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A Street Car Named Desire

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Leanne Black

on 28 October 2013

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Transcript of A Street Car Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire
Tennessee Williams

Historical Context
The play is set in 1947, in New Orleans
The history and culture of the setting embody the central concerns of the text
The French Quarter provides a rich background for the emotional events of the play (streetcars, bars, entertainment, jazz and blues music)
The setting symbolises the changes that were ocurring after WW2, in American Society
The South
Louisiana is one of the Southern states of the USA.
The play represents the decline of the aristocratic families traditionally associated with the South.
The South's agricultural base was no longer able to compete with industrialisation.
Once influential families lost their importance
Streetcar shows the conflict between traditional values: and old-world graciousness and beauty running decoratively to seed versus the thrusting rough edged , physically aggressive materialism of the new world.
Following WW1 and women gaining the right to vote in 1920, the male dominated Southern aristocracy came to an end.
The structure of the workforce had altered radically to include women, immigrants and blacks.
The Role of Women
Only narrow roles were open to women, therefore Blanche is constrained in the play by the expectations of Southern Society.
She needs men to lean on and to protect her.
Sexual freedom does not fit the chaste behaviour expected of a 'Southern Belle'.
Blanche fears rejection by males.
Throughout the play Blanche is destroyed as she struggles to cope with the contradictory demands of society
This is symbolic of the destruction of the old South
The play begins with a well-known and enigmatic entrance speech from Blanche Dubois:

"BLANCHE (with faintly hysterical humour): They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one named CEMETERIES, and ride siz blocks and get of at - Elysian Fields! "
These words act as a clue to the structural development and design of the play itself. They also represents Blanche's fate.
Blanche's life before the play begins.
Blanche's experience during the play
It's important that we, the audience, can see everything that happens on stage
Look out for moments of dramatic irony, and how Williams uses this device to add tension to his play
The Varsouviana
In scene one the music sets the mood for Blanche's unstable reaction to hearing about her dead husband.
She cannot escape the memory of his death, and likewise the music...

...more on this later!
Blanche DuBois
"Her appearance is incongruous to the setting. She is daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, white gloves and hat, looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district."

"And turn that over-light off! Turn that off! I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare!"

"…You know I haven’t put on one ounce in ten years, Stella? I weigh what I weighed the summer you left Belle Reve. The summer Dad died and you left us… "

Central Concerns
From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water
From the Land of Sky-blue Water,
They brought a captive maid,
And her eyes they are lit with lightnings,
Her heart is not afraid!

But I steal to her lodge at dawning,
I woo her with my flute;
She is sick for the Sky-blue Water,
The captive maid is mute.
Blanche sings in the bathroom in Scene 2
The lyrics of this eerie little folk song suggest a world of myth and legend which is certainly commensurate with the fantasy world inhabited by Blanche DuBois.
voiced by an unknown male whose attitude towards the brave and virginal heroine is both predatory and sinister
He describes her courage in the first stanza while acknowledging that a mysterious ‘they’ have imprisoned her — much as Blanche is trapped by the restrictive social codes of Southern society.
Ominously, the male speaker describes invading her ‘lodge’ just as Stanley will tear down the fragile curtain which is all the protection Blanche has against him in the apartment, and a Freudian reading of the speaker’s ambiguous remark ‘I woo her with my flute’ might well suggest a sexual subtext
The fact that at the end of the song the ‘captive maid is mute’ may be seen to prefigure Stella’s refusal to accept Blanche’s story about Stanley having raped her.
Illusion & reality
Death & Desire
Old America & New America (social class)
Marginality & Madness

Scene 1
The arrival of the intruder...Blanche enters to disrupt the (apparent) harmony of Stella and Stanley's life in New Orleans.

There is obvious tension between Blanche and her sister's husband, Stanley.

It is early May and a mood of dark comedy is established among the main characters.

Foreshadowing: Stanley throws his 'meat package' to Stella establishing his sexual dominance in the play.
Scene 2
Tension grows as Stanley's makes clear he is suspicious of Blanche's story of what happened to Belle Reve. Blanche hints to Stanley that the history of the DuBois family has been filled with debauchery and death.
Scene 3
Stanley becomes more angry and aggressive displaying his physical strength and dominance.

Foreshadowing: Stanley's 'breakdown' at the Poker Game and the subsequent physical restraint by his friends, prefigures the breakdown and restraint of Blanche before she is taken to the asylum.

