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A Streetcar Named Desire | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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How is Blanche's speech about Allan in Scene 6 of A Streetcar Named Desire similar to and different from her speech in Scene 9 about her later affairs with men?

Blanche addresses both speeches to Mitch. Also both speeches deal with her husband's suicide and reveal Blanche's vulnerability. However the Scene 6 speech stops right after Allan's suicide. As a result Blanche shows herself in a more sympathetic light to Mitch in this speech. She can be seen as a woman who had a tragic romance, which has given her great pain. As a result she has become a lonely woman. All of this is true as far as it goes. The Scene 9 speech shows more fully how Allan's suicide affected Blanche. She became a desperate woman who tried to satisfy her desire for love through affairs with men. So the second speech shows the darker side of Blanche that she has hidden from people, including Mitch. However Blanche's secrecy about her past does not protect but instead harms her. Mitch is upset with Blanche not simply because she has had affairs, but because she lied to him.

In Scene 6 of A Streetcar Named Desire, what does Blanche mean when she says "sometimes—there's God—so quickly"?

Blanche believes she needs a man to protect her from the harshness of the world. In a way Blanche looks to a man to take the role of God in her life. People often view God as a protector whom they can trust to love them throughout their lives. When Mitch holds Blanche and expresses his affection for her, Blanche "huddles in his embrace" like a child seeking protection. She begins to sob gratefully. Also Blanche might think that her prayers have been answered through Mitch. She says "so quickly," because Mitch's display of affection surprises her. After all that Blanche has been through with men, she believes she has found one who loves her.

Why does Williams set Scenes 7, 8, and 9 in A Streetcar Named Desire on Blanche's birthday?

Blanche's birthday provides a contrast to what happens during these scenes. Her birthday is supposed to be a happy celebration, which her boyfriend Mitch will attend. In Scene 7 Blanche blithely takes a bath, expecting to enjoy the evening with the man she intends to marry. However the events during these scenes take a tragic turn for Blanche. Stanley has found out about her lies and has told Stella and Mitch. So Mitch doesn't come to the party, making the celebration fraught with tension in Scene 8 as Stella is upset by the news and Blanche can see something is wrong; however, out of deference to Blanche, Stella keeps saying that Stanley hasn't told her anything. In Scene 9 Mitch does come after the party. However he is now a disillusioned and bitter man who has no intention of marrying Blanche. Also the birthday party can be seen as a symbol that represents Blanche's illusions about her age. Throughout the play Blanche has attempted to lie about her age. On her birthday her lies come to light.

In Scene 7 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how does Williams use the song "It's Only a Paper Moon" to both support and contrast Stanley and Stella's dialogue?

The song "It's Only a Paper Moon" supports Stanley's and Stella's dialogue in Scene 7 because the lyrics deal with truth versus illusion. A paper moon is a fake construction, an imitation of a real thing. Blanche sings the song as Stanley and Stella are talking about Blanche's dishonesty. She has told lies about her past and covered up her many affairs, including one with her teenage student. When Stanley discusses Blanche's relationship with the student, Blanche sings, "It's a Barnum and Bailey world, Just as phony as it can be." Indeed Blanche has been putting on a show for everyone to conceal the truth about her behavior. The song also contrasts with the dialogue. Blanche sings the song in a lighthearted manner unaware that Stanley and Stella are having a serious talk about her sleazy past. In addition Blanche sings lyrics about finding true love while Stanley and Stella talk about her series of affairs.

In Scene 7 how does Williams foreshadow what happens to Blanche in Scene 11 of A Streetcar Named Desire?

Williams foreshadows what will happen to Blanche through Stanley's speech about Blanche's affairs and the town realizing the truth about her. Stanley says Blanche became "regarded as not just different but downright loco—nuts." This foreshadows Scene 11 when Blanche actually does go insane. Also Stanley describes how Blanche became an outcast in the town. In fact the town's residents kicked her out. In Scene 11 Blanche becomes an outcast in the Kowalski household and is "kicked out" by being sent to a mental asylum. In addition, in Scene 7, Stella keeps on decorating for Blanche's birthday party as she learns the disreputable truth about her sister, pretending that everything is all right. In Scene 11 Stella also pretends that everything is all right to calm Blanche down.

In Scene 8 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how does Williams use the parrot joke to support the theme of truth versus illusion?

