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A Streetcar Named Desire | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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In Scene 3 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how does Williams use Stanley's dialogue and actions to show how he exerts his dominance over Stella, Blanche, and his friends?

Stanley exerts his dominance by telling everyone around him what to do. As Stanley and his friends play poker, Stanley orders them around and tells Mitch "get y'r ass off the table." When Mitch complains about his sick mother, Stanley says, "Aw, for the sake of Jesus, go home, then." Stella wonders how much longer the guys will be playing, and Stanley responds, "Till we get ready to quit." As Blanche and Stella talk in the bedroom, Stanley orders them to be quiet, saying "Well, you can hear me and I said to hush up." Then Stanley orders Blanche to "Turn it [the radio] off." When Mitch wants to leave the game, Stanley barks, "Sit down." Stanley also uses brute force to intimidate people around him. After Blanche refuses to turn off the radio, Stanley throws the radio out the window. Shortly afterward, when Stella insults him, he hits her.

How do Williams's stage directions in Scene 3 of A Streetcar Named Desire reveal the dynamics of Stanley's and Stella's relationship?

Stanley whacks Stella on the thigh, showing his brutish sexual feelings for his wife. When Stanley gets angry at his wife for calling him a "drunk animal thing," he "charges after Stella" and hits her, showing the violent side of their relationship. However Williams also uses stage directions to reveal Stanley's emotional attachment to his wife. Stanley sobs when he realizes Stella has left him. Determined to get her back, he is not concerned about how he looks or sounds and goes outside "half-dressed" and "bellows" his wife's name "with heaven-splitting violence" to the upstairs apartment where Stella has fled. When Stella returns to Stanley, they do not speak. Instead the stage directions emphasize their high voltage desire for each other by describing the intense physicality of their body language. Stanley kneels before Stella and "presses his face to her belly." As Stanley embraces her, Stella's "eyes go blind with tenderness as she catches his head and raises him level with her." He, in turn, picks her up and carries her off to bed. The stage directions help demonstrate Stanley's and Stella's sexual and emotional bond.

In Scene 4 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how does Blanche's plan to get Stella and herself free of Stanley show Blanche's dependence on men?

Blanche wants to get money so that she and Stella can leave Stanley and perhaps set up a shop together. However her method of doing this relies on a man—Blanche's millionaire friend, Shep Huntleigh, whom she met by accident in Miami. She considers writing Shep a letter asking him for cash, but rejects the idea, deciding that "you never get anywhere with direct appeals." Blanche is only comfortable playing the Southern belle, which involves manipulating a man into doing what she wants rather than making a straightforward request. Paradoxically, because she is repressed by her traditional Southern values, Blanche can only conceive of becoming independent by relying on a man to rescue her.

What is the purpose of Blanche's speech that starts with the words "He acts like an animal" in Scene 4 of A Streetcar Named Desire?

Blanche's speech shows that she believes there are two groups of people: inferior and superior. She equates the first group with animals, as represented by Stanley and his friends, and considers them as less evolved, therefore inferior to herself. She says Stanley "has an animal's habits" and is a "survivor of the stone age." She describes Stanley's poker night as "this party of apes" and his friends as sitting in front of a cave "all grunting like him [Stanley], and swilling and gnawing and hulking." However Blanche believes another group has evolved beyond the sub-human behavior of Stanley and his friends. These people are superior because they know that "new kinds of light have come into the world," particularly through "poetry and music." It is the responsibility of these people to act as a banner for progress, guiding others "in this dark march toward whatever it is we're approaching." Blanche, with her love of poetry and music, clearly identifies herself as a member of this group.

How does Stanley use illusion against Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire?

In the first few scenes, Stanley punctures Blanche's attempts to create illusions at every turn, beginning in Scene 1 when he calls her on her drinking. Her flirtatious manipulations in Scene 2 fail to work on him, and he tells her bluntly that he sees right through them. In Scene 4, however, Stanley overhears Blanche describing him as sub-human. This time Stanley decides to create an illusion himself. He sneaks out of the apartment and reenters as if for the first time, smiling at Blanche as if he hasn't heard a word she said, while secretly plotting her destruction. In the next scene Stanley casually mentions a rumor he heard about Blanche staying at a seedy hotel. Stanley pretends the rumor doesn't mean much, but in reality Stanley is collecting evidence to use against Blanche. In Scene 10 Stanley at first pretends to believe Blanche's story about being invited by Shep on a Caribbean cruise. Later he even proposes a toast to her oil-millionaire. However he is just playing with Blanche, and soon reveals that he has learned the truth about her behavior in Laurel. Stanley, thus, uses illusion as a weapon against Blanche.