Scene 4
Scene 5
A swelteringly hot August evening

This is a scene of inexorably building tension. Stanley mentions the travelling salesman, Shaw to Blanche who is visably terrified in case the act she has been putting on for Mitch's benefit begins to unravel.

Blanche's behaviour with the young man clearly foreshadows the revelation of the real reason she has left Laurel.
Scene 6

Blanche's wilful self-dramatisation is displayed by her scripting a scene with Mitch in which they must pretend to be in a French cafe. Williams uses a Merging of aural and verbal symbolism to disclose to the audience, Blanche's shocking past experience with Allan.

She chooses to withhold the information concerning her encounters with men, and as such she foreshadows the end of her tentative relationship with Mitch, because what she decides must remain hidden, Stanley will later shed light on.
Scene 7
Dramatic climax of scene: Blanche shouts at Stella, "You're lying! Something has!" The distant piano goes into hectic breakdown.
Scene 8
Three quarters of an hour later.
Scene 10
Drunk and delusional, Blanche tries to call for help from the outside world, but it is presented as a dangerous jungle. There is a tension between the immediate build up to Stanley's assault on Blanche, which appears haphazard and unplanned, and its dramatic function - the inevitable climax of their power struggle.

Stanley first rapes her emotionally and psychologically by demolishing her pathetic Shep huntleigh fantasy. As she tries to get past him Stanley blocks her way; the terrified Blanche smashes a bottle and heighten the tension when she threatens to slash him. At the scene's dramatic close Stanley grabs Stella, carries her to the bed to rape her , declaring, "We've had this date with each other from the beginning."
Scene 11
Dramatic climax of scene: Stella weeps in Stanley's arms and as her 'luxurious sobbing' and his 'sensual murmur' fade the 'blue piano' and the 'muted trumpet' are heard as Steve announces, "This game is seven-card stud".
The Paper Lantern
Throughout the play the paper lantern represents Blanche's attempts at covering up the 'naked truth' of her past. Blanche does not want to accept the truth of her past because she is ashamed of what she has done. She uses the cover of darkness and the lantern to hide her aging beauty: "I can’t stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action." Further, when we consider her description of her young love with Allen, we can see that Blanche is not only hiding herself from the world, but she is also hiding the world from herself. Since the trauma of her husband's death, Blanche seems to have been inable to cope with reality and has therefore used the lantern to cover up the harsh reality. Like the lantern, Blanche's illusion is delicate and will not be able to remain covering the truth. Eventually, her facade is stripped away .

Throughout the play Blanche avoids being in direct light, both artificial and natural.

The first time that Blanche’s aversion to light becomes obvious is in scene one when she says to Stella: “And turn that over-light off! Turn that off! I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare”.

In scene 5 she tells Stella that she must: "put on soft colours, the colours of butterfly wings, and glow – make a little – temporary magic…"

"When I was sixteen, I made the discovery – love. All at once and much, much too completely. It was like you suddenly turned a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow, that’s how it struck the world for me". There was a time in Blanche's life with light represented love, but now it represents a destructive force that she must try to shield herself from.
represents reality
The Moth
"There is something about her uncertain manner, as well as her white clothes, that suggests a moth." (Scene 1, BLanche's arrival)
Dramatic climax of scene: Blanche sinks down, put her head in her hands and announces she is going to be sick.
It's six o'clock the following day
Foreshadowing: Stanley rifles through Blanche's trunk without her consent, suggests he will force himself upon her later in the play.
Dramatic climax of the scene: "The blind are - leading the blind!" Hot trumpet and Blue Piano sound.
The Poker Night
Dramatic climax of the scene: Mitch comforts Blanche who declares, "I need kindness now."
Early the following morning

There is confusion in the street outside, reflecting Blanche's inability to understand the Kowaliski's relationship.

Stella and Stanley show a united front as Blanche continues to create tension between the couple.

Stanley dominates the scene.
Dramatic climax of scene: Stella embraces Stanley as he grins at Blanche in triumph. The blue piano, trumpet and drums are heard. (Dramatic Irony)
Dramatic Climax of scene: the young man leaves just in time, Blanche launches into her Southern Belle act
Plot Analysis
& Structure

Initial situation
2am the same evening...
Dramatic climax of scene: Blanche and Mitch embrace..."Sometimes...there's God...so quickly".
(An abrupt move in time) Late afternoon, mid September
The Autumn/fall of Blanche's life

The apparenly hopeful mood of this scene changes completely with the arrival of Stanley, thus an intense dramatic contrast is established. Stanley reveals the cunning side of his character when we learn that he has revealed all to Mitch.

