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A Streetcar Named Desire | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In Scene 1 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how does Blanche convey class differences during her speech about being "honestly critical" about Stella's apartment?

Blanche often mentions her love of poetry during the play as a sign of her cultured upbringing and sense of refinement. Poetry also represents her need for a world of beauty and imagination to counteract the harsh realities in her own life that she would rather avoid. Blanche criticizes Stella's apartment in Scene 1 by referring to Edgar Allan Poe. Blanche says, "Only Mr. Edgar Allan Poe!—could do it justice." She continues with this approach in the next sentence, "Out there I suppose is the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir!" Again Blanche references Poe. This time she takes a line from Poe's poem "Ulalume." The poem describes the scarily mysterious region of Weir. Blanche's references to Poe show how horrifying she finds Stella's dwelling. Only a person who has received a good education in literature would make such a reference. Traditional, Southern, upper-class ladies are well versed in literature, but working-class people such as Stanley are not. So Blanche criticizes the apartment by using an upper-class reference that Stella would understand, but the people living in her working-class neighborhood, including her husband, would probably not. In addition, alluding to Poe, famous as a master of the horror genre, is not at all complimentary.

How does Williams depict Blanche's nervousness in Scene 1 of A Streetcar Named Desire?

While waiting for Stella, Blanche demonstrates her nervousness in several ways. First, she sneaks a drink and then hides the evidence. She also seems very annoyed by the harsh glare of the lights in the apartment and orders Stella to "turn that over-light off!" She jumps when a cat screeches outside the apartment. Blanche's glass shakes in her hand when she expresses her emotional insecurity and desperation, telling Stella, "You're all I've got in the world, and you're not glad to see me!" Blanche seems particularly frightened, even nervous, when she talks about her need to be with someone. She also becomes hysterical when she talks about Stella's abandoning Belle Reve, leaving Blanche in what Blanche considered an unmanageable situation that further frayed her nerves.

In Scene 1 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how does Williams portray Stella's dependence on her husband Stanley?

Williams hints at Stella's dependence on her husband Stanley when she asks to go with him to the bowling alley. Williams further develops this idea later in the scene when Stella explains to Blanche how much she misses Stanley when he travels for work: "I can hardly stand it when he is away for a night." When Stanley returns from his travels, Stella admits, "I cry on his lap like a baby." Stella has become so dependent on Stanley that she is like an infant relying on an adult. Blanche is startled by the strength of her sister's desire for her husband and replies, "I guess that is what is meant by being in love." However, by placing the words "I guess" at the beginning of the sentence, Blanche indicates that she has her doubts. Blanche seems shocked by the violence of Stella's attachment to Stanley and might liken it more to obsession than love.

How does Williams use the motif of Belle Reve to contrast Blanche's and Stella's views of the Southern tradition in Scene 1 of A Streetcar Named Desire?

Williams uses the motif of Belle Reve to represent tradition in the form of Southern, upper-class values. Blanche seems extremely attached to these values, as if they are as important to her as life itself. She stays at Belle Reve, even though her relatives are dying off and she can't afford to keep up the estate. In fact Blanche endures the difficult and at times arduous task of treating the sick and dying although she is a woman who has been raised to be a refined Southern belle. Even so she does whatever she can to cling to Belle Reve. The loss of the estate is traumatic for Blanche. Stella is surprised that Blanche lost Belle Reve, but does not seem to be angry with or resent Blanche about this. Indeed Stella may have sensed that Belle Reve was a trap, causing her to leave the plantation, much to the bitter disappointment of her sister. In the end Stella does not share Blanche's strong attachment to traditional, Southern values. Because of this she was willing to change her life, marrying Stanley, a working-class man who lacks the social graces Blanche values so highly.

In Scene 2 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how does Williams use Stanley's searching through Blanche's possessions to convey the theme of truth and illusion?

Stanley is determined to find out the truth about Belle Reve. He suspects that Blanche sold the estate and used the money to buy clothing and jewelry. To gather proof he searches through Blanche's possessions. Stanley thinks her clothing and jewelry, including some furs, must be valuable, and this is proof that Blanche used money from the sale of Belle Reve to buy them. However Williams uses dramatic irony, or the disparity between a character's understanding and the audience's, in this situation. Unlike her husband, Stella actually understands that Blanche's things are not worth much at all. Stella says, "Those are inexpensive summer furs that Blanche has had a long time." The jewelry is costume jewelry of little value. So while Stanley hunts to find the truth, he is deceived by the tools Blanche uses to create the illusion that she is still an upper-class woman.

How does the contrast between Blanche's and Stanley's views on how men should treat women reveal the difference in their social classes in Scene 2 of A Streetcar Named Desire?

