12 IB HL English II: Period 2
April 10, 2014
Study Guide: A Streetcar Named Desire
Streetcar hit theaters in 1946.
The play cemented William's reputation as one of the greatest American playwrights, winning him a New York's Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Among the play's greatest achievements is the depiction of the psychology of working class characters. In the plays of the period, depictions of working-class life tended to be didactic, with a focus on social commentary or a kind of documentary drama. Williams' play sought to depict working-class characters as psychologically-evolved entities; to some extent, Williams tries to portray these blue-collar characters on their own terms, without romanticizing them. In Streetcar, stage effects are used to represent Blanche's decent into madness. The maddening polka music, jungle sound effects, and strange shadows help to represent the world as Blanche experiences it. These effects are a departure from the conventions of naturalistic drama, although in this respect Streetcar is not as innovative as The Glass Menagerie. Nevertheless, A Streetcar Named Desire uses these effects to create a highly subjective portrait of the play's central action. On stage, these effects powerfully evoke the terror and isolation of madness. Summary:
The play takes place right after World War II, in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Kowalski apartment is in a poor but charming neighborhood in the French Quarter. Stella, twenty-five years old and pregnant, lives with her blue collar husband Stanley Kowalski. It is summertime, and the heat is oppressive. Blanche Dubois, Stella's older sister, arrives unexpectedly, carrying all that she owns. Blanche and Stella have a warm reunion, but Blanche has some bad news: Belle Reve, the family mansion, has been lost. Blanche stayed behind to care for their dying family while Stella left to make a new life for herself, and Blanche is clearly resentful by her sister's abandonment of the family. Blanche meets her sister's husband, Stanley, for the first time, and immediately she feels uncomfortable. We learn that Blanche was once married, when she was very young, but her husband died, leaving her widowed and alone. Stanley initially distrusts Blanche, thinking that she has cheated Stella out of her share of Belle Reve - but Stanley soon realizes that Blanche is not the swindling type. But the animosity between the two continues. Blanche takes long baths, criticizes the squalor of the apartment, and irritates Stanley. Stanley's roughness bothers Blanche as well, since he makes no effort to be gentle with her. One night, during a poker game, Stanley gets too drunk and beats Stella. The women go to their upstairs neighbors' apartment, but soon Stella returns to Stanley. Blanche is unable to understand Stella and Stanley's powerful (and destructive) physical relationship. That night, she also meets Mitch, prompting an immediate mutual attraction. The next day, Stanley overhears Blanche saying terrible things about him. From that time on, he devotes himself fully to her destruction. Blanche, herself, has a shady past that she keeps close to the vest. During the last days of Belle Reve, after the mansion was lost, she was exceptionally lonely and turned to strangers for comfort. Her numerous amorous encounters destroyed her reputation in Laurel, leading to the loss of her job as a high school English teacher and her near-expulsion from town. Tensions build in the apartment throughout the summer. Blanche and Stanley see each other as enemies, and Blanche turns increasingly to alcohol for comfort. Stanley, meanwhile, investigates Blanche's past, and he passes the information about her sexual dalliances on to Mitch. Although Blanche and Mitch had been on track to marry, after he learns the truth, he loses all interest in her. On Blanche's birthday, Mitch stands her up, abandoning her for good. Stanley, meanwhile,...
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