A Streetcar Named Desire - Stagecraft and Language

  • Created by: cj2013
  • Created on: 29-04-19 14:47

A Streetcar Named Desire - Stagecraft


  • Williams developed a style of drama known as 'plastic theatre' in which he combined musical motifs, lighting, symbolic props and symbolic costume as expressionistic devices to reveal characters' inner lives and true feelings.
  • He did this with the aim of achieving a sense of psychological verisimilitude (a portrayal of psychological reality) which was desired by 1940s audiences after they had lived through the psychological traumas of the Great Depression in the 1930s and the Second World War.
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A Streetcar Named Desire - Symbolic Costumes

Symbolic Costumes:

  • The motif of whiteness establishes through Blanche's 'suit' and 'gloves' aligns her with the appearance of a chaste, elegant and affluent Southern Belle.
  • The 'soiled and crumpled white' evening gown in Scene 10 is symbolic of the destruction of Blanche's perceived façade and the reveal of her promiscuity and her as a 'fallen woman', with her violent rejection of her sordid reality culminating in her smashing 'the mirror'.
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A Streetcar Named Desire - Symbolic Props

Symbolic Props:

  • 1. 'Chinese paper lantern' is symbolic of Blanche's creation of a protective façade around her and her fears of exposure (symbolised by her photophobia). Mitch and Stanley tearing the lantern is symbolic of their desires to reveal the sordid reality of Blanche's promiscuous past.
  • 2. 'broom' is symbolic of Stella's regression back into the stereotypical 1940s role of the submissive housewife, despite the domestic abuse she has suffered.
  • 3. 'rhinestone tiara' is symbolic of the gap between Blanche's Southern Belle façade of elegance and affluence and her impoverished reality.
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A Streetcar Named Desire - Lighting


  • The motif of light is used to express Blanche's fear of exposure (as symbolised by her photophobia).
  • The 'headlight of the locomotive' which shines through when Blanche is revealing the truth in her role surrounding Allan Grey's death is symbolic of her pain in revealing the reality of the trauma she has experienced.
  • The 'shadows' that appear during the **** scene are symbolic of Blanche's repressed fears of sexual violence.
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A Streetcar Named Desire - Structural Juxtapositio

Structural Juxtapositions:

  • 1. The immediate juxtaposition in Blanche's behaviour between the paper boy leaving and Mitch entering (Scene 5): Blanche's seduction of the paper boy is representative of 1) her past promiscuity and 2) her continuous attempts and desires to recapture her youth (evident in the repetition of the adjective 'young') which she immediately attempts to disguise with her allusion of him being a 'young prince out of the Arabian Nights'. She immediately and shockingly re-adopts her façade of Southern Belle chastity when Mitch enters, using an allusion to address him as her 'Rosenkavalier', suggesting she desires an old-fashioned courtship with a chivalric saviour figure.
  • 2. The contrapuntal [contrasting tone] tension between Blanche singing of the 'paper moon' and Stanley revealing her promiscuous past (Scene 7): Blanche has an optimistic tone in the song 'it's only a paper moon' of her hopes for a relationship with Mitch - 'it wouldn't be make believe if you believed in me' - but Stanley simultaneously uses derogatory colloquialisms to describe her sordid past in Laurel describing her as 'known as ... loco-nuts', drawing on the 1940s association between female promiscuity and mental instability.
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A Streetcar Named Desire - Musical Motifs

Musical Motifs:

  • The Varsouviana Polka is used as a symbol of Blanche's repressed guilt surrounding her role in Allan Grey's death and it is an expressionistic device which functions as a memento mori. In Scene 9, it is said to be 'in her head' and only stops when 'a shot is heard' in the street, symbolising how she is constantly reliving her past trauma and is unable to move on. It also symbolises how the boundary between past and present has become blurred.
  • The Blues piano music is used to create pathos and is also symbolic of the multiculturalism of New Orleans.
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A Streetcar Named Desire - Transparent Walls

Transparent Walls (Scene 10):

  • The walls go transparent in Scene 10 before the **** scene symbolising how there is no longer a protective boundary between Blanche and the chaotic, immoral, primitive 'jungle' of New Orleans streetlife.
  • The three figures of the prostitute, the drunkard and the thief are representative of Blanche's reality of promiscuity, alcoholism and deceptiveness.
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A Streetcar Named Desire - Key Stage Directions

Stage Directions:

  • '[a richly feathered male bird among hens]' - zoomorphism and plural 'hens' foreshadows Stanley's promiscuity and sexual exploitation of women.
  • '[moth]' - zoomorphism symbolises the physical and psychological fragility of Blanche, and suggests she is driven by primitive instincts and desires. It also establishes an association between death and Blanche.
  • '[he hurls a plate to the floor]', violent verb, demonstrates how Stanley asserts his patriarchal dominance through physical violence.
  • '[biting his tongue which protrudes between his lips]', '[springs]', zoomorphism, highlights his predatory behaviour as a patriarchal oppressor, an indication of Williams' fears of the rise of a new, primitive, barbaric social order and a decline in Old Southern values, traditions and moral principles.
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A Streetcar Named Desire - Key Allusions

Key Allusions:

  • Elysian Fields - name of the street where Stella and Stanley live, an allusion to Greek mythology, and the heaven/paradise that virtuous people were sent to after death such as Hercules, ironic for the immoral people living in this area of New Orleans.
  • La Dame Aux Camelias - Blanche references it on her date with Mitch, allusion to a French novel about a courtesan (linking to Blanche's promiscuity) whose relationship with a man is disrupted (like Stanley disrupts hers) and she ends up abandoned (by Stella) and full of regret, as Blanche is. It suggests that Blanche desparately wants to tell Mitch of her past but can't quite bring herself to do so and so tells him in French.
  • Der Rosenkavalier - Again Blanche references it on her date with Mitch, allusion to an opera by Richard Strauss, suggesting that Blanche wants to maintain her façade of Southern Belle respectability and wants him to fulfil the stereotypical role of the southern gentleman and save her, admiring the old style of courtship.
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A Streetcar Named Desire - Key Images

Key Images:

  • 1. B: 'it was [the grim reaper's] headquarters ... it was as if [he] had set up his tent on our doorstep', personification of death, demonstrates Blanche's fears and obsession with her mortality and how she felt victimised and pursued by death, drawing imagery from the Southern Gothic.
  • 2. S: 'hoity toity describing me as an ape', antithesis, zoomorphism and colloquialisms demonstrate Stanley's dislike and resentment of social class privilege and inherited wealth.
  • 3. S: 'I pulled you down off them columns', description of 'Belle Reve' as 'columns' demonstrates his resentment of social class privilege and inherited wealth.
  • 4. S: 'rat race', zoomorphism, highlights Stanley's New Southern values of ruthless competition, pragmatism, being practical and realistic, and materialism and his belief in the American Dream - that all Americans could achieve success and prosperity based on their own merit an not inherited wealth or social privilege.
  • 5. S: 'Napoleonic Code', lexical field of business, demonstrating Stanley's obsession with money and materialism.
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