[Mitch collapses at the table, sobbing. During the preceding scenes, the matron catches hold of Blanche’s arm and prevents her flight. Blanche turns wildly and scratches at the matron. The heavy woman pinions her arms. Blanche cries out hoarsely and slips to her knees.]
These fingernails have to be trimmed.
[The doctor comes into the room and she looks at him.]
Not unless necessary.
[He takes off his hat and now becomes personalized. The unhuman quality goes. His voice is gentle and reassuring as he crosses to Blanche and crouches in front of her. As he speaks her name, her terror subsides a little. The lurid reflections from the walls and inhuman cries and noises die out and her own hoarse crying is calmed.]
[She turns her face to him and stares at him with desperate pleading. He smiles; then he speaks to the matron.]
It won’t be necessary.
Ask her to let go of me.
DOCTOR [to the matron]
[The matron releases her. Blanche extends her hands towards the doctor. He draws her up gently and supports her with his arm and leads her through the portieres.]
BLANCHE [holding tight to his arm]
Whoever you are – I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.
[The poker players stand back as Blanche and the doctor cross the kitchen to the front door. She allows him to lead her as if she were blind. As they go out on the porch, Stella cries out her sister’s name from where she is crouched a few steps up on the stairs.
Blanche! Blanche! Blanche!
[Blanche walks on without turning, followed by the doctor and the matron. They go around the corner of the building. Eunice descends to Stella and places the child in her arms. It is wrapped in a pale blue blanket. Stella accepts the child, sobbingly. Eunice continues downstairs and enters the kitchen where the men except for Stanley, are returning silently to their places about the table. Stanley has gone out on the porch and stands at the foot of the steps looking at Stella.
STANLEY [A bit uncertainly]
[She sobs with inhuman abandon. There is something luxurious in her complete surrender to crying now that her sister is gone.]
[voluptuously, soothingly] Now, honey. Now, love. Now, now love. [He kneels beside her and is fingers find the opening of her blouse.) Now, now, love. Now, love…
[The luxurious sobbing, the sensual murmur fade away under the swelling music of the ‘blue piano’ and the muted trumpet.]
This excerpt is taken from Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire, from the last scene. Blanche is being taken away to a mental hospital as Stella and all of the people surrounding Blanche believe that she is crazy. Blanche fights back until a doctor treats her with more respect and dignity. At this point Blanche calms down enough to compose herself and let herself be lead to the hospital by the doctor without resistance.
Bird-like imagery is used to describe Blanche’s struggle with the doctor and the matron. Blanche is seen as a wild bird that is unable or unwilling to be tamed and she struggles against her capture, indicated in the stage directions “…the matron catches hold of Blanche’s arm and prevents her flight.” Blanche is prevented from flying away like a bird. Additionally, Stanley previously has called her a songbird when she is heard singing in the bathtub. The matron notices that “These fingernails have to be trimmed” and that Blanche’s fingers are like claws, which she demonstrates when she “…turns wildly and scratches at the matron.” This bird-like imagery indicates how primal Blanche’s mentality has become and how much she relies on her instinct. She likes to see herself as a pure, white dove, but in actuality she becomes so wild that she has to be caged in.
Violence is a motif in this passage, represented largely through sound patterns. In the beginning of the scene Mitch “collapses at the table, sobbing” and Blanche “cries out hoarsely.” Blanche is being ripped away from her home and her family against her will and the shrieks and sobs represent how chaotic and violent the situation is before the doctor stops scaring her. The affect of the doctor’s calm tone releases the tension from the room and decreases the violence. Cries and shouts reflect the terror and violence Blanche is afraid of.
In addition to bird-like imagery of Blanche, there is a theme of inhumanity throughout. The doctor serves as a foil to other more violent characters such as Stanley or the matron. The characters all act as if they were animals, such as Blanche’s attempt at flight and escape, and the matron’s method of “pinion[ing] her arms” in a brutal manner. When the doctor enters the room he introduces a sense of humanity by calming the situation. The hat he removes is a symbol of brutality and when he removes it Blanche’s struggles immediately subside. Additionally he calls Blanche “Miss DuBois” to establish a sophisticated and respectful, human relationship.
