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A Streetcar Named Desire

Historical BackgroundUnderstanding many of the background aspects of Streetcar, as well as the socio-cultural references is crucial for an in depth appreciation of the play. And let's be honest, I am not going to reinvent the wheel, when some friendly soul has already done that for me. So to find out more about the Napoleonic Code; New Orleans; The French Quarter; Streetcars; Belle Reve; Mrs Browning's Sonnet and a whole host of other cultural references, look no further than this friendly puppy:

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Summary and Study Guide
This document is an essential part of your revision. It brings all the aspects of the text together. Make sure you know it well.

Major Characters
Blanche DuBois - the tragic heroine of the play; she is a schoolteacher from Laurel, Mississippi;
delicate and obsessed with the appearance of propriety, she is an embodiment of the fading
Southern belle culture she left behind there. Understanding Blanche is vital to your understanding of Streetcar.
She is the central focus of the play, the plot, the themes and the imagery. This character analysis
goes a long way to helping you unpack this complex character.


Stanley Kowalski - Blanche's volatile Polish brother-in-law; formerly a Master Sergeant in the
Army Corps of Engineers, he is now a traveling salesman; represents the unrefined, laid-back
lifestyle of New Orleans, which Blanche cannot understand
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Stella Kowalski - Blanche's little sister and Stanley's wife; she is about twenty-five, and five
years younger than Blanche; very gentle and caring, she is entirely devoted to her husband

Harold "Mitch" Mitchell - Stanley's longtime friend (they were in the Corps together and now work
at the same plant); sensitive and awkward, his dying mother is the most significant figure in his life
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Steve Hubbell - Stanley's poker buddy and the Kowalskis' upstairs neighbor and landlord

Eunice Hubbell - Steve's wife, the Kowalskis' friend and landlady; she and Steve have a
tempestuous relationship, but like Stanley and Stella, they are truly crazy about each other

Pablo Gonzales - another of Stanley's poker buddies; like Steve and Stanley, a typically
rough representative of the population of New Orleans

Tennessee WilliamsClick on Tennessee's photograph to find out more about the playwright and the man.

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Articles for Analysis
The following articles are al recommended reading. As their titles suggest, they analyse a variety of topics including symbolism; gender; violence; fantasy versus reality and more. Reading them and summarising their most salient points would be advantageous and set you up well for your Paper 2 exam.

NB. I've just noticed the rather hideous spelling mistake in every single one of these documents. Dang. In my sheer excitement to give you all of these wonderful and thrilling analyses, I appear to have renamed the play Streetcare. No, this is not some modern urban reworking of the play involving love-ins and communal group hugs, it is just a haste induced typo. A less exciting eventuality perhaps. Regardless: forgive me.

Streetcar Stage Design
In order to be able to be able to fully visualise a play that we study - without actually being able to see it on stage - it is important to be able to "see" the characters on stage. A simple way to do this is to research how other directors, art directors and stage designers have produced the play in the past. Clink on the image below to be taken to a series of stage designs for Streetcar and as you look at the various sets, try to match them up to Williams' stage directions and see to what extent you agree or disagree with these artists' interpretations...

Important Quotations
Key Quotations for Streetcar

Study Questions

Scene 1
Answer the following questions in one to two paragraphs each, depending on the nature of the question and the depth of response it warrants:

1. Why do you think the play is called 'A Streetcar Named Desire'? Why might 'desire' be of significance?
2. Analyse the importance of the set design as described by Williams in the stage directions.
3. Discuss the importance of the setting. (This may involve a brief investigation into New Orleans in the 1930s/40s: Southern Belles, plantations, class etc)
4. What are your initial impressions of Blanche?
5. What is the importance of Stanley being a Polish immigrant?
6. How is the inclusion of the piano music in the stage instructions an important theatrical device?
7. Look carefully as the stage directions given to explaining Blanche, Stella and Stanley. Begin character studies by noting down the key phrases that describe their personalities.
8. What importance could be applied to the opening encounter when Stanley throws meat at Stella?
9. Analyse the meaning of Blanche’s journey: She took a streetcar named ‘Desire’, got off at ‘Cemeteries’ and ends up in ‘Elysian Fields’.

