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A Streetcar Named Desire | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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In A Streetcar Named Desire, how are Blanche and Stanley similar?

Blanche and Stanley are set in their ways. Both view the world as being split into two groups: superior/dominant and inferior/submissive. Both believe these categories dictate the behavior of men and women. Blanche thinks a woman needs to act according to the traditional values set forth by the Southern upper class. Stanley thinks that a man should be the king of his household and his wife should be subservient to him. Also Blanche and Stanley each think that his or her viewpoint represents the way the world really works, and is therefore the only correct one. Blanche thinks that a woman's having to trick a man to attract him is basically a law of nature. Stanley follows the Napoleonic code, which he believes clearly states the way a family should be run. In addition Blanche and Stanley each see their respective worldview as being superior. A culturally sophisticated woman, Blanche looks down on common people like Stanley. Stanley believes the superiority of his worldview comes from his physical prowess. Finally their insistence that their own point of view is the only one that is right creates a tragic similarity between Blanche and Stanley because each refuses to understand or empathize with the other.

In A Streetcar Named Desire, how does Blanche view the subject of aging, and how does it relate to her sense of vulnerability?

Blanche sees her age as an enemy that needs to be fought against by hiding it as much as possible. In this way Blanche sees herself in a constant struggle against death. Blanche is also invested in using sexual desire to counteract death. After her husband's suicide, Blanche had a series of affairs with men to protect herself from the harshness of the world and the pain of death. Blanche tells Mitch, "I think it was panic ... that drove me from one to another, hunting for ... protection." However Blanche feels increasingly vulnerable about her quest for protection because of her age. She feels that her fading beauty will make attracting a man more difficult or perhaps impossible. Because of this she will no longer be able to use sexual desire to stave off death. This vulnerability inspires her to create an illusion of youthfulness, an illusion that she will likely be unable to maintain as time passes.

What occurs in Scene 4 of A Streetcar Named Desire that acts as a major plot twist in the play?

In Scene 4 Stanley overhears Blanche calling him a subhuman animal. Neither Blanche nor Stella realize Stanley has heard this. This event acts as a major plot twist because it sets in motion a new chain of events that leads to Blanche's destruction. Before he overhears Blanche's insult, Stanley was often annoyed at Blanche, and they clearly did not get along. However, after he hears her comment about him, Stanley decides he hates Blanche. This hatred drives the actions he takes in the rest of the play. Because of it he digs up dirt about her past to use against her. When he exposes Blanche's disreputable past, Stanley deliberately destroys her relationship with Mitch. His hatred for her and desire to cause her harm causes Stanley to rape Blanche, who then subsequently goes insane.

In A Streetcar Named Desire, what is the story within a story, and why is it told in a different manner than the main plot?

The play's main plot is revealed through the action and dialogue of all the characters and is portrayed in chronological order. Blanche's past is told as a story within the story of the main plot through a series of speeches by Blanche and a speech by Stanley. However, in contrast to the way the main plot unfolds, the details of Blanche's past are revealed out of chronological order. First, Blanche talks about losing Belle Reve. Then, she tells Mitch about her tragic marriage to Allan, which happened before Blanche lost Belle Reve. Later, Stanley reveals the series of affairs Blanche had in her hometown, which happened after she lost Belle Reve. Finally, Blanche admits the affairs she had with soldiers from a nearby camp. This happened after Allan's death, but before Blanche lost Belle Reve. Telling the story out of chronological order in this way conveys the extent to which Blanche has hidden different parts of her past life from others. It forces the characters and the audience to reconstruct the true timeline of Blanche's life.

How is Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire similar to and different from Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie?

Both Blanche and Laura Wingfield are sensitive, intelligent women. Also both of them use imagination to protect themselves from the harshness of the world. Blanche tells lies about herself and pretends to be an innocent Southern belle. Laura lives in the imaginary world of her glass menagerie. Both Blanche and Laura have been dominated by the values of the traditional, Southern, upper class. Blanche grew up on a plantation and was groomed to be a refined, Southern lady. Laura has been dominated by her mother Amanda, who has traditional Southern values. Both women experience disappointment at failed romance, ultimately being rejected by potential suitors. However Blanche is older and more experienced with men than Laura. Blanche has had a series of affairs, even though she tries to deny this. In contrast Laura has had no experience with men. Also Laura does not play the role of the charming Southern belle. Laura has charm, but it is her own distinctive type. On the other hand, Blanche has the role of the Southern belle down pat. In fact she clings to this role, playing it despite her age and life experiences.

Why does Blanche use the metaphor of a spider to describe the truth about her sexual past to Mitch in Scene 9 of A Streetcar Named Desire?

