aspects of tension in steetcar named desire

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Carmella Hollett

English AS Level

What aspect of tension do you find in A Streetcar named desire Scene One?

In the first scene of a Streetcar named Desire, the audience learns about the three main characters through stage directions and their interactions with other characters. Williams also gives his audience an insights into the three main themes: death and madness, desire and fate, which later dominates the play: The motif of light during scene one reinforces and develops the themes with the main character: Blanche.

A Streetcar Named Desire opens into a friendly and relaxed scene as people of different ethnicity are mingling with each other. New Orleans differed from other states in Southern cities as it disregarded social distinctions and the state was originally a Catholic state whereas, most southern states were Protestant. At the end of the Second World War, America was changing and many people were coming to America in order to provide themselves and their family with a better way of life. Stanley - a young Polish man - symbolises the changing face of America throughout the play. Suddenly, the audience is thrust into a brutal, vicious set as Stanley heaves a package of meat at his wife, Stella. This depicts a some-what sexually -fuelled alliance within Blanche and Stanley’s relationship.

Through Stella and Stanley’s short, snappy conversation the audience can learn that this couple are clearly different. Stella a young, rich, American aristocrat and Stanley a young, working class Polish hardly communicate or embrace each other but strong sexual reference is drawn to both of them following Stanley’s thrusting of the meat.

The New Orleans culturally mixed society followed by the sexually brutal set Stanley creates contrasts with the arrival of Blanche - Stella’s older sister. Williams gives much description to Blanche via stage directions. Primarily, tension builds as Blanche’s “appearance is incongruous to this setting”. The audience and characters will automatically question what is Blanche doing in a neighbourhood like Elysian Fields. Blanche is dressed in white which is symbolic as the colour white represents purity and innocence. As the drama progresses, the audience will learn that this is ironic as Blanche proves to be the very opposite of this. Blanche wearing white could also be considered a motif within the drama as she constantly tries to hide and shield her past and herself by not appearing in direct light. Her adversity to light develops throughout the course of the play and signifies her severe rejection of reality and her desire to live in a dim-lighted, unclear, disillusioned world. Williams reference to Blanche as “a moth” is by no means a mistake. The earlier version of A Streetcar named desire was entitled “The Moth” and reference to Blanche as a “moth” hints at her fragility, helplessness and mentally short-lived life.

On arrival, Blanche heightens the tension between herself and Stella’s neighbours by  saying very little to both Eunice and the Negro woman and by haughtily accepting their acts of kindness. However, Blanche’s opening speech is very important as it symbolically foretell  the audience of Blanche’s fate.

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“They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields!”

Notice, Blanche was given these directions by “they”. This symbolises that she doesn’t want to accept responsibility for her own actions and steadily listens to others for directions or advice on how to live her life. A streetcar is similar to a tram as it runs in one direction only stopping to allow passengers to board. Unlike a car or a bus, it has a set destination and can not divert. ...

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