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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
  1. We shouldnt be shocked by Stanleys attitude to women and his violent behaviour; he is just a product of his time. In the light of this statement, explore how Williams presents masculinity in A Streetcar Named Desire.

    Simply stated, the answer to this question totally depends on the school of thought from which the reader operates. The proponents of the view that Stanley?s attitude to women and his violent behavior is a mere representation of his time argue that the way of life in the 20th Century South American society in which the play is set made it necessary for low-class members of society to use brute force in order to get their voices across. Such readers would cite the fact that the way of life in the South created two classes of people, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, who were in constant conflict with each other over resources.

    • Word count: 1022
  2. Write an additional scene about a chance encounter between Blanche from A Streetcar Named Desire and Laura from Glass Menagerie. Explore the similarities between the two characters and how they have ended up in their current circumstances.

    Clangs of bashing cutlery and the shuffling of seats accompany the serving of an ambiguous-looking meat with limp vegetables. Screen legend ? Southern Belle [Enter BLANCHE. She hurries to her seat, late as usual due to the untoward amount of time she requires to get ready. She wears a white dress made from imitation chiffon that rustles as she moves. The harshness of the light is unforgiving; her lipstick is slightly smeared, one set of false eyelashes longer than the other and no amount of powder can cover the onset of age that inevitably befalls every woman.

    • Word count: 1640
  3. Stella is not a character in her own right but simply a pawn in Blanche and Stanley's game. Discuss.

    isn?t as superior a character as Stanley and Blanche, and could therefore suggest that she is just a pawn in their game. Stanley?s description when he is introduced is: ?since earliest manhood the centre of [Stanley?s] life has been pleasure with women, the giving and taking of I ... richly feathered male bird among hens..? This again reinforces the power and superiority Stanley has over Stella. By calling him a ?male bird,? Williams makes him fit in with the stereotypical man of the time ? macho, strong and a womaniser.

    • Word count: 1512

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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