The scene see Williams create a brilliant mismatch of black comedy with the disturbing picture that unfolds on stage. Blanche's singing in the bathtub is juxtaposed with Stanley's remorseless demolition of her fantasy future with Mitch creates a melodramatic, heightened tension.
Dramatic climax of scene: Stella goes into labour as the Varsouviana plays. Blanche sings 'El pain de mais'. (Note how the music is used here to signify another defining crisis in Blanche's life. It continues into the beginning of the next scene, 'rapid' and 'feverish'.
Dramatic climax of scene: After Mitch attempts to attack her, Blanche screams, "Fire! Fire! Fire!" and falls to her knees. "The distant piano is slow and blue"
Behind the lantern...
In scene nine this aversion becomes even more obvious. When Mitch tears off the paper lantern in order to take a closer look at her in the bright light, “she utters a frightened gasp” (Williams 203). Then she tells him:

"I don’t want realism…I’ll tell you what I want. Magic! Yes, yes, magic! I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth. I tell what ought to be truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it! – Don’t turn the light on".

This is Blanche’s first statement concerning her true intention and nature, and it is probably the only time where she ever confesses that she builds up an illusory image of herself.

Stanley’s affection for light

Stanley has a different attitude concerning light and reality. He is very down to earth and realistic and displays this with his brutal honesty. For Stanley, the bright light exposes everything for what it is. He can only accept a literal truth, which can be experienced by his fanatic investigation of Blanche’s past: “You showed me the snapshot of the place with the columns. I pulled you down off them and how you loved it, having them coloured lights going” (Williams 199).

In this passage, Stanley tries to remind Stella of the fact that when they met she was just like Blance, but that he made her face reality again. As already mentioned above, light is the opposite of darkness and therefore the opposite of ignorance. Stanley considers himself to be knowing and constantly tries to increase his knowledge, especially the one concerning Blanche’s past.

Blue Piano Music
The blue piano is first mentioned in the introductory stage directions of the first scene: “This ‘blue piano’ expresses the spirit of the life which goes on there” (Scene 1). Throughout the play, the blue piano always appears when Blanche is talking about the loss of her family and Belle Reve, but it is also present during her meeting and kissing the young newspaper man.

Therefore, the blue piano thus stands for depression, loneliness and her longing for love, which the adjective blue already suggests. This quality is not identical with the colour symbolism of blue. It describes Blanche’s emotions and represents her need for companionship and love, but also her hope, as the scene with the paper-boy shows. Mitch tells her in scene nine that he will not marry her due to her promiscuous past, “the distant piano is slow and blue". Later, in scene ten, it grows louder when she is on the phone trying to get in touch with Shep Huntleigh. In this situation, her hopes are rising, and so does the piano. In the last scene, Blanche is being taken away to a mental institution, and Stanley and his friends play poker again: “The luxurious sobbing, the sensual murmur fade away under the swelling music of the ‘blue piano’ and the muted trumpet” (Scene 11). Here, the blue piano, accompanying the card game, symbolises Stanley’s victory over Blanche.

The Varsouviana Polka, on the other hand, appears when Blanche is being confronted with her past and the truth, or when she talks about Allan. The reason for this seems obvious, for exactly this polka had been played when her husband Allan committed suicide. The polka represents death and foretells disaster. Blanche tells Mitch in scene six about Allan, and how she caught him cheating on her: “Polka music sounds, in a minor key faint with distance”. When Stanley gives her a ticket back to Laurel for a birthday presents, the situation means disaster for Blanche. She realises that she is not wanted anymore, and that she has nowhere to go, for Laurel is an unacceptable place to go to after all the incidents there: “The Varsouviana music steals in softly and continues playing,”.

In scene eleven, the connection between the polka and Blanche’s state of mind and emotion becomes even more obvious. She gets totally lost in her illusions about Shep Huntleigh and runs into her room when the doctor arrives: “The Varsouviana is filtered into weird distortion, accompanied by the cries and noises of the jungle”. Here, Williams uses the polka’s weird distortion to matches the confusion in her mind.

In contrast to the butterfly, who lives during daytime, the moth mainly lives during the night, which makes it a creature of the darkness, and the butterfly one of the light.

t seems as though—contrasting with her name—it is her fate to live in the darkness, Blanche does not find a way out of it: at the end of the play she is being taken away to the mental institution, which means that she finally does not conquer her fate.