The motifs of arms and hands symbolise the willpower and desires each character feels. Blanche uses her fingernails to scratch anybody who she thinks would want to hurt her, the matron pins back Blanche’s arms to save herself, and the doctor takes Blanche’s arm as a sign of peace. Blanche is described as “holding tight to his arm,” and in a way, holding onto her path to regaining her peace and mental health. Stella’s child is placed in her arms by Eunice, as a subtle gesture to remind her that as a mother, she does have power over Stanley.
There is an imbalance in the amount of lines compared to stage directions. Little is said and this emphasises the importance of the actions taking place in the passage. The important of this excerpt in the context of the play is that this is the last scene. Here Tennessee Williams poses questions to the audience such as whether Stella is right to hospitalise Blanche, or if she will take the choice to leave Stanley. This passage resolves the conflict that Blanche brings to the play.
Good job Katrine. You do well to point out the interplay here between brutality/animalism and humanity, as well as how it is reflected in the passage’s images. It’s almost as if Blanche has become afflicted with this tendency toward animalistic behavior through her experiences in the quarter, seemingly a haven for such behaviors. However, she is shown transcending that reality at the end of the text, reclaiming the more polite manners that she was accustomed to earlier in her life. Even if this constitutes a sort of madness, she does manage to escape with her dignity, as indicated by the fact that she “walks on without turning”. Stella, Stanley and the others, on the other hand, are left in their “real” world of instinctual, base behaviors, as shown by Stella sobbing “with inhuman abandon” and Mitch “collaps[ing] on the table”. The final line of the text, of course, indicates that the ‘game’ will continue and the fact that Stanley has been winning here is an important indication that he has reclaimed his domain. However, we don’t really get a strong sense that there has been a tangible victory won, as Mitch and Stella, in particular, are emotionally broken, at least here. Blanche moving away in her dignified, albeit, unrealistic manner is shown in contrast to their more animalistic state, causing the audience to wonder who really comes out of the play victorious. Of course, Williams thought that Blanche ended up winning a sort of victory. Perhaps he felt that she is able to reconstruct her fantasy world and escape into it, meaning that, in an ironic sense, she gets what she wants.
[Blanche moves fearfully to the portieres. Eunice draws them open for her. Blanche goes into the kitchen.]
BLANCHE [to the men]
Please don’t get up. I’m only passing through.
[She crosses quickly to the outside door. Stella and Eunice follow. The poker players stand awkwardly at the table – all except Mitch, who remains seated, looking at the table. Blanche steps out on a small porch at the side of the door. She stops short and catches her breath.
How do you do?
You are not the gentleman I was expecting.
[She suddenly gasps and starts back up the steps. She stops by Stella, who stands just outside the door, and speaks in a frightening whisper.]
That man isn’t Shep Huntleigh.
[The Varsouviana is playing distantly. Stella stares back at Blanche. Eunice is holding Stella’s arm. There is a moment of silence – no sound but that of Stanley steadily shuffling the cards. Blanche catches her breath again and slips back into the flat. She enters the flat with a peculiar smile, her eyes wide and brilliant. As soon as her sister goes past her, Stella closes her eyes and clenches her hands. Eunice throws her arms comfortingly about her. Then she starts up to her flat. Blanche stops just inside the door. Mitch keeps staring down at his hands on the table, but the other men look at her curiously. At last she starts around the table towards the bedroom. As she does, Stanley pushes back his chair and rises as if to block her way. The matron follows her into the flat.]
Did you forget something?
Yes! Yes, I forgot something!
[She rushes past him into the bedroom. Lurid reflections appear on the walls in odd, sinuous shapes. The Varsouviana is filtered into weird distortion, accompanied by the cries and noises of the jungle. Blanche seizes the back of a chair as if to defend herself.]
Doc, you better go in.
DOCTOR [motioning to the matron]
Nurse, bring her out.
[The matron advances on one side. Stanley on the other. Divested of all the softer properties of womanhood, the matron is a peculiarly sinister figure in her severe dress. Her voice is bold and toneless as a fire-bell.]
[The greeting is echoed and re-echoed by other mysterious voices behind the walls, as if reverberated through a canyon of rock.]
She says that she forgot something.
[The echo sounds in threatening whispers.]
That’s all right.
What did you forget, Blanche?
I – I –
It don’t matter. We can pick it up later.
Sure. We can send it along with the trunk.