In Scene 5 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how does Williams place the dynamics of Stanley's and Stella's relationship in the broader context of their social classes?

Early in Scene 5 Stella and Blanche overhear Steve and Eunice having a fierce argument. Eunice accuses Steve of cheating on her, and threatens to call the vice squad. Soon loud noises and yelling are heard. After this, Eunice "in daemonic disorder" comes out of her place and yells, "Call the police, I'm going to call the police!" Stanley then arrives and takes the argument in stride, as if this type of thing happens often. Williams, therefore, shows that Steve and Eunice have a volatile relationship, similar to Stanley and Stella's relationship. Through this similarity, the author implies that violent relationships like this are common among members of the working class.

In Scene 5 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how does Williams use the symbol of light?

Williams uses the symbol of light mainly in Blanche's speech about not being self-sufficient enough. In this dialogue, Williams refers to softer, more diffuse light, which represents Blanche and her temperament, using various words that relate to this type of light, such as shimmer, glow, soft colors, paper lantern, and fading. The words suggest Blanche's romantic, poetic sensibility, as well as symbolizing the world of illusion. Blanche also compares herself to butterfly wings, thereby conveying a sense of her emotional fragility. Because of her fragility, Blanche has placed a paper lantern over a light bulb to soften its glare. By doing this, she both protects her fragility while conveying the illusion of being younger than she really is. Diffuse light allows Blanche to "shimmer and glow" to create an illusion of youth to "turn the trick" and attract a man. On a broader level this softer light is a reminder that Blanche prefers to avoid the harsh light of truth in favor of illusion.

In Scene 5 of A Streetcar Named Desire, when Blanche flirts with the young man, how does Williams convey a sense of sensuality?

Blanche says, "What can I do for you," emphasizing the word you. By having Blanche use this intonation, Williams shows that she finds the young man very attractive. Blanche flatters the man, saying he looks like "a young Prince out of the Arabian Nights." Blanche then makes a play on words, taking the last word of the newspaper's name, The Evening Star, and using it to refer to the young man as a star in the heavens. When the young man lights Blanche's cigarette, the lighter flares, indicating sexual desire. In addition Williams has Blanche use sensual phrases, such as "cherry soda," "you make my mouth water," and "softly and sweetly on your mouth."

How does Mitch act as a foil to Blanche in Scene 6 of A Streetcar Named Desire?

A foil is a literary character who contrasts with another character in order to highlight that character's personality traits. Blanche is a person who often lies to maintain the illusion that she is an innocent, Southern belle. In contrast Mitch is a sensitive, but forthright working man. In Scene 6 Blanche's feeble attempts to maintain a carefree façade contrast sharply with Mitch's honesty. For instance, Mitch admits feeling embarrassed by how much he sweats and says, "My shirt is sticking to me." Later he asks Blanche directly what her age is. In a way Mitch's honesty disarms Blanche. When he says how much he likes her, she knows he is sincere. As a result she allows herself to be more vulnerable and to speak honestly about herself. The story she tells of her husband's suicide, for example, elicits Mitch's sympathy for her, but does not portray her life in a flattering light.

In Scene 6 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how does Williams demonstrate Blanche's dependence on men during her conversation with Mitch, and why is it problematic?

Williams conveys the theme of women's dependence on men through Blanche's acting like a proper, innocent Southern belle. She does this to make Mitch think that she is a lovely, refined lady who needs a big, strong man like Mitch to take care of her. Because of this she compliments Mitch on his "massive bone structure and a very imposing physique." Also Blanche is flattered when Mitch says, "you are light as a feather." Blanche then describes Stanley to Mitch as a harsh man who hates her. Although this is true, Blanche does this to show Mitch that she feels vulnerable and needs to be rescued. Blanche's approach is problematic because it is paradoxical: Blanche is attempting to establish her dependence on Mitch by stressing her vulnerability. In fact she is in control of the situation all the time, secretly manipulating him by pretending to be someone she is not.

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