A streetcar named desire (A02-analysis) and lil'context

A streetcar named desire, a snapshot

Powerful characterisation 

  • Blanche Dubois is a complex, contradictory and endearing character. 
  • Stanley is a charismatic powerhouse, with sexuality and self-confidence. 
  • Mitch and Stella complement both these characters. 
  • Stella must choose between her husband and her sister. Mitch is drawn to  Blanche but cannot accept the reality of her past. 

Gender and sexuality

  • Sexual passion an unstoppable force that will take it's victim to a path of self-destruction, as surely as a streetcar (may be linked to playwright being gay). 

Social class

  • Blanche is a Southern Belle, a member of the old-established land owning families 'plantation families' that originally got rich off slave labor.
  • American class system based on wealth. 
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A streetcar named desire, a snapshot

Key context

The clash between Blanche and Stanley partly due to declining 'aristocracy' of the South (which never fully recovered economically from defeat in the civil war 1861-1865) and the up-and-coming middle class. Men like Stanley came back from the war with a great sense of entitlement to a share of the countries wealth. They were also empowered by the growth of trade unions.

Key context

Influenced by playwright's life. Mother was a Southern Belle. Sister Rose became unstable and had a lobotomy (and died institutionalized). He felt guilty about his sister, and of mental disintegration. He was also obsessed with death (like Blanche).  

Death, madness, and tragedy

  • Blanche is like a sacrifice at the end, reflecting the origins of Greek mythology. 
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Scene 1 Analysis

Blanches shortcomings are revealed

  • Alcohlism: stressed by the repetitive nature of her drinking and Stanley saying 'Liquor goes fast in hot weather'.
  • Her awareness of social distinctions: Rude to the kindness of Eunice and her neighbors. 
  • Her vanity: she is afraid of growing old and losing her looks. Has a need for flattery. Creates a pathos. 

First impressions of Stanley and Stella

  • Stanley's sexuality: he is described as a 'Gaudy seed bearer' in didascalia
  • Stella gentlewomen: depending mostly on the actor, but in didascalia, she is described as a 'Gentle young women'. 

The significance of music in the play

  • Blue piano symbolises the part of New Orleans. 
  • Polka: A motif alluding to the death of Blanche husband Allen. Alerts audience to significant moment. 
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Scene 1 Analysis

Context 

'Belle Reve' means beautiful dream. Louisiana was originally a French territory. 

Context

Poker is a game of chance. About concealing emotions. traditionally thought as a masculine game, 

Context

Greek mythology 'Elysian fields' is heaven/paradise. Ironic given location, but makes sense as Blanche is obsessed with death. 

Context

'Suggests a moth' hints at Blanche fragility/preference for the night. An earlier title for the play was 'The Moth'. 

Context

Lousiana was a French territory, before being Napolean sold it to the USA in 1803. The lavish lifestyle of platation owners was based on slavery (abolished 1865). After the North won the civil war. Blanche rhetoric ' I fought and bled' sounds like the rhetoric of the defeated South. 

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Scene 2 Analysis

Stanley's resentment and suspicion grows

  • Stanley's antagonism grows>prepares the ground for inevitable tragedy. 
  • From start, he resents Blanche (sisters going out for dinner) he asks 'how about my supper, huh?'
  • Class element to his irritation, 'Galatires' is a high-class restaurant. 

Class antagonism 

  • Stanley tries to drag Blanche down to his level, using sexuality as domination, later he says 'I pulled you down off them columns and how you loved it' to Stella.
  • Class antagonism is intensified by Stanley thinking Blanche has cheated him. Resentment when wife mocks him e.g. when she says rhinestone is 'next door to glass'. 

Structure of the scene

  • This scene sets the tragedy in motion. The audience should pick up on this by noticing Stanley's smoldering rage against Blanche's dangerously misguided playfulness. 
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Scene 2 analysis

Context 

Blanche in her red robe suggests the 'Scarlet women' (prostitute) in the Bible (Revelation 17).

