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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?

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  1. What drives Stanley to seek Blanche's destruction in Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire"?

    From the beginning we see that Blanche does not fit in with the people of her new community, nor her physical surroundings in her new home. We can see that she did not fit in with the people of the community by comparing the manner in which women in the story handle their social life with men .Much of Blanches attitude shows how she is unwilling to accept the new world and so also unwilling to accept Stanley. In my view Blanche seals her own fate by encouraging the mutual attraction that exists between the two from the start.

    • Word count: 1801
  2. Look again at Scene 9 of Streetcar named desire - How do you imagine you would feel as a member of an audience witnessing this scene? How does T.W. evoke these feelings in his audience?

    Here we see, again, another of Blanche's vices, the 'liquor' she has by the table, which is quite obviously hers and it is obvious that this particular 'fix' of hers has become worse. The final metaphorical reference of this scene is the 'electric fan' that turns 'back and forth across her.' This fan is obviously a complete contrast to the main themes of the play, all of which are 'hot' and full of 'desire.' Blanche may use the fan as a form of escapism, we see she wishes to escape the 'heat' of her past and try to start something anew.

    • Word count: 1961
  3. What impression of Blanche is created in the first scene of A Streetcar named disire?

    This is evident especially by the music playing in the background, "the blue piano". This music instills a degree of melancholy on the reader, and as the title suggests (and similarly to the 'Blues') is a depiction of morbidity in the atmosphere, and yet it is only present to Blanche. Even in the initial dialogue of the play, s****l innuendoes appear in abundance. This is initially in the form of an "icy cold wave up and down her" and the vendor shouting "Red hot!"

    • Word count: 1827
  4. Tennessee Williams is described as having created fugitives. Discuss how Blanche is a fugitive, and from what she is fleeing.

    Thus begins her escape from the light and the painful memories of Allan - she finds the darkness comforting, and it is in the darkness within her mind that she creates a retreat, a shelter from the harsh truth of reality. In retreating within her mind, however, she has begun her descent into insanity, and her reactions to the light are such that exposure threatens the very sanctity of her refuge: "Don't turn on the light!" Williams therefore uses light and darkness throughout the play to symbolise reality and illusion respectively.

    • Word count: 1769
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. Stella is not a character in her own right but simply a p**n 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 p**n 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
  8. To what extent is Stanley the villain of A Streetcar Named Desire?

    At the start of the scene, he tries to assert his authority by telling Stella and Blanche to ?cut out that conversation in there!? Throughout the scene, when he feels that he is losing control and authority, he loses his temper; one trait of a traditional villain, in the form of striking Stella after she yells at him ? ?Drunk ? drunk ? animal thing, you!? It is clear to the audience that Stanley would have liked to hit Blanche instead.

    • Word count: 1571
  9. Though A Streetcar Named Desire doesnt end with the protagonists death, it is nonetheless a tragedy. By examining Williams dramatic methods, discuss to what extent you agree with this view.

    The symbol of the Varsouvianna polka is a key dramatic method in Scene Six, when Blanche reveals its meaning to Mitch. The remorse and guilt that Blanche feels towards her husband?s death is evident throughout her explanation; ?all I knew was that I?d failed him in some mysterious way and wasn?t able to give him the help he needed?. This insinuates that Blanche blames herself for what happened and feels ashamed that she was unable to help him. This makes the audience feel pity for Blanche, as it shows a completely different side to her character, because her vulnerability is clearly visible throughout this scene.

    • Word count: 1777
  10. Discuss how Tennessee Williams explores the theme of appearance versus reality in his play "A Streetcar Named Desire"

    which contrasts with the informal appearance of the mixed population of the New Orleans: She is daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and ear-rings of pearl, white gloves and hat, looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea in the garden district. -Scene One Blanche embodies the ideas of the Old America and the fact that her clothes are still crisp and clean suggests that she has not yet been shaken by the effects of the New America, embodied by Stanley.

    • Word count: 1708
  11. Explore the methods used by Williams in the first two scenes of A Street Car Named Desire to introduce the audience to the themes of the play

    For example, when he portrays the pragmatic and adamant side of Stanley?s character in his relentless repetition of the Napoleonic Code in Scene Two. Williams utilises the devise of stage directions to show the intellectual superiority of the Old South compared to the New. He achieves this through the evocative and intellectual language of the stage directions. These match the speech of Blanche and Stella, who are the only characters who originate from the Old South in the first two scenes.

    • Word count: 1527
  12. How does William's convey the tension between Blanche and Stanley

    Firstly, Blanche?s own sentence structure portrays the tension present between herself and Stanley very effectively. In moments of high tension, such as when they first meet in scene 1, Blanche gives very short and monosyllabic answers to his questions, such as ?yes? and ?I-uh? ? which shows how nervous she is during their confrontation. This returns again in scene 10, before the r**e, when she repeats ?oh!? many times, and finds it hard to put sentences together, for example ?I would!

    • Word count: 1049
  13. To what extent is it possible for an audience to have sympathy for the character of Stanley?

    Their household is seen to be patriarchal, as common in the 40s, and Blanche continually tests Stanley?s authority. It is a clear example of the conflict between patriarchal/matriarchal supremacy of pre-millennium America. Blanche could be seen as, at least partly, the cause of Stanley?s violence therefore as she insults him and his family and ultimately is seen as a threat to his ?ordered? lifestyle of which he is in control, provoking Stanley so much so that some form of downfall was inevitable, suggesting an element of tragedy.

    • Word count: 1519
  14. Discuss Williams dramatic presentation of Blanche.

    Her clothes reflect the kind of person she is, they are always ?off white? because she is not pure and are similar to that of a moth which is referred to in the play because of how Blanche reacts to the light, ?I like it dark, the dark is comforting?. In biblical terms ?light? is the same as ?truth? and Blanche lies throughout the play. Williams is keen to convey to the audience how vulnerable she is in the first scene, ?her shoulders slightly hunched? however as the play develops the audience becomes less sympathetic towards her.

    • Word count: 1981
  15. In Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire the character of Mitch is used to present many themes within the play.

    Since leaving the Army and returning to America Mitch has had to move forward with society. He has had to take a civilian job and adapted to the ?new? America. This is a direct contrast to Blanche who tries to stay in the old world of Belle Reve and live the ?beautiful dream?. Blanche is very much stuck in the past and like the streetcar, cannot divert her life. She cannot see the future and move forwards with it into the changing face of America. This metaphorical clashing of the fantasy and reality becomes literal later in the play.

    • Word count: 1420

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