How successfully has Williams introduced the main characters and ideas of “A Streetcar named Desire” in the first two scenes?
The plot of “A Streetcar Named Desire” alone does not captivate audiences, but its strengths lie with the characterisation and the relationships that form between these characters. Some of the characters, such as that of Blanche Dubois, the main protagonist, are complex, and our feelings change towards her throughout the play, often completely reversing, while others, such as what we feel towards her sister, Stella, are fairly simple, and the extent of her character and the feelings the writer wishes to evoke in the reader are established early on and remain somewhat static. In a way the main characters are caricatures that are intended to symbolise severe contrast with each other.
The title refers to the tramline in New Orleans, where the play is set, that runs from Desire to Cemeteries. The title could be seen to be a metaphor for the whole play. Indeed, Desire, though a real place, is one of the main themes of the play, and is one of the few things Blanche appears to have in abundance. This eventually leads to her downfall. It is fitting that the tramline runs from Desire to Cemeteries, as Blanche says in the play that she views desire as the opposite of death. The idea of Blanche travelling from death (Cemeteries) to Desire is symbolic of her relationship with her husband, who committed suicide after he admitted to Blanche that he was a homosexual. His lack of desire for her led to his death, which in turn resulted in Blanche’s overwhelming and self-destructive desire for other men. Blanche constantly tries to escape death and loss through her desire, and it is gradually revealed to us that this is what led to her ruin and the death of her old life.
The first long stage direction sets the scene and the description of the area is a poor area with a “raffish charm”. This directly contrasts with the first time Blanche is introduced to the audience. She is described as “daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, white gloves and a hat”. They live in an area called Elysian Fields, which is the place for the blessed dead in Greek mythology. Death is a major theme of the play and plays a major part in the lives of the main characters. It is also ironic, as this is a poor area and none of the play’s characters could be said to be blessed. The exterior of the building where Stella and Stanley live is described as “mostly white frame, weathered grey…quaintly ornamented gables”. I think the building is a metaphor for Blanche herself. Blanche means white, and she herself is weathered. The disdain that she treats the shabby appearance of the building with is similar to the way she thinks of her own weathered physical appearance, she wishes to hide the “weathered grey” of herself. Also the reference to how it is quaintly ornamented is echoed in Blanche. Although much of the description makes the building sound worn and ugly, we are told that the dim white building is framed by a sky of “a particularly tender blue”, and that it “gracefully attenuates the atmosphere of decay”. This can also be compared to Blanche herself; the idea of the dim white being her faded chastity and innocence. The atmosphere of decay is also present in her, although it too is attenuated by an air of gracefulness, and is framed by her lingering beauty. Williams also describes the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the area, by saying “two women, one white and one coloured, are taking the air on the steps of the building” which again contrasts with the first description of Blanche, and implies that she does not belong here: this is most definitely the new South, whereas Blanche comes from old money and old values, at least on the surface. The music of the Blue piano is also a symbol of the new South. An atmosphere of relaxed modernity is also created, as Williams says how “above the music of the “Blue piano” the voices of people on the street can be heard overlapping.”