Much of the play takes place in the Kowalski two room apartment. Williams uses a flexible set that shows the exterior of the street as well as the interior of the home. This shows that not even a home can shield characters from the problems of the outside world. Characters in the play bring problems of the outside world into the apartment. For example, Blanche refuses to leave her prejudices against the working class behind. In Scene 10, the back wall of the apartment rooms becomes transparent, revealing the outside streets. This foreshadows that conflict found usually in the streets is about to take place in the household when Stanley rapes Blanche.
Stanley Kowalski: The husband of Stella, Stanley works in the engineers corps. He is described as manly, open, and honest. Stanley is of Polish descent, which Blanche often ridicules.
Blanche DuBois: Blanche is the sister of Stella DuBois. She arrives in New Orleans after the superintendent of her school district asked her to resign her position. Blanche is a deceptive character and often obscures the truth.
Harold Mitchell (Mitch): Mitch is one of Stanley’s close friends from the engineers corps. He is single and lives with his sick mother.
Stella Kowalski: Stella is the wife of Stanley Kowalski and the sister of Blanche DuBois. She serves as a contrast from her sister, who acts aristocratically.
Steve Hubbell: Steve is one of Stanley’s close friends. He lives with his wife Eunice in the flat above Stanley and Stella’s.
Eunice Hubbell: Eunice is close friends with Stella DuBois. Along with her husband Steve, she lives in the flat above Stella and Stanley.
Negro Woman: Goes to get Stella in the first scene when Blanche arrives.
Mexican Woman: She sells roses for the dead while Mitch is confronting Blanche (scene nine).
Pablo Gonzales: Pablo is one of Stanley’s friends who comes over to play poker frequently.
Nurse: The nurse comes in the final scene to take Blanche.
Doctor: The doctor comes in the final scene to take Blanche.
Young Collector: The young collector comes at the end of scene five to try to sell the newspaper to Blanche.
1. Mitch and Blanche have a relationship based on loneliness. Both have lost loved ones and both need each other. “You need somebody. And I need somebody too. Could it be you and me, Blanche?” (Mitch Scene six)
2. Stanley and Stella have a relationship based on traditional gender roles. Stanley is the king of the house. The man is in charge, and the woman does what the man says. Blanche challenges the traditional gender roles.
3. Stella and Blanche have a relationship based on tradition. Stella and Blanche haven't seen each other in a while and haven't lived together for ten years, yet both revert to their Belle Reve relationship structure the instant Blanche enters the apartment. Blanche orders Stella around and Stella complies with silence.
4. Steve and Eunice have a repetitive relationship. The two are constantly fighting and making up in an endless cycle.
5. Stanley and Blanche have a relationship based on power. Before Blanche arrives, Stanley has all the power in the house. However, Blanche wants to steal Stanley’s power over Stella. Blanche even tries to convince Stella to leave Stanley. Stanley feels threatened by Blanche and decides to dig up dirt about Blanche’s past in hopes of getting rid of her.
Stanley and Mitch return to Stanley’s home, where Stanley tells his wife Stella that he is going to the bowling alley. Stella asks to come along to watch. While they are out, Blance DuBois (Stella’s sister) arrives at their home. The negro woman comes to the bowling alley to inform Stella that her sister has come. Stella returns to the home and talks with her sister before Stanley returns with his friends Mitch and Steve.
In the beginning of the scene, Blanche is taking a bath to cool her nerves. While Blanche is in the bathroom, Stella informs Stanley that Blanche has lost Belle Reve. Stanley responds to this by telling Stella that Blanche has swindled the family and sold Belle Reve, pointing out that the luxurious clothing and jewelry Blanche possesses could not be afforded with a teacher’s salary. Stella asks Stanley to come outside while Blanche gets dressed, which upsets Stanley because he does not take orders from his wife. Stanley confronts Blanche while she is getting dressed about the loss of Belle Reve and probes the contents of Blanche’s trunk. When he opens the trunk, all Stanley finds is poems from Blanche’s admirer in the past and mortgage and loan documents, indicating that Belle Reve was lost through mortgage. The scene ends with Stella and Blanche leaving the house so that Stanley can prepare for his poker night.
