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AS and A Level: A Street Car Named Desire

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Staging and symbolism

  1. 1 The stage set for the play tends towards the expressionistic. Boundaries can dissolve and reform, lighting and darkness all serve to accentuate characters’ states.
  2. 2 Some critics suggest that the boundary between home and street is deliberately made uncertain by Williams. Stanley and Stella’s residence is encroached on by the urban life/street community unlike Belle Reve which is isolated and protected in the deep south.
  3. 3 Sound is used to represent symbolically the inner state of Blanche Dubois and align the audience with her experience, demonstrating her growing madness.
  4. 4 This type of staging has been used or referred to by many 20th century American playwrights. Arthur Miller originally wanted to depict the events of Death of a Salesman inside a large head onstage; Albee originally intended the realistic living room (box set) for the characters of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to resemble a womb or cave.
  5. 5 Consider the symbolism of light and the ways in which the play aligns it with ‘truth’ or ‘reality’. Blanche shuns the light not only to preserve her lost youth but also to avoid confronting the reality of her situation.

Adherence to The American Dream and Madness

  1. 1 Like many other 20th century American playwrights (notable Miller and later, Albee) Williams uses the play in order to consider the confrontation between two worlds: the fading relic of the Old South and the rising urban working class.
  2. 2 Other 20th century tragedies, such as Death of a Salesman and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? have also aligned the clinging onto the past as well as the mythologising of it with madness and death.
  3. 3 Blanche’s ‘dream’ is a self-delusion, which ultimately leads to madness. Can this be applied symbolically to the corruption of the pastoral American Dream by the new 20th century dream of industrialism and capitalism?
  4. 4 Madness is presented as both escape and refuge, hinted at by Blanche’s dependence on and dishonesty about her alcoholism.
  5. 5 Some critics believe that Blanche was based on Williams’ sister, Rose, who was lobotomised due to her mental instability. [She has also been referenced, perhaps more autobiographically in The Glass Menagerie]. Williams is reputed to have claimed, controversially, that he based Blanche on himself.

Adherence to Modern Domestic Tragedy

  1. 1 The dysfunctional family – Consider the ways in which Williams undermines Stanley/Stella/Baby ideal; also the dissipation of Blanche and Stella’s family.
  2. 2 The dominance of the past – This progressively encroaches on the present: Blanche’s past, Belle Reve, etc.
  3. 3 The growing importance of female protagonists – How far does Williams portray the fates of both sisters being in the hands of men? How does the play address this? Do our sympathies lie with the female or male characters?

  • Marked by Teachers essays 13
  • Peer Reviewed essays 6
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  1. Marked by a teacher

    Tennessee Williams wrote in a letter that It (Streetcar) is a tragedy with the classic aim of producing a catharsis of pity and terror and in order to do that, Blanche must finally have the understanding and compass

    5 star(s)

    However, it is clear that Blanche cannot cope with the stark contrast in backgrounds, aggressively teasing Stanley and calling him a 'dirty Polack' describing something 'ape-like about him'. Williams has Blanche use animalistic imagery on stage to enhance the audience's negative perception of her use of derogative terms as her weapon against Stanley. The audience can thus sympathise for Stanley, who has not done anything to offend Blanche as he attempts to build a rapport saying 'Well, take it easy' after her travels to New Orleans; Williams does this to allow the audience to question Blanche's misjudgement of 'deliberate cruelty' towards him.

    • Word count: 1760
  2. Marked by a teacher

    To what extent can Blanche Dubois be considered a tragic hero?

    5 star(s)

    The outcome of the tragedy might yield an increase in self-awareness or discovery and even a reversal of fortune so although the ending is not a happy one, there is a degree of closure - not only is the experience cathartic for the tragic hero but also for the audience. So how far does Tennessee Williams' character Blanche DuBois meet Aristotle's criteria? In Williams' essay 'On a Streetcar Named Success' in The New York Times on the 30th November 1947, he comments "You cannot arbitrarily say to yourself, I will now continue my life as it was before this thing."