BLANCHE [reacting in panic]
I don’t know you – I don’t know you. I want to be – left alone – please!
This extract is taken from the last scene of Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche is getting ready for a man by the name of Shep Huntleigh, and is shocked to find a doctor at the door instead of this illusion of a character. The doctor and a matron have come to take Blanche off to a mental hospital for the characters in the play feel that she is crazy. Blanche is trying to keep her distance from these strangers for she is confused as to what they want with her. Stanley seems pleased to have her leave his home and attempts to speed up the process.
The idea of illusion is very important in this play and in this section in particular. Blanche is being sent off to the mental institution because she can’t deal with reality and has created an illusive perception. This is ironic for Stella seems to have done the same thing by ignoring Blanche’s tragic encounter she had with Stanley when he raped her. Also, the illusion of the character named Shep Huntleigh, and being wanted by someone is present in this section. This is noticeable when Blanche says to the doctor, “[She suddenly gasps and starts back up the steps. She stops by Stella, who stands just outside the door, and speaks in a frightening whisper.] That man isn’t Shep Huntleigh”.
Appearances also play a significant role throughout this play and are also evident in this extract when Blanche asks Eunice and Stella, “How do I look?” Blanche is consumed with the need to look pretty and fool everyone by thinking she is younger, leading back to illusions used in the play. She tries making herself look younger and more innocent than she really is to set a better reputation for herself. We see that she tries to hide behind her false smiles also when she enters the flat again “ with a peculiar smile, her eyes wide and brilliant”.
Music is found in this section of the play which is very important in the play, in particular, the song “Varsouviana” which is a polka. Tennessee Williams uses this music in his stage directions and also once in Blanche’s dialogue in Scene Nine. This music is seen in the stage directions when Blanche is explaining what had happened to her husband. It is almost as if she cannot escape this music for she cannot escape the guilt of feeling she was the primary cause of her husbands suicide. In this section, the Varsouviana begins to play when she figures out the doctors are here for her.
The paper lantern is thrown at Blanche in this section by Stanley. The paper lantern is an important symbol used to show how Blanche hides under dim light and does not like to be fully encountered. The paper lantern in a way symbolizes her character, covered and not shinning its full light. The paper lantern is shown many times throughout the play and in the section when Stanley moves over and “seizes the paper lantern, tearing it off the light bulb, and extends it towards her. She cries out as if the lantern was herself”. This imagery is rather disturbing but also is a way to show how masculinity in the play is shown through violence and rising of the voice.
Repetition is used in this section to show Blanches instability to contain one thought and also being told what to do. By repeating “Now, Blanche – now, Blanche – now, Blanche” Tennessee Williams is trying to show how she cant take this order for she is trying to tell her self over and over again but cant seem to. The dashes used in his writing are also important and are used when Blanche says, “I don’t know you – I don’t know you. I want to be – left alone – please” which is ironic for she has never wanted to be left alone for she craves for people to desire her. She likes the attention she gets from her fading looks. By saying “I don’t know you” and telling these people to leave her alone is the complete opposite of her last line in the play being “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers”.
Over all, Tennessee Williams is trying to portray Blanche’s instable character in this section. He is showing how those around her don’t listen to her and ignore what happened between herself and Stanley. Also he shows how Blanche can’t escape her past and tries desperately to run away from the truth. Living in illusion is very dangerous and is shown through Blanche’s character.
You’ve pointed out a lot of very important features in this passage, both in terms of its content and in terms of its structure. This is a moment in the text where Blanche is on the threshold between sanity and insanity. Williams shows this through many of the features you have mentioned, such as the structure of the lines and the use of repetition and echoing. The music “filtered into weird distortion”, the “lurid reflections” and the “noises of the jungle” provide a departure from realism into expressionism, becoming a reflection of Blanche’s emotional and psychological state. She seems a bit like a prey animal here, surrounded by predators (represented by the doctor, the matron and Stanley) and this is shown by her “reacting in panic” as well as by her erratic movements. The characterization of the matron is particularly predatory, Williams describing her as a “peculiarly sinister figure in her severe dress. Her voice is bold and toneless as a fire-bell”. You do well to point out the lantern and its symbolic connection to Blanche. It’s no accident that Stanley tears it down, reflecting how he has essentially torn Blanche down from her pedestal. However, he is described as “extend[ing]” it to her, which is a bit less aggressive language than we might expect. And indeed, Williams was intending to create an ambiguous ending here about who actually comes out of this conflict victoriously. Stanley’s extension of the lantern is in a sense a returning of her covering, secure identity. This is further supported by the fact that the men stand (the gentlemanly thing to do) when Blanche passes through the kitchen (in contrast to scene 3) as well as in Blanche’s dignified final exit from the flat. She is descending into madness of course, but Williams’ leaves it open as to whether this is a defeat or an escape for her.