Scene 2
1. What is shown about Stanley and Stella’s relationship in this scene?
2. How is the character of Blanche developed in this scene?
3. Focus on the adjectives used in describing Stanley’s actions. How do these develop his character?
4. What does this scene tell us about how does Stanley sees women?
5. What might be the symbolism of the bath Blanche takes (and the many more she takes in the course of the play)?
6. What is the importance of the discovery that Stella is pregnant?
7. A street vendor at the of the scene calls out, “Red hot!”. How is this effective drama?
8. Add new information to your 3 character studies.

Scene 3
1. We learn a great deal about Stanley in this scene. Explain what.
2. Why does Blanche ask Mitch to cover the naked light bulb in the room with a paper shade? Analyse the symbolism of this act.
3. What hold does Stanley have over Stella and how is it revealed in this scene?
4. What is Blanche’s reaction to both Stanley and Stella’s behaviour?
5. Add new information to your 3 character studies.

Scene 4
1. Blanche states in this scene, “It [the streetcar] brought me here. Where I am not wanted and where I’m ashamed to be.” This is Blanche at her most honest in the play. Analyse the importance of this quotation.
2. What evidence is there in this scene that Blanche is a member of the dying Southern aristocracy unequipped to deal with a more modern post war society?
3. Analyse the importance of Stanley’s grin at Blanche at the climax of the scene.
4. Add new information to your 3 character studies.

Scene 5
1. Who is Shep Huntleigh? Does he even exist? What does he represent to Blanche?
2. Why is Blanche attracted to Mitch and what does he symbolise for her?
3. Why is Blanche’s encounter with the newspaper collector important?
4. Add new information to your 3 character studies.

Scene 6
1. Blanche is described in the stage directions as “neurasthenic”. Analyse the importance of this.
2. Why do you think their date was such a failure?
3. Discuss the importance of foreshadowing in this scene.
4. Light, again, plays a key role here. Discuss Blanche’s statement, “It was like you suddenly turned a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow”.
5. And again, discuss Blanche’s statement a few lines later, “And then the searchlight which had been turned on the world was turned off again and never for one moment since has there been any light that’s stronger than this – kitchen – candle…”
6. Where do you think the polka music described repeatedly in the stage directions is coming from? What might it symbolise?
7. Is their decision to be together romantic or practical? Discuss.
8. Add new information to your 3 character studies.

Scene 7
1. Analyse the lyrics of the song that Blanche sings whilst in the tub.
2. Analyse the effectiveness of the drama in this scene. How does what Stanley unleashes on Stella in the kitchen juxtapose to what Blanche is singing in the tub?
3. This is a short scene in which much vital information is discovered. How does it effect the tempo of the play and to what effect?
4. Add new information to your 3 character studies (lots!).

Scene 8
1. How is the rising tension demonstrated by all three characters in this scene?
2. Why/how does Stanley feel threatened by Blanche?
3. What, again, is revealed as being the basis for the Kowalski’s relationship?
4. Why is it important that Stella finally stands up to Stanley (“But people like you abused her”) and how is she brought back to him almost immediately? Discuss the importance of this.
5. Why does the Varsouviana begin to play again at the end of this scene?
6. Add new information to your 3 character studies.

Scene 9

Links and Websites for Further Study
Useful notes on the background of the play; Tennessee Williams; the critical reception of the play;

Loads of great stuff here. Informally written and accessible, there is analysis of all aspects of the play, including the epigraph; the themes; literary devices; setting; imagery; character analyses; key quotes - and so much more. Use this source - highly recommended.

Succinct yet academic notes on symbolism; themes; setting; allusions and irony. Also highly recommended.

Other sources...

Iconic CinemaStreetcar was very well received by both the popular and critical vote at the time of its initial New York stage production in 1947. This was for a variety of reasons, but its popularity was certainly helped by Marlon Brando's raw and unforgettable portrayal of Stanley Kowalski. A product of the Actors Studio (who trained in method acting) Brando was brought into the project by director Elia Kazan and the two went on to work together in the 1951 film version of the play - both reprising their original roles as director and actor. This collaboration produced one of cinema's most enduring and iconic scenes with Stanley's animalistic howling of "Stellaaaa!" as she hides in Eunice's apartment above their own. So fire up your VPN and watch history in the making through this clip from good old YouTube...