    • Word count: 1887
  3. Marked by a teacher


    5 star(s)

    However, in 'Streetcar', there is large uncertainty as to who this tragic protagonist actually is. This equivocacy may be observed in the difference in artistic opinion between the play's original director, Elia Kazan, and the play's second director, Harold Clurman. Elia Kazan was a close friend of Tennessee Williams, who told him to ensure that "Blanche (had) the understanding and compassion of the audience... without creating a black-dyed villain in Stanley"5. Indeed, from his director's private notebook, published in 1976, it is clear that Kazan's sympathies lie with Stanley, who he sees as defending his household against the corrupting influence of Blanche: for instance, Stanley's seemingly crude violation of Blanche's belongings in an attempt to

    • Word count: 2052
  4. Marked by a teacher

    How does Williams use dramatic devices in A Streetcar Named Desire to heighten the tragic aspects of the play?

    4 star(s)

    This sense of foreshadowing intensifies the tragedy from the very beginning, suggesting no matter what Blanche does, or how hopeful things are the outcome will not be pleasant. Blanches journey on the streetcar is an important metaphor. ?They told me to take a street- car named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at ? Elysian Fields? This journey represents her life, used therefore is a type of foreshadowing, highlighting the inevitability of her descent into madness.

    • Word count: 1780
  5. Marked by a teacher

    To what extent do you think William wants his Audience to perceive Blanche as a victim ?

    4 star(s)

    Because of William's use of foreshadowing events throughout the play we are able to understand that Blanche is deceptive, egotistical and seductive. Blanche gives further weight to the idea because she deceives and tricks people. She lies consistently and pretends to be a very 'classy' and cultured when in reality she is neither. Williams tries to present her true character at the beginning of the play when she states, "I can't stand a naked light bulb". This statement is seen as Blanche hiding her true looks so that she can get away with the deception of being an 'young southern belle'.

    • Word count: 1216
  6. Marked by a teacher

    Compare and contrast Williams treatment of the concept of mental instability in A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie in light of the opinion that Williams presents more hope in his presentation of Laura Wingfield than Blanche Dubois.

    4 star(s)

    Conversely, the character Laura's means of escape is through an altogether more innocent medium in Glass Menagerie. She withdraws from reality and obsesses over her glass figurines, a representation of her own 'exquisitely fragile' identity. Williams' decision to present Laura as more childlike in her form of escape than Blanche encourages the audience to feel more sympathy towards Laura as she appears more vulnerable and innocent. Her escapism stands in stark contrast to the socially scorned drinking problem Blanche displays.

    • Word count: 1717
  7. Marked by a teacher

    A Modern Domestic Tragedy Is Tragic Because The Protagonist Is Working Against A Tide Of Unstoppable Changes Discuss This In Relation To A Streetcar Named Desire

    4 star(s)

    However this as a sole interpretation fails to understand the meaning of this 'merciless glare' she is witnessing. This merciless nature of the light seemingly represents the nature of this unstoppable change, overpowering and dominant, and in this sense the development as Blanche as the tragic victim of this erosion of the Old South starts to be become increasingly evident. What this inability to face light is to exploit one of her fatal flaws; her inability to face reality, and thus in this respect it shows that these changes are not an unstoppable external force, but something exacerbated by her own flaws.

    • Word count: 1486
  8. Marked by a teacher

    How does Williams present the character of Blanche in scenes 1-3 of A Streetcar Named Desire

    4 star(s)

    Her appearance 'suggests a moth' and this adumbrates her tragic fate in the play. Williams then exposes Blanche's high standards as a result of growing up in Belle Reve, a 'great big place with white columns'. He does this through her reaction to Stella's apartment: 'This-can this be-her home?' She cannot believe that the residence she has arrived at is where Stella is living, and this shows the audience that she is from a different class to the people of New Orleans, furthermore, the world that she has been forced to enter.

    • Word count: 1878
  9. Marked by a teacher

    Many definitions of tragedy claim that at the end of the play positives have emerged. Is it possible to see anything positive in the ending of A Streetcar Named Desire?

    3 star(s)

    Blanche disrupts the lives of the Kaplowski's by turning up to stay with them claiming she's been given leave from her teaching job in Laurel, where the sisters grew up. We later learn however this is not true, she has been fired from her job for s****l liaisons with a student and has been made a pariah in her home town for her promiscuity. Stanley finds out the truth about Stella and does his best to get rid of her and keep his friend Mitch, who Blanch set her sights on marrying, away from her.