Scene three opens with Stanley’s poker night; Stanley and his friends Mitch, Pablo, and Steve are playing cards at Stanley’s home. Stella and Blanche come home from their night out around the French Quarter. Later, Blanche and Mitch get along after expressing an appreciation of the poet Mrs. Browning. During their conversation, Blanche lies about her age and the reason why she came to New Orleans. Towards the end of the play, Stella attempts to end poker night after Stanley throws the radio out of the window, which leads to a drunk Stanley beating her. Stella retreats to Eunice’s home upstairs.
The scene takes place the morning after poker night. Stanley has taken the car out to get greased, leaving Stella and Blanche in the home alone together. Blanche tells Stella that the two of them need to get away from New Orleans. Blanche suggests that she contact an old acquaintance, Shep Huntleigh, who may be able to help the two of them. Blanche calls Stanley an animal, and Stanley returns home and embraces Stella.
Eunice and Steve have a row, and Stanley and Stella help Eunice hide as Steve tries to find her. Stanley confronts Blanche about rumors he heard of her from Shaw, which Blanche denies. Stella spills some coke and whiskey on Blanche’s skirt, which startles her because Blanche is looking forward to Mitch coming over later in the evening. Stella and Stanley leave the home, leaving Blanche alone. A young man from The Evening Star rings the doorbell and tries to sell a newspaper. Blanche kisses the young man.
Blanche and Mitch are returning from their night out at the amusement park when Blanche invites Mitch into the house for a drink. Blanche and Mitch talk while they drink. First, Blanche compliments Mitch’s physique. After, Blanche questions Mitch what Stanley says about her to his friends because at home, Blanche claims that Stanley is rude to her. Lastly, Blanche opens up about the death of her ex-lover Allan. The scene ends with Mitch embracing Blanche.
The scene opens with Stella setting up to celebrate Blanche’s birthday, while Blanche is in the bathroom bathing. Stanley sits Stella down and tells her two lies that Blanche has told since she had arrived in New Orleans, which he had discovered through one of his acquaintances who travels to Laurel frequently. During this time, Blanche is in the bathroom singing “Paper Moon.” Stanley reveals to Stella that he also told Mitch about Blanche’s deception.
Blanche tells a joke at the table, but Stanley is unamused. After asking Stanley to wash up and clear his dishes, Stanley becomes upset and throws his dishes onto the ground. Mitch does not show up to Blanche’s birthday celebration. Blanche upsets Stanley by calling him a Polack. Stanley gives Blanche a birthday ticket, which ends up being a ticket back to Laurel. The scene ends with Stanley taking Stella to the hospital.
Mitch comes to visit Blanche, and the two are able to converse in private because Stanley and Stella are at the hospital. When Mitch enters the home, he confronts Blanche about the lies she had told him. At the same time, a Mexican woman is selling flowers for the dead on the street outside the home. Mitch tells Blanche that he does not want to marry her anymore, and she responds by crying out “Fire!”
Stanley and Blanche are alone at the home together as the doctors have told Stanley to go home and get some rest. Stanley puts on his special pajamas from his wedding night. Blanche calls Stanley and his friends swine and says that she is going away with Shep Huntleigh. The scene ends with Stanley taking Blanche to bed.
The scene opens with Stanley and his friends playing poker. Blanche comes out from her bath and all of her belongings are packed and placed in the center of the room. Blanche believes that she is about to go on a trip with Shep Huntleigh, but she is instead taken by a doctor and a matron. Stella cries that her sister is gone.
• Blanche's name means white in French.
• Blanche wants everyone to see her as “white” to see her behavior and status as white, to see her past as white.
• When Blanche makes her first appearance Williams specifically mentions that she wears a white suit, pearl earrings, white gloves, which makes her look like a moth.
• Belle Reve had white columns.
• Stanley comments on Blanche's snow-white fox pieces and refers to her “lily-white fingers.”
Light and Dark
“I like it in the dark. The dark is comforting to me” (Blanche Scene 9)
The purpose of Blanche’s illusions is to keep people in the dark about her past. Blanche dislikes to be seen in the daylight for people can see her real age and appearance. Mitch comments how he has only seen Blanche at night. Also in the play, Blanche requests a paper shade to place over the light. Light represents the truth that Blanche is hiding from.
Blanche is constantly in the bath. The baths are a physical symbol of Blanche's desire to be clean both literally and metaphorically. When she emerges from the bathroom she often announces she “feels like a new human being.” In contrast, Stanley is constantly sweaty or greasy. He comes home in grease-stained clothes. Stella chastises him for having a greasy face and hands. He is described as a pig and an ape.
