A Streetcar Named Desire Suggested Essays
Suggested Essay Questions
A Streetcar Named Desire is laden with symbolism and metaphor. Pick one of the many recurring symbols – light, flowers, fire, bathing, meat – and trace its occurrence through the play. What does this motif add to the story and characterizations?
Bathing - Blanche is constantly taking baths in the play, subconsciously trying to cleanse herself of the sins of her past. She never succeeds, however, and must return to the bath again and again. Similarly, Stanley showers after he beats his wife, and unlike Blanche he is able to come out cleansed and remorseful.
Elia Kazan's 1951 film adaptation of Streetcar is much lauded, but due to the Hayes Code in effect at the time a film faced much stricter censorship than a stage play. Compare the depiction of Blanche's memory of her husband in the play and in the film adaptation – how does Kazan imply Allan's homosexuality without overtly stating it? Does the film effectively convey the story of Blanche's marriage, and how does it differ from the stage script in this interpretation?
The screenplay has Blanche express disgust at her husband not for being gay, but for being a poet. However, Vivien Leigh's performance makes it clear that "poet" is euphemistic, and the point gets across. It just requires a little more attention to the subtext than in the original play, which is straightforward with its account of Allan's sexuality.
At points throughout the play, Blanche hears the music of a polka, the song that was playing the night her husband died. Trace the occurrences of this tune and note what conclusions can be drawn about her mental state when she is hearing this music. How does it compare to the occurrences of the "blue piano" in the stage directions?
The Varsouviana was the music playing at the moment of Blanche's loss of innocence, and it has been haunting her ever since. It first appears when she is actively thinking about her dead husband, but as the play progresses the tune's increased presence highlights her slipping grip on reality.
Two of Williams most popular plays, Streetcar and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, have characters who are preoccupied with the memory of a loved one who committed suicide after being confronted about their homosexuality – the "dead gay man" who haunts so many of Williams' plays. Compare Blanche's recollections of Allan with Brick's of Skipper. Can a connection be drawn between the gunshot that always ends the Varsouviana and the "click" that brings Brick peace when he drinks?
Williams utilizes a similar device in Blanche's gunshot and Brick's click - both of these serve to dramatize characters' internal thoughts and conflicts in a way that is appropriate to the stage. They also serve as motivators for the characters - Brick is drinking his memories into oblivion, and Blanche's memories are crowing constantly into her consciousness, relieved only by death.
The truth is a mutating, subjective figure in Streetcar, with each of the principals having a different relationship with the idea of "truth." How does Williams express these relationships, and what role do they have on the narrative?
In sum, Stanley seeks truth, Stella hides from truth, and Blanche manipulates truth. Blanche covers the truth in paper lanterns, dressing it up into what she wants it to be, and honestly believing that she has the power to bend reality to her will. Stanley's role is to peel away Blanche's layers of illusion, and Stella is caught in between, aware of lies but choosing to pick up her sister's method of dealing with reality by changing it to suit her life.
Streetcar is a very "New Orleans" play, closely tied to its location in space and time, while tackling universal themes and relationships. What role does New Orleans play in the work? How do the characters interact with the city, and how does the city impact the narrative? Can you imagine a production set in a different time and place? How would that change the play?
You could put Streetcar in another environment of weakened economic conditions and mutating social standards, but it would be a fundamentally different play outside the Old South, and specifically New Orleans. New Orleans occupies a unique place as a bastion of old wealth and gentility while also being home to jazz, Mardi Gras, and Bourbon Street. Like Blanche, New Orleans is a faded rose fallen into hard times and cheap thrills, and this is vital to the play.
"I couldn't believe her story and go on living with Stanley," Stella says at the end of the play. Examine this statement – is Stella showing a remarkable self-awareness? Or perhaps self-justification? Compare Stella's behavior in the final scene to that of Stanley and Mitch.
Depending on the performance, Stella can be either heartlessly condemning her sister to save her own way of life, or showing that she honestly loves Stanley so much that she is incapable of disbelieving him. Her statement is wonderfully ambiguous and layered; meanwhile, Stanley sees Blanche off with good riddance, and Mitch bemoans the situation but is powerless to change it.
Stella and Stanley's conversation in scene seven is punctuated by Blanche singing "Paper Moon" in the bathroom. What function does the song play in the scene? What significance does this particular song have to the characters? Why do you think Williams chose to underscore this scene in the way he did?
Paper Moon serves as a constant reminder to the Kowalskis of Blanche's presence in the apartment and in their lives. While living with them, she has completely invaded their existence, even punctuating their private conversations. It also adds poignance and contrast, as Stanley describes Blanche's downfall while she, unsuspecting, continues to carries on with her daily routine. The song itself is also well chosen. The chorus of "it's only a paper moon, sailing over a cardboard sea, but it wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me" expresses Blanche's fundamental world-view that what's fake can be made real if you just pretend hard enough.
Clearly, a main theme of Streetcar is "desire." But does this key word refer only to physical desire, lust? What other desires are present in the story and characterizations?
Although lust is the dominant form of desire in Streetcar, it is not the only one. Blanche is motivated by sexual desire but also by a rejection of the same, desiring stability and a fresh start instead. She is a character full of needs and wants, unlike Stanley and Stella who were perfectly content with their lot in life until Blanche came to town.
What is the relationship between sexuality and death in the play, and how does it factor into Blanche's nymphomania and fear of aging?
Starting with Blanche's transfer from the Streetcar Named Desire to the Streetcar Named Cemeteries, sexuality and death are connected in the play. Those cars and the themes they symbolize run together to Blanche's final destination and ruination. Blanche's loss of innocence arose out of a death, and more deaths led to her sexual experimentation - for her, death and desire go hand in hand.
A Streetcar Named Desire Essays and Related Content
- A Streetcar Named Desire: Major Themes
- A Streetcar Named Desire: Essays
- A Streetcar Named Desire: Lesson Plan
- A Streetcar Named Desire: Questions
- A Streetcar Named Desire: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Tennessee Williams: Biography
- A Streetcar Named Desire Summary
- About A Streetcar Named Desire
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 1
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 2
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 3
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 4
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 5
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 6
- Summary and Analysis of Scenes 7 and 8
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 9
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 10
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 11
- Music and Streetcar
- Related Links on A Streetcar Named Desire
- Suggested Essay Questions
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