    • Word count: 2148
  10. Marked by a teacher

    How much is Desire a force for destruction in the play 'A Streetcar Named Desire'?

    3 star(s)

    In this point of time, and primarily in this location (since one cannot definitively say this was the overall mood towards desire when one only reads about what is accepted in New Orleans), desire from men was widely accepted, but the same from women was scorned. However, in Londr�'s1 opinion, nowadays audiences would sympathise with Stanley in many cases, for being the protagonist. Common opinion would suggest that he would be the more loathed character now, unlike then when such behaviour, albeit acceptable, was not liked by women.

    • Word count: 1815
  11. Marked by a teacher

    Explore how Tennessee Williams uses symbols and expressionistic stage devices in the play.

    3 star(s)

    This reminds us of Blanche's past, and hints that the relationship with Mitch will not succeed in allowing her to escape it. It is from her past of desire & death that she come to Elysian Fields. The inhabitants of this place are described in Book six of the Aenied: "'They are the souls,' answered Anchises, 'Whose destiny it is a second time To live in the flesh and there by the waters of Lethe They drink the draught that sets them free from care And blots out their memory.'"

    • Word count: 1406
  12. Marked by a teacher

    In What ways is Sexuality portrayed as central to the conflicts of the individual-v-society in Ken Kesey's 'One flew over the cuckoo's nest' and Tennessee Williams 'A street car named desire'?

    3 star(s)

    The connotations that stem from the appearance of both characters reinforce their image, thus assigning them with the recognisable stereotype of a virile and rebellious male. Their appearances can consequently be said to be greatly symbolic of their role within the narrative. The use of colour is also symbolic of character sexuality "Red hots!!" or "face and neck the colour of oxblood leather", Red is symbolic of passion and is connected to McMurphy and Stanley, whereas the colours "ivory"5 and "pale blue"6 are used in describing the weaker characters that deny sexuality.

    • Word count: 2408
  13. Peer reviewed

    To what extent can Blanche Dubois be described as a tragic victim in A Streetcar named Desire

    4 star(s)

    However she only wears costume jewellery, showing the audience how cheap and fake she is. Blanche is likened to 'a moth', highlighting her delicate state. This is negative, because she is not a beautiful butterfly, but lives for the darkness instead. Even without this, the used speech by Blanche expresses how much of a victim she is. We learn early in the play that Blanche is a heavy drinker as 'she pours half a tumbler of whisky and tosses it down'. She drinks in order to forget about her guilt in contributing to her husband's suicide.

    • Word count: 1503
  14. Peer reviewed

    With close reference to the language and action of the following passage, discuss Williams presentation of Blanches first appearance in the play.

    3 star(s)

    Blanche's character may just be the most interesting character, and arguably the main character, as we see her character evolve from the start due to the ways she finds ways to cover her true self, like by her clothing; she dresses as a noblewoman to come across as a classy Victorian lady, but this facade deteriorates significantly. When she enters, it is fairly easy to see that Blanche is new to the neighborhood, through her action of looking at "a slip of paper", which was an address.

    • Word count: 743
  15. Peer reviewed

    How does Tennessee Williams suggest that Stanley is an animalistic character in the play A streetcar named desire ?

    3 star(s)

    Even though Stanley has never met Blanche before he doesn't care at all about taking his top off in front of her and making himself more comfortable. This could imply that Stanley is quite territorial and wants to show Blanche that it is his home and he can do whatever he likes and be dressed however he likes in his own home. Being territorial is a very animalistic trait. Furthermore sitting on top of the kitchen table and lighting up a cigarette rather than on a chair is the playwright portraying Stanley to have no manners or decency and tells

    • Word count: 978
  16. Peer reviewed

    Blanche is depicted as unstable from the beginning of the play. Discuss

    3 star(s)

    She portrays vulnerability and people help her without her asking for help. On a first impression, she would appear innocent looking but as time goes on, we see that all is not as it is portrayed to be. She appears to be jumpy, nervous and fragile to small unnoticed sounds like when 'cat screeches'. We also get a glimpse of her true personality when she is alone, 'she pours a half tumbler of whiskey and tosses it down. She carefully replaces the bottle and washes out the tumbler at the sink'. The way she handles the drink gives us the impression that she is not new to the idea of drinking.