Context

In the Bible (Mathew 15:14) Jesus says 'And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into a ditch' Blanche using this to indicate impending disaster. 

Context 

'Mix with our blood' at the time there was American interest in Eugenics, even after the defeat of Nazi Germany 1945. 

There is a motif of Blanche having long baths. Represents Blanche's yearning to wash off the guilt of her husband and her sexual encounters. (Like Lady Macbeth)

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Scene 3 analysis

A clash in the male and female world 

  • There are lots of primary colors in the scene. For instance the Van Gogh painting. Represents the men's harsh masculinity. 
  • Poker party shows Stanley's domination of his friends, and their tender love for him. 
  • Animosity between Stella and Stanley. He hits her, but she later passionately returns to him (to Blanche's horror). 

Blanche's contradictory behavior

  • Contradiction, playwright presents Blanche as a genteel Southern lady and a cheap seductress. 
  • The Chinese lantern is part of Mitch's disillusionment, but also may be a symbol conveying Blanche's refusal to face the ugly reality of her life. 

Context

Blanche recognizes Elizabeth Brownings 'sonnet 43' (reminds us she's an English teacher) The poem known as 'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways' speaks of love continuing after death. 

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Scene 4 analysis

The sister's different attitudes to sexual relationships

  • Stella is reading a comic. Subtle reminder she has joined Stanley's world in which comics, not books, are read. 
  • The 'Streetcar Named Desire' is a Metaphor for how sexual desire has ruined her life and brought her to New Orleans. Since the Streetcar goes through 'cemeteries' it shows a link between desire and death. 

Context 

Williams actually had seen a streetcar called Desire in New Orleans. 'Desire' is a real district of New Orleans too. 

Dramatic structure

  • When Stanley overhears Blanche's melodramatic condemnation of him, he has more the reason to be rid of her. 
  • His triumphant grin at the end of the scene promises ill for Blanche. 
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Scene 5

Blanche confides in Stella

  • Threatening undertone in this scene. Begins with Eunice and Steve arguing. 
  • She confides in Stella that in an effort to attract men, she dresses in soft colors of butterfly wings. (Moth-like first appearance) and reminds us of her fragility. Sleeping with men was her way of asserting her existence. 

Context

Blanche call's Mitch 'my Rosenkavalier!' literally meaning 'The Knight of the Rose'.  He is the hero of Strauss's comic-romantic opera (1911). This hints at Blanche love of fantasy and culture. 

A Sense of loss and foreboding grows 

  • Blanche cries over a stain on her shirt, a symbol of the loss of innocence or of her husband's tragic end?
  • She flirts with young man, potentially jeopardizing her chances ith Mitch. 
  • Thunder and throbbing of the blue piano perhaps speak of sexual passions too. 
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Scene 6

Blanche's inability to face reality

  • Blanche is play acting throughout this scene. Could she bear being the wife of a factory worker?
  • Blanche's confession about her husband dramatically has the function of telling the audience about it in detail too.

Context 

La Dame aux camelias (1848) by Alexandre Dumas the younger. Its heroine is a high call Parisian call girl. The phrase 'Voulez-vous coucher avec moi cesoir?' is a standard invitation of a French prostitute to a passing man. 

Contradictions

  • Blanche bluntly offers to sleep with Mitch in French- knowing he won't understand. She also self-mockingly rolls her eyes at him when speaking of her old-fashioned ideas. She also recklessly flirts with a young man, knowing she could be caught by Mitch. Contradictions as she wants to marry Mitch, and is sincere and humble at the end of the scene, yet endangers this constantly. 

Blanche also suggests Stanley's hostility towards her is because he is attracted to her.

Music wise, in this scene the absence of the blue piano signifies the low-key mood. The Polka is heard to signify Blanche is thinking of her later husband. 

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Scene 7

Dramatic impact

  • Full of dramatic contrasts, the cheerful mood of anticipation (Blanche in the bath whilst Stella prepares her birthday meal) and Stanley's telling of Blanche's promiscuous behavior. 
  • Blanche's carefree singing in contrast to Stanley's relations. This is planned evident by the playwright using contrapuntally in stage directions. 
  • The dramatic irony that Blanche is care-free and singing in the bath whilst almost within earshot of Stanley. 

