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Streetcar named Desire: dramatic tension

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Introduction

How does Tennessee Williams build dramatic tension in scenes 3 and 4 of A Streetcar Named Desire? A Streetcar Named Desire is the story of Blanche Dubois, a fragile, neurotic woman, in desperate search for a place where she can belong. Circumstances lead to her arriving at her sister Stella's home in New Orleans. Unfortunately Blanche does not get on at all well with Stella's husband, Stanley, and the difference between them provides a lot of the dramatic tension overall in the play. Whilst Blanche and Stanley are the two major opposing sides, Stella is stuck in the middle. The story is about which person will win; who is the stronger element, Blanche or Stanley? The winner gets Stella, but whoever loses will have to leave. The play covers many themes, including love, violence, death, vanity, mental instability, sense of social status, racism, sexism and snobbery. There is also the topic of illusion versus reality, which is widely covered throughout the play. The main culprit of this is Blanche, who is unsuccessfully trying to build a new life, but ends up building herself a shield of fantasy so strongly that even she begins to believe it. She lies about her age, the reason she had to leave her job and move, and gives a general air of superiority that is out of place, given her own situation in life: Blanche: "..... Where I'm not wanted and where I'm ashamed to be...." Stella: "Then don't you think your superior attitude is a bit out of place?" - scene 4 However, I think that Stella also builds up an illusion, persuading herself that living with Stanley is what she wants, although really it is her only option: Blanche: "But you've given in. And that isn't right, you're not old! You can get out." Stella: (slowly and emphatically) "I'm not in anything I want to get out of." ...read more.

Middle

He describes the men seated round the poker table as "At the peak of their physical manhood, as course and direct and powerful as the primary colours." Williams is adamant that there are no wishy washy colours in the room, this sets a suitable scene for the sense of tension building. The strong colours represent the strong characters, and with strong characters in such close proximity, surrounded by bold colour someone is bound to explode. In the scene before, set earlier that day, Stanley has an argument with Blanche, so it is predictable that when she and Stella arrive home he is not overly pleased to see them, and their coming back before he expected aggravates him. He even suggests that they go upstairs with Eunice, in attempt to get rid of them. Perhaps he knows that if they stay it is only going to build up tension within him, because as Mitch later says: "Poker shouldn't be played in a house with women." And of course, dramatic tension does build up, and concludes with Stanley hitting Stella. In scene 3 Blanche meets Mitch, a poker-playing friend of Stanley's: Blanche (about Mitch): "That one seems - superior to the others. Stella: "Yes, he is." Blanche: "I though he had a sort of sensitive look." - scene 3 Blanche feels connected to Mitch because he tells her that his girlfriend died, and Blanche's husband died, so it gives them something in common. Blanche does not get on with Stanley, or any of his other friends particularly because they have such different backgrounds. Blanche sees Mitch as superior because he looks sensitive, and this is because his mother is sick. Mitch is the only man of his crowd that is not married, so he feels loneliness in the same way Blanche does. His sensitivity also probably makes him stick out slightly in his crowd of "coarse" men, he doesn't belong in the way that the others do, and this gives him another thing in common with Blanche. ...read more.

Conclusion

In a way, by telling Stella this Blanche is getting her to choose between her sister and her husband, she is also displaying weakness and vulnerability that Stanley was oblivious to. Now Stanley knows about Blanche's vulnerability he is able to use it against her, as a form of power. He knows that Blanche doesn't like him, but he doesn't care, because that is to his advantage, it makes her easier to hurt. I think that the reason Stanley doesn't say anything about the conversation he overheard is that this knowledge gives him a lead on Blanche. Also, he knows he has won, because when he does come in Stella goes up to him and hugs him: Stage direction: "Stella has embraced him with both arms, fiercely, and full in the view of Blanche." - scene 4 By doing this Stella is telling Blanche that she has picked Stanley over her, but she doesn't know that she is also telling Stanley that he has beaten Blanche, or she probably wouldn't have done it, because from this point the power has shifted to Stanley's advantage. Stage direction: "He laughs and clasps her head to him. Over her head he grins through the curtains at Blanche." - scene 4 This action alone is a symbol of Stanley's victory, he wouldn't grin in such a way if he wasn't sure he had beaten Blanche. From this point Blanche has no chance of living in harmony with Stella, let alone Stan, partly because she has forced Stella to pick, and she chose Stan, her husband, but partly because Stanley knows that he is beginning to drive her out, and all he needs to do is continue to act as she described him: Blanche (to Stella): "He acts like an animal, has an animal's habits! Eats like on, moves like one, talks like one! There's even something sub-human - something not quite to the stage of humanity yet! Yes, something - ape-like about him," - scene 4 And it is only a matter of time before she is driven out. ...read more.

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