[A vendor comes around the corner. She is a blind MEXICAN WOMAN in a dark shawl,
carrying bunches of gaudy tin flowers that lower class Mexicans display at funerals and other festive occasions. She is calling barely audibly. Her figure is only faintly visible outside the building.]
Flores. Flores. Flores para los muertos. Flores. Flores.
What? Oh! Somebody outside . . . I—I lived in a house where dying old women remembered their dead men . . .
Flores. Flores para los muertos . . .
[The polka tune fades in.]
BLANCHE (as if to herself)
Crumble and fade and—regrets—recriminations . . .“If you’d done this, it wouldn’t’ve cost me that!”
Corones para los muertos. Corones . . .
Legacies! Huh . . . And other things such as blood-stained pillow-slips—“Her linen needs changing”—yes Mother. But couldn’t we get a coloured girl to do it?” No, we couldn’t of course. Everything gone but the . . .
Death—I used to sit here and she used to sit over there and death was as close as you are . . . We didn’t even dare admit we had ever heard of it!
Flores para los muertos, flores—flores . . .
The opposite is desire. So do you wonder? How could you possibly wonder! Not far from Belle Reve, before we had lost Belle Reve, was a camp where they trained young soldiers. On Saturday nights they would go in town to get drunk . . .
MEXICAN WOMAN (softly)
Corones . . .
– and on the way back they would stagger on to my lawn and call—“Blanche! Blanche!—the deaf old lady remaining suspected nothing. But sometimes I slipped outside to answer their calls . . . Later the paddy-wagon would gather them up like daisies . . . the long way home . . .
The MEXICAN WOMAN turns slowly and drifts back off with her soft mournful cries. BLANCHE goes to the dresser and leans forward on it. After a moment, MITCH rises and follows her purposefully. The polka music fades away. He places his hands on her waist and tries to turn her about.
BLANCHE What do you want?
MITCH (fumbling to embrace her)
What I been missing all summer.
Then marry me, Mitch!
I don’t think I want to marry you any more.
MITCH (dropping his hands from her waist)
You’re not clean enough to bring in the house with my mother (Williams 101-103).
this extract begins by going into detail about the Mexican vendor not far from where Blanche is. She is obvioulsy meant to be portrayed as being lower class “arrying bunches of gaudy tin flowers that lower class Mexicans display”. Her discription resembles aspects of the grim reaper. she is in a “dark shall” and “is calling barely audibly” in the distance. it seems as if she is making her way slowly over to Blanche. Blanche may make this connection because she begins to speak about “dying old women ” and telling Mitch that “death was as close as you are”. Blanche goes on an almost internal monologue of the tragedy of her past(and by extension, her present). Blanche speaking to herself is shown by the reoccurring elipses and that even when she directly address Mitch she does not involve him in the conversation. The stage directions do not depict her as turning towards Mitch or touching him in any way while she is involved with her internal monologue. She is deeply involved in her own thoughts. Blanche’s speech being interrupted by the vendors yells in Spanish almost seems to bring her into a deeper trance of rememberance. After the vendor will yell something Blanche will go into more detail about a sadder aspect of her life. It also helps to show he growing insanity. Based on the discription of the surrounding area there is a good chance there were several noises occurring at that time. Blanche may have uncounciously chosen to single that one vendor out and have the yells effect her. The poor womans yells mixing with Blanches talking can also show that Blanche is slowly disinigrating. She is no longer the high and mighty proper perfect woman. Her mask is being lifted and she is slowing becoming on a more equal level to the people in new Orleans. When the mexican woman leaves the scene the polka music fade away as well. Which helps support the idea that Blanche being effected by the vendor is a further drop into madness. This extract ends with Mitch telling Blanche that she is “not clean enough to bring in the house with my mother”. This ending statement highlights how repulsed by Blanche Mitch is. It also brings up the motif of clean and the idea of things being dirty(literal or metaphorical).