Blanche is trapped in a way of life that does not allow her to move forward. She's trapped in the past, never having got over the death of her first husband. She's trapped in the present in that tiny apartment with Stanley. She is trapped living with Stella and Stanley because she doesn't have any money. She is trapped playing the southern belle in order to trap a man to marry her.
“I think it’s wonderfully fitting that Belle Reve should finally be this bunch of old papers in your big capable hands.” (Blanche Scene 1)
Paper is fragile. Paper documents show the loss of Belle Reve. The paper shade is fragile, as it can only hide reality for a period of time. The paper boy shows that youth is temporary and fragile.
Blanche speaks French to Mitch as a way of teasing him, knowing that he will not understand. By doing this Blanche shows that she believes she is a higher class than Mitch. Although Mitch is not the man of Blanche’s dreams, Blanche will have to settle for Mitch if she hopes to escape her past.
Illusion vs Reality: “I don’t want realism. I want magic!” (Blanche Scene 9)
Blanche lives her life as an illusion to hide her troubled past. By pretending to be someone she’s not, Blanche hopes to marry out of her desperate situation. The light bulb represents the cold hard truth of reality, but Blanche chooses to cover reality with a paper shade. On the other hand, Stanley represents reality. Stanley lacks imagination and lives a practical life. Stanley uses force to take down Blanche’s illusion.
Desire vs death: “Death I used to sit here and she used to sit over there and death was as close as you are.” (Blanche Scene 9)
Desire leads to death. Blanche’s life of desire has taken her on a downwards spiral towards death much like her deceased husband Allan. Blanche’s death is symbolic. Blanche goes from being a Southern Belle to being broke and mentally ill. Having to face reality is like death for Blanche. Stanley lives on desire as shown by his inability to function without Stella after the poker night incident. Stella experiences a different outcome with death and desire. Stella has managed to avoid death in her life; she left Belle Reve before her father died. Stella’s desire has actually brought new life instead of death when she has Stanley’s baby. Mitch deals with both desire for Blanche as well as living with a dying mother.
Old vs New: “And I’m fading now. I don’t know how much longer I can turn the trick.” (Blanche Scene 5)
Stanley and Blanche represent two different sides in New vs Old America. Blanche has a storied past, whether it is fake or real. Stanley lives in the present. The audience is informed little about Stanley’s past other than he was a soldier. Stanley has a steady job and a solid family structure, while Blanche has lost her job and husband. During this time, new America is surpassing old America.
Sample IB English Paper 2 Question
What dramatic techniques have playwrights used to convey ideas and/or beliefs in two or three plays you have studied, and how effective have they been?
Sample Thesis Statements
Reality always prevails over illusion.
A life of desire leads to either physical or symbolic death.
Elements of Drama
The characters in A Streetcar Named Desire speak a language specific to their symbolic nature. Williams chooses each word carefully starting with the names of the characters (Stella means star in Latin), to the way Stanley pronounces certain words (he says subjeck, instead of subject), to Blanche's use of French when she flirts with Mitch. Tension between Blanche and Stanley is created with language. Stanley’s language is full of slang and usually short and forceful. Blanche speaks with proper English. Their language reflects the major differences between the two characters.
With Tennessee Williams, the stage directions tell you just as much as the actual dialogue. Williams establishes what each character represents from the first sound that they make. Stanley’s first line in the play is bellowed, while Stella’s first line is spoken mildly.
There are two specific types of music referenced throughout the play. The Blue Piano and The Varsouviana. The Blue Piano represents the present. The Blue Piano expresses the spirit of life. The Varsouviana represents the past. It was the music playing when Blanche's first husband killed himself. It plays on an almost endless loop in Blanche's head and is always accompanied by a gunshot. Each piece of music also represents life and death.
The sound effects in Streetcar are not just there to create ambiance and atmosphere. They almost seem to make the Kowalski apartment more cramped and crowded. They add to the tension and the symbolic battlefield. They are the noises of past and present. They are the noises of old and new. They are never comforting and most often keep Blanche from ever finding a moment to relax:
• A cat screeches causing Blanche to jump.
• The sound of a train passing very close by.
• The sound of crashing, aluminum striking a wall, furniture overturned during Steve and Eunice's fight.
• The sound of confusing street cries at the top of scene four.
• The sound of the tamale man and the Mexican woman selling flowers.
• The sound of a faraway gun shot.
• The sound of inhuman voices that surround Blanche as she crumbles.