, aren’t they?…Only not
so-highbrow?…Is he so-different?
Stella: Yes. A different species…He’s on the road a good deal.
Blanche: Oh. Travels?
Blanche: Good. I mean-isn’t it? (Williams 23-25)
Blanche already throws a “low punch” at Stanley’s credibility without him even knowing. She is even more motivated by the fact that he travels sometimes, which could give her many opportunities to sulk to Stella about her problems and slowly disintegrate Stanley’s control of the apartment. Throughout the play, she continues to harp on Stanley's qualities, for instance, pointing out that she has not “noticed the stamp of genius even on Stanley's forehead” (Williams 50). However, Blanche has suffered a loss of wealth and of dignity, all the more reason why she would look for comfort in her “precious little sister”, who is given the task of maintaining peace between the two.
Before Stanley is due to meet Blanche, Stella becomes a “referee”, asking her husband to “Try to understand her and be nice to her…and admire her dress and tell her she’s looking wonderful. That’s important to Blanche, it's her little weakness” (Williams 33). Like any good referee in a boxing match, Stella can anticipate harmful friction between Stanley and Blanche, so she has prepared several “rules” for Stanley to follow. She has already told Blanche to view Stanley as he is and to not contrast him to other men. Since the rules have been told to each fighter, what remains to be seen in the play are the actual punches thrown between these two passionate characters.
In the first match between these two, Stanley confronts Blanche about the documents of her lost estate, Belle Reve. However, Stanley starts by noticing the expensive furs that are in Blanche’s suitcase:
Stanley: It looks like you raided some stylish shops in Paris…What does it cost for a string of fur-pieces like that?
Blanche: Why, those were a tribute from an admirer of mine!…Oh, in my youth I excited some admiration. But look at me now!..I was fishing for a compliment Stanley.
Stanley: I don’t go for that stuff…Some men are took in by this Hollywood glamour stuff and some men are not.
Blanche: You’re simple, straightforward and honest, a little bit on the primitive side I should think. (Williams 38-40)
Stanley begins to interrogate Blanche about her assets but Blanche counters with shifting the focus onto his primitive side. She delves into his personal life, scrutinizing every piece for something to hold against him. Blanche wins this round because she avoids talking about Belle Reve, circumventing the issue by changing the focus several times from Stanley to her lost love. In focusing through the imposed “boxing” lens used in Sure Thing, an innovative perspective can be formed. The boxing rhythm is evident through the dialogue, as Blanche and Stanley swing one-liners back and forth at each other, which are tantamount to the small jabs thrown at the start of a fight. In this case, the “bell” that breaks up the fight is a combination of the sultry blues piano outside and Stanley leaking out the news that Stella is having a baby.
The second round, though brief, illustrates who dominates the apartment and Stella's love. While Stanley is playing cards with his friends, Blanche decides to turn on a radio. Stanley angrily turns it off, but Blanche has the audacity to turn it back on. Similar to an boxing match already a few rounds in, both fighters go back and forth at each other until one of them is able to break the repetitive chain of “punches” and take a different approach. Stanley chucks the radio out the window, and charges after Stella. Blanche is defenseless as she is shocked at this display of “lunacy”. Stanley defeats Blanche in this round because he dictates the rhythm of the house through controlling the radio. In the same instance, he takes control of the match between himself and Stella, reminding Blanche who rules the apartment. Any pleasure that Blanche could have enjoyed in the apartment is thrown out the window along with the “radio”, the only other piece of evidence of an outside world in the apartment. Blanche has a penchant for music, so when Stanley discards the radio and slightly damages it, he is also inadvertently “knocking out” Blanche's hope for an invigorating, or at the very least peaceful, stay at the apartment. Blanche bemoans her sister's submissiveness to Stanley and tries to entice her sister to leave Stanley, stating:
Blanche: We've got to get hold of some money, that's the way out.
Blanche: Stella, I can't live with him! You can, he's your husband. But how could I stay here with him, after last night, with just those curtains between us?
Stella: Blanche, you saw him at his worst last night.
Blanche: On the contrary, I saw him at his best! What such a man has to offer is animal force and he gave a wonderful exhibition of that! But the only way to live with such a man is to- go to bed with him! And that's your job-- not mine!...I have to plan for us both, to get us both--out!
Stella: You take it for granted that I am in something that I want to get out of. (Williams 68-69)
Blanche assumes that how she feels about Stanley is tantamount to how Stella feels. Although Blanche's arguably has good intentions since she loves her sister Stella, Blanche has only lived in the apartment for a day and does not take into consideration that Stella enjoys her life with Stanley. Blanche cannot believe that the “referee” is allowing this display to go on, of which Blanche did not expect to encounter when she entered “the ring”. As a boxer, Blanche feels that she is “against the ropes” in the boxing ring, which is Stanley's apartment. She has nowhere to run and is trapped within the confines of an apartment, which entertains drunken rages and violent fighting, all of which are orchestrated by Stanley.
The final round between these two passionate “boxers” comes when Stanley and Blanche are left alone in the apartment, as the opportunity to privately “duke it out” rises when Stella is about to have the baby. Since these “boxers” are beginning to understand what instigates the other, Stanley goes right for Blanche's weakness, which are the web of lies and illusion she spins around herself and the apartment:
Stanley: As a matter of fact there wasn't no wire at all!
Blanche: Oh, oh!
Stanley: There isn't no millionaire! And Mitch didn't come back with roses 'cause I know where he is-
Stanley: There isn't a goddamn thing but imagination!
Stanley: And lies and conceit and tricks! (Williams 127)
Stanley gives blow after blow to Blanche, while her only defense is an “oh”. Stanley has reached up and dragged Blanche down from the skies of disillusionment and shaken her back down on the very grounds of reality from which she recoils. As illustrated, Blanche consistently dreams out alternative lives she feels she could have had or may still have the potential to live out. This emotion is similar to the rapid-fire dialogue in Sure Thing, which Williams employs to hasten the emotions between the two principal “boxers”. The blue piano sneaks into the dialogue to provide an ironic romantic quality to this dispute, as throughout the play it romanticizes certain scenes but arguably serves as a device for escalating passion. With the “blue piano” playing softly in the background, Stanley decides that Blanche would not “be bad to--interfere with...” (Williams 129) and Stella is raped by reality, as Stanley takes control of her and the illusions in the house, dispelling the lies through this vulgar act. Blanche's dreams and faculties are “knocked out” by Stanley's animalistic desires and fervor for reality.
Between these two texts, a “boxing rhythm” can be construed and used as a lens to dissect the two principle relationships from each piece. In Sure Thing, this rhythm is tossed with finesse between two people who ultimately go on a date. However, in A Street Car Named Desire, diametrically opposed events occur, as Stanley and Blanche’s rhythm escalates the aggression between the two of them. The jabs become more calculated and result in a rape, which leaves Stanley seemingly the winner of the match. Nonetheless, while Blanche does go away to a mental institution, Stanley is left with a beleaguered wife, suspicious neighbors, poor living conditions, a baby, and no one to come and save him.