Context

'Degenerate' used by Stella was used to describe homosexuality, which was considered a perversion and illegal. 

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Scene 8

Stanley's fury

  • Stanley resents the way the sisters have ganged up on him, criticizing his manners based on their assumed superiority. 
  • He hurls his plate on the floor and grabs Stella, he feels the need to reassert himself. 

Dramatic technique

  • Stella labor may be a device to resolve a difficult situation. 
  • Attention however quickly returns to Blanche, muttering to herself in Spanish. This perhaps foreshadows her descent into unreality. 
  • Polka plays again in this scene, softly when Blanche is presented with the bus ticket, and louder at the end. Warns of impending disaster. 

Context 

Stanley's reference to Huey Long shows his working class allegiance. (1853-1931) was a corrupt American politician, who remained popular as he reduced unemployment and improved social services. 

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Scene 9

Dramatic impact

  • Decisive stage in Blanche's disintegration. The scene is as effective as a Melodrama, Mitch's hostility and Blanche's half-hearted protestations lead up to a violent ending. 
  • Blanche knows she has been lying, but she also knows her lies are truthful attempts to present people for the reality they wish for.

Mitch's incomprehension 

  • Mitch is astonished that given Blanche's past she will not sleep with him, conveying his lack of understanding towards her.
  • The audience and the reader realize the hopelessness of Blanche and Mitch.

Symbols 

  • The tearing off of the lantern conveys impending violence, as it is meant to hurt and humiliate Blanche (and show her true appearance). 
  • But it's also a metaphor for hiding the cruel world around Blanche. Darkness is kind to Blanche, but light represents truth, so it is the cruel enemy. 
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Scene 9

  • Hiding in the darkness allows her to maintain her illusion. Without it, she loses touch with reality. 
  • Mitch calls Blanche's explanation as a 'pitch' clearly conveying the lack of empathy between them. To him, she is simply deceitful, a liar. 
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Scene 10

A nightmarish climax 

  • This is the dramatic climax of the play. The playwright uses multiple tools to create an atmosphere of menace. 
  • The breaking of the mirror shows impending doom. (Breaking a mirror brings bad luck). 

Stanley's changing mood 

  • Stanley is friendly at first, but after Blanche's decline on 'burying the hatchet' with him, animosity returns. It's unclear whether he understands her biblical reference 'casting my pearls before swines' as a personal insult or not. 
  • He cruelly destroys all her pretentions. Her terror is visible to the audience through 'grotesque and menacing' shapes all around her. The ugly scenes of violence in the street further highlight this.

Sexual undertone 

  • Stanley says that they've 'had this data with each other from the beginning!'. And there has been sexual tension between them. Blanche can see his coarse masculinity and we can see her provocative behavior towards it. 

Staging effects

  • Lots of effects e.g. 'inhumane voices like cries in a jungle' to create shocking visual and sonic impact. 
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Scene 11

Dramatic function

  • A downbeat conclusion preparing viewers to leave the theater.

Context

Stanley mentions his 'luck' at Salerno. This is a port in Southern Italy, a scene of fierce fighting in WW2. Against the odds, he survived. 

Blanche's tragic dignity 

  • Quiet dignity contrast to her display of vanity. Classic Greek tragedy demanded it's the main theme of the downfall of a great person through pride and arrogance (hubris). The opposite is the case here. Blanche's vanities and moral weaknesses fall away when she leaves, achieving the dignity of a tragic heroine. The effect diminishes the others. 
  • Her swan song at the end describing her death from eating an unwashed grape is the style of a romantic fiction. The handsome young doctor ironically contrasts with the real doctor. 
  • There is a theme of purity, the cathedral bells and the clean white sack which she imagines herself buried at sea in shows her longing for purification. 
  • Her fantasy has a sense of irony, the real 'voyage' she is taking is to the ugly mental asylum, where her incarceration is close to death. 
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