This passage is one of those moments where Williams moves into expressionism – a distortion of reality. The Mexican woman is described as “blind” and “faintly visible”, giving her a ghostly air – which you suggest with your grim reaper analogy. The question is whether she is real or just a symbolic figment of Blanche’s imagination – representing this crucial moment when she has, essentially, been deflowered – tainted by exposure to, symbolically, bright light – truth. There is a clear dream element evident here which drives the atmosphere and highlights Blanche’s descent into madness. Blindness is a motif in this play, and it is evident here. Its recurrence in the text suggests that characters are operating on false information, deceiving each other, and making uninformed, perhaps rash decisions. In this case, Blanche, as you point out, is teetering on the edge of insanity and is becoming more and more blinded to her own irrationality – at the same time as Mitch is becoming blinded by his pride and his own feelings of betrayal. Death of course plays a very strong role here. Blanche begins obsessing about death as an entity that has haunted her, like the woman she sees here. At the same time, death is coupled with flowers, suggesting a sweet release, perhaps, or, conversely, a rotting of those things that are natural and youthful. The most important statement in this section is the idea that desire is the opposite face of death. This suggests that life is associated with longing and with struggle – both at the heart of each character in this play. In some sense, we feel that Blanche has a second sight into this tragic aspect of human experience. But, at the same time, she is too blinded by her own feelings of desire, longng and shame to see her life and the lives of those around her objectively.
MITCH (slowly and bitterly)
I don’t mind you being older than what I thought. But the rest of it-1 God! That pitch about your ideals being so old-fashioned and all that larky you’ve dished out all summer. Oh, I knew you weren’t sixteen any more. But I was a fool enough to believe you were straight.
Who told you I wasn’t – “straight”? My loving brother-in-law. And you believed him.
I called him a liar at first. And then I checked on the story. First I asked our supply man who travels through Laurel. And then I talked over long-distance to this merchant.
Who is the merchant?
The merchant Kiefaber of Laurel! I know the man. He whistled at me. I put him in his place. So now for revenge he makes up stories about me.
Three people, Kiefaber, Stanley and Shaw, swore to them!
Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub! And such a filthy tub!
Didn’t you stay at a hotel called The Flamingo?
Flamingo? No! Tarantula was the name of it! I stayed at a hotel called The Tarantula Arms!
Yes, a big spider! That’s where I brought my victims.
(She pours herself another drink.)
Yes, I had many intimacies with strangers. After the death of Allen – the intimacies with strangers was all I seemed to be able to fill my empty head with … I think it was panic, just panic that drove me from one to another, hunting for some protection – here and there, in the most – unlikely places – even, at last in a seventeen year old boy but – somebody wrote the superintendent about it – “This woman is morally unfit for her position!”
She throws back her head with compulsive, sobbing laughter. Then she repeats the statement, gasps and drinks.
True? Yes, I suppose – unfit somehow – anyway … So I came here. There was nowhere else I could go. I was played out. You know what played out is? My youth was
suddenly gone up the water-spout, and – I met you. You said you needed somebody. Well, I needed somebody, too. I thanked God for you, because you seemed to be gentle – a cleft in the rock of the world that I could hide in! The poor man’s Paradise – is a little peace … But I guess I was asking, hoping – too much! Kiefaber, Stanley and Shaw have tied an old tin can to the tail of the kite.
There is a pause. MITCH stares at her dumbly.
You lied to me, Blanche.
Don’t say I lied to you.
Lies, lies, inside and out, all lies.
Never inside, I didn’t lie in my heart (Williams 99-101).
This Passage is from the scene where Blanche confesses to Mitch that she had been sleeping around with many men just after Stanley has taken Stella to the hospital to give birth. This scene represents some of the key themes of love, passion and desire. Throughout this novel the characters have demonstrated the importance of having passion and desire in their lives. For example Blanche, she fell in love very young and could never get over him. Her constant passion needed to be fulfilled, this can be seen when she says “After the death of Allen – the intimacies with strangers was all I seemed to be able to fill my empty head with …” indicating how desperate she was to have a passionate love with someone. This desire relates to the title of the play ,A Streetcar Named Desire,the title suggests that the streetcar, something which is used to transport or bring people somewhere is referred to as Desire. While similarly this streetcar brings Blanche, who has many desires, and with her desires she causes trouble, which links the idea of desire causing trouble. Which in this scene you can see that Mitch is getting very angry with Blanche thus her desires result in trouble connecting this passage to the rest of the book as well as the title.