Although Blanche, Stella, and Stanley are all tense at the birthday party, Blanche wants to pretend that things are cheerful, so she tells the parrot joke. In this way Blanche uses illusion to cover up the truth. Also the joke itself deals with truth and illusion. An "old maid" has a parrot that curses. As a result she is ashamed of her parrot. When a minister visits, the woman places a cover over the parrot's cage to keep him quiet, but the parrot curses anyway, revealing the deception. Blanche herself has a past that she is ashamed of. Because of this she conceals her history to hide it from the harsh, judgmental world. However, like in the parrot joke, the truth comes out. Blanche's joke, which is intended to provide some humor, foreshadows her own tragic outcome later in the play.

What is the significance of the blind Mexican woman in Scene 9 of A Streetcar Named Desire?

The blind Mexican woman sells flowers to honor the dead. Her appearance at this point in the play serves multiple purposes. The fact that the Mexican woman is blind alludes to Blanche's desire to conceal the reality of her past in Laurel that she does not want others to see. Indeed she would prefer to be blind to the reality of her own personal history in many ways herself. The Mexican woman, who sells flowers for the dead, also foreshadows the "death" of Blanche's relationship with Mitch, who has now seen what Blanche was hoping to conceal. Blanche falsely presents herself as being like a flower, associating herself with what is beautiful and fresh. But the Mexican woman's flowers represent death, not the delicate world of pretty illusions that Blanche favors. In many ways Blanche's life has been defined by death, such as the fallout from her husband Allan's suicide. In addition the Mexican woman sparks Blanche's memory of nursing dying relatives at Belle Reve, a task which ran counter to her background as a refined, fragile Southern belle. Death represents the cruelty of reality and the pain and sense of loss it brings. Blanche wants to do whatever she can to escape reality, which is why the Mexican woman frightens her when she appears.

What is the significance of Williams's use of symbolism in Stanley's speech in Scene 8 of A Streetcar Named Desire that begins "When we first met"?

In this speech Williams uses the motif of Belle Reve and the symbol of light. Belle Reve represents the old, Southern tradition of the upper class. Stella had shown Stanley a picture of Belle Reve with its white columns. Stanley, who describes himself as "common as dirt" says, "I pulled you down off them columns and how you loved it." So Stanley has taken Stella away from the old, Southern tradition represented by Belle Reve and brought Stella down to his level. In its place Stanley has given Stella "colored lights." These lights represent the intensity and pleasure of their sex life, which satisfies both of them. Stanley says they were happy with their colored lights until Blanche disrupted everything.

In A Streetcar Named Desire, what does Blanche's behavior toward Mitch in the opening of Scene 9 convey about her?

Even though Mitch has behaved rudely by not attending her birthday party, Blanche frantically gets herself ready when he finally arrives. These preparations include "hiding the bottle in a closet" and "dabbing her face with cologne and powder." She tries to act insulted, telling Mitch, "I really shouldn't let you in after the treatment I have received from you." However, underneath this feeble attempt to uphold her pride, she desperately wants to attract Mitch so he will marry her. Even after Mitch snubs Blanche by refusing to kiss her, she easily forgives him. Blanche says, "I forgive you because it's such a relief to see you." This statement is true. She feels relief from the fear that her dreams of marriage with him have been lost. Because she views getting a man to protect her as an absolute necessity, she acts in a friendly, charming way to a man who has stood her up. Blanche's desire is immersed in her dependence on men. Her actions demonstrate how fully she is invested in this idea as essential to her existence, even at a cost to herself.

In Scene 9 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how does Williams use music as a motif?

Williams uses music as a motif by having the Varsouviana polka play repeatedly in Blanche's mind. A polka is cheerful. However, because it is the music that played when Blanche rejected her husband, causing him to commit suicide, the polka's cheerfulness takes on a nightmarish quality and the tune sounds "rapid, feverish." The polka represents Blanche's tragic loss of love and her failed attempt to ease her trauma through a series of brief sexual affairs. Now the polka keeps repeating in her head because Blanche is terrified that Mitch has rejected her, forcing her to return to her former lifestyle in Laurel. According to the stage directions, "She is drinking to escape it [the polka music] and the sense of disaster closing in on her." Blanche stops hearing the tune when Mitch comes to see her. However it returns when she senses that he's upset. Finally a gun shot—like the shot she heard when her husband committed suicide—causes the music to stop. At the end of Scene 9, the polka returns when Blanche feels she is losing Mitch and senses the end of their relationship. The polka is replaced at the end of the scene by a "distant piano slow and blue" as Mitch walks out.

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