Prof., Prof. h.c. Dr. Michael STEPPAT
“Paper Moon” - The song symbolises Blanche's relationship with Mitch

In Scene Seven, Blanche sings this popular ballad while she bathes. The song’s lyrics describe the way love turns the world into a “phony” fantasy. The speaker in the song says that if both lovers believe in their imagined reality, then it’s no longer “make-believe.” These lyrics sum up Blanche’s approach to life, and to Mitch. She believes that her 'act' is only her means of enjoying a better way of life and is therefore essentially harmless.

As Blanche sits in the tub singing “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” Stanley tells Stella the details of Blanche’s sexually corrupt past. Williams ironically juxtaposes Blanche’s fantastical understanding of herself with Stanley’s description of Blanche’s real nature. In reality, Blanche is a sham who feigns propriety and sexual modesty. Once Mitch learns the truth about Blanche, he can no longer believe in Blanche’s tricks and lies.
(Spark Notes)
Throughout A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche bathes herself. Her sexual experiences have made her a hysterical woman, but these baths, as she says, calm her nerves. In light of her efforts to forget and shed her illicit past in the new community of New Orleans, these baths represent her efforts to cleanse herself of her odious history. Yet, just as she cannot erase the past, her bathing is never done. Stanley also turns to water to undo a misdeed when he showers after beating Stella. The shower serves to soothe his violent temper; afterward, he leaves the bathroom feeling remorseful and calls out longingly for his wife.
A few weeks later...
After the climactic rape scene, the final scene is a kind of coda - in many ways it is sombre and downbeat.

All of the characters appear for only the second time, in a kind of grotesque inversion of the poker night. The electrifying excitment of the drunken Stanley being wrestled into the shower by his buddies, is horrifyingly re-enacted as the pitiful and terrified Blanche is wrestled to the floor before being taken off to the asylum.

Following the last tense moments of the play, when Mitch begins to cry at Stanley, and the other men mutter uncomfortably, Blanches leaves quietly.

Williams chose to structure 'A Streetcar Named Desire' into 11 scenes which trace the development of the relationships between Blanche, Stanley and Stella over the space of a few months. In the original stage production there were two intervals, the first after scene 4 (The Poker Night) and the second after scene 6 (Blanche's date with Mitch). The play if therefore divided into three sub sections and a coda:

Scenes 1-4, set in early May, establish a mood of dark comedy
Scenes 5 & 6, set on a swelteringly hot August evening, are melancholic, nostalgic and romantic
Scenes 7-10, set on the afternoon and evening of Blanche's birthday, 15th September, are powerfully dramatic, climactic and tragic.
Lastly, Scene 11, set 'some weeks later', presumably in the early autumn works as a kind of desolate tragic coda (afterthought/postscript)
Answers to questions on drama should address relevantly the central concern(s)/theme(s)
of the text and be supported by reference to appropriate dramatic techniques such as: conflict,
characterisation, key scene(s), dialogue, climax, exposition, dénouement, structure, plot,
setting, aspects of staging (such as lighting, music, stage set, stage directions . . .), soliloquy,
monologue . . .
During Scene 7 Stanley is driven crazy by Blanche's 'washing out of some things' and 'soaking in a hot tub'in his bathroom. When she asks him to wait a little longer - "possess your soul with patience" - he replies, "it's not my soul I'm worried about," implying that he needs the toilet.

Lurking underneath Stanley's crude humour is a sinister metaphorical wish to soil the place in which Blanche seeks to purify herself.
The play's conflict is mounting towards the dramatic climax, as Stanley is determined to kick Blanche out of the apartment. Tension grows between Stanley and Stella, who attacks his table manners, his fury clearly demonstrates the social gulf between his own upbringing and that of the sisters.

Williams, in Stanley's 'coloured lights' speech indicates that a jealous fear fuels his determination to destroy Blanche.

Stella's potential rebellion against her husband is cut short when she goes into labour, a stroke of luck for Stanley which leaves Blanche alone and unprotected in the apartment.
A While later that evening...
The light is turned onto Blanche as she admits the truth to Mitch. Williams uses again a blend of black comedy, with the lyrical tragedy that unfold in this scene. Blanche's vivid dialogue encompasses a scornful description of herself as a spider, eating its prey. The rejection from Mitch signals the death of all her hopes for a secure future. With no-one left to lie to Blanche's only audience is herself.
Scene 9
The sexual tension that has been building between Stanley and Blanche for months spirals out of control.
Dramatic climax: "She sinks to her knees. He picks up her inert figure and carries her to the bed. The hot trumpet and drums from the Four Deuces sound loudly."
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