Blanche believes in the traditional, upper-class Southern way of how a man should treat a woman, especially a lady. This approach involves innocent flirtation and men paying compliments to women. As a result Blanche flirts with Stanley by appealing to his ego. She tells him, "My sister has married a man!" Blanche also expects Stanley to compliment her. She asks him if he could ever imagine that she was once attractive, expecting him to say that she still is. However Stanley does not prefer this way of treating women because it feels phony to him. "I never met a woman that didn't know she was good-looking or not without being told." He would rather take a more direct approach in line with his working-class status. Because of this, he doesn't take Blanche's bait and pay her a compliment, conceding only that she "looks all right." In fact Stanley dismisses Blanche, telling her that he once responded disinterestedly when he went out with a woman who said she was "the glamorous type."

In Scene 2 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how does Williams combine desire, destruction, and death in Blanche's speech that starts with "There are thousands of papers"?

The loss of Belle Reve combines desire, destruction, and death. Blanche refers to the "epic fornications" of her grandfathers, fathers, uncles, and brothers. After this she says, "The four-letter word deprived us of our plantation." Blanche identifies out-of-control sexual desire as the root of the destruction of Belle Reve. Blanche indicates the estate's destruction by describing Belle Reve as being diminished "piece by piece" over time until all that was left was ""the house itself and about twenty acres of ground, including a graveyard." This graveyard includes all the graves of the people who whittled the estate down to next to nothing. Thus her ancestors' sexual desires have led to the destruction of the estate, which serves as little more than a cemetery. Blanche suggests that she and Stella are the last of their family.

How does Blanche defend herself against Stanley when he demands information about Belle Reve in Scene 2 of A Streetcar Named Desire?

Blanche defends herself by flirting with Stanley in a sexually suggestive way. For example, she comes out of the bathroom and talks about being "all freshly bathed and scented." Then she asks Stanley to excuse her while "I slip on my pretty new dress," and has Stanley button it for her. She could have asked her sister to do this. When Stanley asks Blanche about how she got her clothing and jewelry, Blanche responds flirtatiously, saying that an admirer gave them to her. Stanley pressures Blanche to tell him the truth about Belle Reve. Even so Blanche continues to present a flirtatious front. When Stanley starts talking about the Napoleonic code, she sprays herself with perfume and then playfully sprays him. But Stanley cuts through her defense, grabbing the perfume bottle and slamming it down on a dresser. He counters her flirtation with a frank sexual comment, saying, "If I didn't know that you was my wife's sister I'd get ideas about you." Blanche continues to flirt, saying "Such as what!" to which he responds, "Don't play so dumb. You know what!" Finally realizing her strategy won't work on Stanley, Blanche puts her "cards on the table" and gives him the information he wants about Belle Reve.

In Scene 3 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how does Blanche feel about Mitch's social class, and how does it reveal how she feels about her own social status?

Mitch is a working-class man like Stanley, but Blanche tells Stella that Mitch "seems superior" to Stanley and his friends. By saying this Blanche shows that she looks down on Stanley and his friends and sees herself as belonging to a higher class than they do. When Blanche continues to ask Stella about Mitch, her questions focus on social status. She wants to know what Mitch does for a living and wonders about his job, asking, "Is that something much?" She seems to think Mitch has more potential than his current social standing indicates. Blanche considers Stanley not likely to get ahead, implying that he lacks intelligence. Also Blanche thinks Mitch is "sensitive" and gentlemanly (again in contrast with Stanley, who is merely crude). Later Blanche impresses Mitch with her refinement and sophistication, traits often associated with the upper class. Blanche knows who wrote the poem quoted on Mitch's cigarette case, mentions her French heritage, and talks about her frustration trying to educate resistant students about classic writers like "Hawthorne and Whitman and Poe."

How does Williams use the motif of music to advance the plot in Scene 3 of A Streetcar Named Desire?

When Blanche and Stella return to the apartment in Scene 3, Blanche turns on the radio, which plays rhumba music. This music distracts and annoys Stanley, who orders Blanche to turn it off. When she refuses, Stanley angrily turns off the radio. Music escalates the tension between them in the scene. Later, as Blanche flirts with Mitch, she turns on the radio again, which now plays a waltz. This time Stanley becomes furious. He storms into the bedroom and throws the radio out the window. Williams uses music in this scene to push tensions to the breaking point and spur a chain of increasingly dramatic and violent events. Stella gets angry at Stanley for throwing out the radio and insults him, causing him to hit her. As a result Blanche and Stella leave and take refuge in a friend's apartment on the second floor. Feeling remorse, Stanley calls for Stella, and they reunite passionately, this time as the blue piano music from the nearby saloon becomes audible, demonstrating their marriage's cycle of violence, passion, and sexuality.

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