In a rare moment of candor, Blanche describes herself to Mitch as a spider. Up to this point Blanche tries hard to portray herself as refined and youthful in order to conceal what she perceives as the ugly truth about her life ("I don't want realism. I want magic!"). Her description of herself as a tarantula is therefore surprising. There is nothing lovely about a tarantula, a hairy, repulsive spider with a venomous bite. Comparing herself to such a creature is Blanche's way of acknowledging the ugly truth about herself to Mitch. Blanche also uses this metaphor to characterize her sex life in Laurel, calling the men she slept with her "victims," as if they had been her prey. Indeed Blanche admits that she drew these men in and fed off them to satisfy her own needs. But the metaphor of Blanche as a tarantula is somewhat contradictory. Blanche wove a web by using her Southern belle charms to catch men to satisfy her sexual needs, but her motivations are not entirely those of a cold-blooded predator. Instead she needed these men to help her alleviate the "panic, that drove me from one to another, hunting for some protection." Blanche may adopt the metaphor of a predatory spider, and there may some truth to the comparison, but her actions in Laurel are based more on her own vulnerability after her husband's death and the loss of Belle Reve than anything else.

In A Streetcar Named Desire, Stella is dependent on Stanley, but in what ways can Stanley be viewed as dependent on her?

When Stanley views himself as the king of his house, he reinforces the theme of women's dependence on men. He expects Stella to obey him. For example, Stella tells Stanley to clear his place at the table. In response he throws his plate and cup on the floor to show his dominance. He hits her when she challenges his authority by talking back to him. Stella dislikes the way Stanley treats Blanche, but she feels unable to rebel against her husband because of her financial and sexual dependence on him. Her pregnancy just accentuates that dependence. Now that Stella is about to have a baby, she has more reason to want the financial security Stanley offers. But in many ways Stanley is dependent on Stella, as well, sexually and emotionally. Stella says in Scene 1 that she can barely stand to spend a day away from her husband. But when she flees to Eunice's apartment after Stanley hits her, he can't bear even a brief separation. Within a short time he is "bellowing" like a wounded bull, screaming her name. As they reunite he "falls to his knees and presses his face to her belly" in a submissive gesture.

In A Streetcar Named Desire, how does the character of Stella develop throughout the play?

At the beginning of the play, Stella seems like a satisfied wife who has a close sexual and emotional bond with her husband Stanley. Stella fits in successfully with Stanley's family order, reinforcing his role as the dominant member of the household. Stella seems happy about her sister Blanche staying with her and Stanley. However, as Stella shows support for Blanche, she inadvertently disrupts Stanley's power structure. For example, when Stanley throws a radio out the window, Stella insults him. As a result Stanley hits her. After this Stella feels torn between Blanche and Stanley. Stella hopes Blanche's relationship with Mitch works out well for her sister. She tries to get Stanley to understand Blanche and show more tolerance toward her. In the end Stella is forced to choose between Blanche and Stanley. She sides with her husband, refusing to believe Blanche when she says she has been raped by Stanley, although Blanche is telling the truth. If she did believe it, however, Stella could not live with her husband, and so sends Blanche to a mental asylum. By doing so she maintains the illusion that Stanley is not a rapist in order to preserve her marriage. In some respects Stella has become more like Blanche, relying on illusion to conceal an ugly truth so she does not have to leave the man on whom she depends.

In A Streetcar Named Desire, how does the character of Mitch develop throughout the play?

When the play starts, Mitch seems like a sensitive, working-class man. He is a loyal friend to Stanley and devoted to his dying mother. Also Mitch has a certain gullibility. He falls for Blanche's innocent Southern belle act and becomes infatuated with her. Mitch is a lonely man who seeks a wife for companionship. He thinks Blanche could fulfill this need. However Mitch becomes bitter and disillusioned when Stanley reveals the truth about Blanche to him. He considers Blanche disreputable not only because of her sexual exploits, but because she has lied to him. Given the way Mitch has treated Blanche with respect and understanding up to this point in the play, his treatment of her is shocking. He no longer expresses any empathy for Blanche. Instead he rips the shade off the lamp, mercilessly revealing Blanche's aging face. He tells her she is no longer "clean enough" for him to marry, then degrades her by asking her for sex. When she becomes hysterical, he walks out. Mitch not only feels bitterness toward Blanche, but also toward Stanley. He sees Stanley as a bully who has abused Blanche. Even so Mitch remains powerless to oppose Stanley. By the end of the play, Mitch has become a broken, powerless man.

In what ways might A Streetcar Named Desire be viewed as a feminist play?

A Streetcar Named Desire could be seen as a feminist play because of its critique of women's dependence on men and its exposure of an abusive husband. Throughout the play Williams shows how Stella and Blanche have accepted dependence on men with disastrous results. Blanche views finding a husband to take care of her as a necessity. She sees herself as having no self-sufficiency. However, because of this viewpoint, Blanche lies and tries to trick Mitch into marrying her. In the end her dishonesty is exposed by Stanley, and she loses Mitch. Even so Blanche still clings to the idea of relying on a man to protect her, mistaking the asylum's doctor for a gentleman caller as he leads her to the asylum. Stella accepts her role as a subservient wife to Stanley. As a result she lacks the strength to break away from Stanley when she suspects him of raping Blanche. Instead Stella remains trapped in a marriage with an abusive husband. Also Williams reveals Stanley's abusiveness toward his wife and Blanche. The author depicts Stanley as a tyrant who beats his wife and rapes his wife's sister in order to maintain his own dominance. Even so Stanley remains unpunished and continues his abusive lifestyle.

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