    • Word count: 828
  17. What are the contrasts between Stanley and Blanche in "A Streetcar named Desire"?

    Further evidence that Blanche is like a moth can be seen in her behaviour. Moths never really stay in one place; they flit from place to place, and in Blanches case from one danger to another. The cover shows a harsh light bulb, which is the harsh reality of the world in a sense. Blanche often seeks out the light because of what she lost, even though it hurts her. The flamingo hotel is one example of this; the 'young man' is another. She seeks to find that spotlight that will light up her world again and risk herself in the process.

    • Word count: 997
  18. To what extent, and in what way, does Williams portrayal of modern society help create sympathy for Blanche and her actions?

    Life in New Orleans has 'a raffish charm', and there is an 'atmosphere of decay'. The audience cannot help but take pity on Blanche, whose manner is 'incongruous to this setting'. Her 'delusions of grandeur' and 'shocked disbelief' of Stella's surroundings only serve to further the image of her being 'lost'. The streetcars that 'brought (Blanche) here', 'Desire' and 'Cemeteries' symbolise the very factors that caused Blanche to 'wash up like poison' at Stella's doorstep. The streetcars 'grin(d) along the tracks at (all) hour(s)', in other words, desire and death in the city never stop.

    • Word count: 1215
  19. Significance of the title "A Streetcar Named Desire"

    It is effectively Blanche's desire that deafens her from hearing Stanley's entrance. When Stella asks Blanche if she has 'ever ridden on that streetcar', Blanche replies that 'it brought (her) here'. Blanche's desire not only deafens her, it blinds her and ruins her as well. She manages to destroy her previously good reputation when she stays at the Hotel Flamingo by bringing back men with her almost every night. As she admits to Mitch, 'intimacies with strangers was all (she) was able to fill (her) empty heart with'. The 'management of the Flamingo was impressed by Dame Blanche' so much, in fact that they asked her to 'turn in her room key'.

    • Word count: 983
  20. Some critics believe that A Streetcar Named Desire is a failure as a tragedy as it's so ambiguous - audience don't know who to side with. Discuss this view of the play.

    Blanche has many flaws but her hamartia is her delusions, she tells Mitch how she 'doesn't want realism' and how she'll even 'tell [people] what ought to be truth.' It's this that causes Stanley's mistrust of her and - at least in part - what causes her own insanity, she begins to believe her own lies. As this is happening we do question its truth or whether she was insane all along, this causes much of the confusion over whether or not the audience is able to sympathise with the character.

    • Word count: 1372
  21. Blanche appears in the amber light of the door. She has a tragic radiance in her red satin robe following the sculptural lines of her body. The Varsouviana rises audibly as Blanche enters the bedroom. With reference to the above stage direct

    Whilst in the bath Stella says "she's got it mixed out in her mind with Shep Huntleigh". Blanche believes that she is to go away on vacation with her imagined lover Shep Huntleigh who, for Blanche, represents an escape for the brutal, aggressive world of the Kowalskis. She has created a vivid illusion around herself in an attempt to avoid the reality of her situation, as she has done from the beginning of her arrival in New Orleans. When Blanche asks "is the coast clear?"

    • Word count: 1195
  22. A Streetcar Named Desire. Explore the methods used by Williams in the first two scenes of the play to introduce his audience to the main themes of the play.

    This shows a Theme of decay, which could link to the decaying of families, and societies, which Blanche struggles to grasp and understand. In the first scene both sister become reunited as Blanche is supposedly visiting her younger sister Stella. "They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and transfer to one called Cemeteries, and ride six blocks and get off at-Elysian Fields!" Elysian Fields has two meanings firstly the street that Stanley and Stella live on and also known within Greek mythology as the land of the dead, these then link together because Elysian Fields is not Blanche's idea of heaven.

    • Word count: 1111
  23. Tennessee Williams 1947 play A Street Car Named Desire is set in the bustling new south; the play is a tragic tale that deals with the conflict between romantic Blanche DuBois and realist Stanley Kowalski

    The street cars could connote desire and how it is ultimately the vehicle that leads to her eventual mental deterioration in the closing scenes of the play. Alternatively, the "Elysian Fields" could be a bad omen that links the three main characters to death: be it emotional or mental. One thing is for certain Blanche's arrival will exacerbate an unhealthy atmosphere which is only emphasised by the cramped living conditions which could mimic Blanche's disorganised mental state. Moreover, many of the themes integral to the play are personified in the history of New Orleans.

    • Word count: 2222
  24. Discuss the triangular relationship and dynamic between Stella, Blanche and Stanley as indicated to the audience by scene two of "A Streetcar named Desire".

    However, Stanley clearly sets his wife on a lower level throughout their conversation by answering with a carelessly "So?" from time to time, when not speaking about Belle Reve. From this dialogue the audience can interpret that Stanley does not care much about Stella except when on the bed, but also make them wonder about Stanley's deep concern on the loss of Belle Reve, the idea of him sharing all the land with Stella, living the American Dream or the Beautiful Dream as suggested by the name is also lost. This might show the true reason of their marriage, Stanley's real interest with Stella and also the s****l love that they share, instead of a pure and unconditional love without violence.

    • Word count: 953
  25. In A Streetcar Named Desire, the gripping play by Tennessee Williams, Blanche Dubois, a rapidly aging, washed up Southern belle, desperately struggles to come to terms with her status as an alcoholic harlot in the eyes of society. Blanches past haunts

    This beauty led to popularity, especially with males. Blanche was married young and got a job as a school teacher; however both began to crumble when she found out her husband was having a h********l affair and that she was the one responsible for his suicide. Bella Reve, her ancestral estate, was foreclosed on, she moved into a hotel, her extreme alcohol consumption and promiscuity began, and soon she was fired from her teaching job because of an affair with a student.

    • Word count: 538

Conclusion analysis

Good conclusions usually refer back to the question or title and address it directly - for example by using key words from the title.
How well do you think these conclusions address the title or question? Answering these questions should help you find out.

  1. Do they use key words from the title or question?
  2. Do they answer the question directly?
  3. Can you work out the question or title just by reading the conclusion?
  • "Stanley has little option but to destroy Blanche" With close reference to the characters and their motives, to what extent do you agree with this statement?

    "In conclusion I believe that Stanley has little choice but to eliminate Blanche from his life. They are at polar opposites to each other and one could say that Blanche is a threat to his lifestyle as she attempts to bring in new ideals to his world, so Stanley needed to detach her from his life. However it is obvious that Blanche didn't deserve such brutal treatment and her being a threat to Stanley's lifestyle is no reason for him to destroy her life."

  • Compare and contrast Williams treatment of the concept of mental instability in A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie in light of the opinion that Williams presents more hope in his presentation of Laura Wingfield than Blanche Dubois.

    "In conclusion, drawing on the similarities between Blanche, Laura and Williams' sister, it is credible that both characters are representations of Rose. The narrative technique in Glass Menagerie draws the audience to reflect Williams' hope that Laura will escape the darkness of mental instability. On the other hand, the dramatic devices employed by Williams in Streetcar emphasize Blanche's mental instability and her character is portrayed as much more detached from reality. Most importantly, we can see that Williams presents more hope in his presentation of Laura than Blanche due to the contrasting endings of these plays. Laura's fate is left more open in comparison to Blanche's total breakdown and destruction. In this aspect it could be said that Streetcar is a metaphorical representation of mental instability with the intent to raise awareness, whereas Glass Menagerie is a more personal, reflective work, highlighting Williams' regret and hope."

  • To what extent do you think William wants his Audience to perceive Blanche as a victim ?

    "To draw a conclusion, I believe that to some extent within the play Williams wished for his audience to see Blanche as a victim but he also foreshadows the true explanation of why Blanche has become this way. An Explanation of Blanches behaviour could be because within her youth she watched the older generation of her family die out and the loss of Belle Reve and lastly the suicide of her young homosexual husband, could be seen as the reason why Blanche's emotions died and her sense of reality. Desire and death became linked in her life, which then allowed her to lead a loose and increasingly careless life. I believe that Williams wants the audience to see Blanche as a victim but to also understand why she is, allowing her to receive a form of sympathy and bringing the audience to question whether she truly is a victim."

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