Remember that your job was to focus on the construction of the passage – more detail needed. How do the pieces all fit together to create meaning? This might be the point in the text when we see the most authentic, real version of Blanche. Mitch has turned the light on, symbolically, and the truth has been revealed. Blanche is unable to hide anymore and so must face the truth. Several important themes are carried through here, most notably the gap between appearance and reality. Blanche’s definition of truth is somewhat unorthodox, as she distinguishes between spoken lies, tales told to others, and lies of the heart – what is felt. She admits to the former, while claiming truth in her heart. Of course, we know that Mitch does not understand or accept the distinction. His pride seems to be wounded as he is most offended by the fact that “You lied to me, Blanche.” Of course, shortly after this he tells Blanche that she is not clean enough to take into his mother’s house, so we see the idea of gender roles arising again. We also see references to aging, and the gap between youth and age, which is so much at the heart of Blanche’s character. This is supported by the games motif, as indicated by the phrase “I was played out” – linking life to a game (which is also shown in the poker games that are played in the text). Several other motifs are evident here, as well, including the purification or bathing motif that runs through the text. This time, Blanche refers to Stanley, Shaw and Kiefaber as sharing, figuratively, “such a filthy tub”. There is a distinction drawn here between the corrupted polluted moral state in which Blanche finds herself and the polluted and dirty deceit practiced on her by Stanley and the others. Willams seems to suggest that the former is less reprehensible than the latter – which he later calls “intentional cruelty”. Some other important images that arise include Blanche’s reference to the Flamingo Hotel as the Tarantula – linking herself with a predator. Clearly, she is attempting sarcasm here, exaggerating for effect to criticize society’s judgment of behavior like hers. Another important image is Blanche’s reference to Mitch as “a cleft in the rock of the world that I could hide in”. This indicates the qualities in a man that Blanche seeks – someone who will hide her away, someone who will protect her. Finally, the image of the kite at the end of the section (“Kiefaber, Stanley and Shaw have tied an old tin can to the tail of the kite”) illustrates the gap between romanticism and realism that is at the foundation of the text. The kite is, of course, Blanche’s dreamworld, her world of romance, while the tin can is the ugly reality that weighs down and ultimately destroys the dream.
I like it dark. The dark is comforting to me.
I don’t think I ever seen you in the light.
[Blanche laughs breathlessly.]
That’s a fact!
I’ve never seen you in the afternoon.
Whose fault is that?
You never go out in the afternoon.
Why, Mitch, you’re at the plant in the afternoon.
Not Sunday afternoon. I’ve asked you to go out with me sometimes on Sundays but you always make an excuse. You never want to go out ‘till six and then it’s always someplace that’s not lighted.
There is some obscure meaning in this but I fail to catch it.
What it means is I‘ve never had a real look at you, Blanche.
What are you leading up to?
Let’s turn the light on here.
Light? Which light? What for?
This one with the paper thing on it.
(He tears the paper lantern off the light bulb. She utters a frightened gasp.)
What did you do that for?
So I can take a look at you good and plain.
Of course you don’t really mean to be insulting.
No, just realistic.
I don’t want realism.
Naw, I guess not.
I’ll tell you what I want. Magic! (MITCH laughs) Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it! – Don’t turn the light on!
[MITCH crosses to the switch. He turns the light on and stares at her. She cries again and covers her face. He turns the light off again] (Williams 98-99).
This section is very important in compariston with this play as a whole. It involves one of the themes of the play; light. Light seems to represent truth and “realism.” Mitch mentions realism here, and says that’s what he wants. Where as Blanche just wants “magic.” Mitch tells Blanche here that he has never seen her in the light and that she “never want to go out ‘till six and then it’s always someplace that’s not lighted.” This is symbolic and has another meaning to it. This also means that Mitch has never seen Blanche’s true colors and who she really is. Then he turns the light on which frightens her, and stares at her. He probably does not like what he sees of her physical appearance because he turns off the light. And he also seems not to like what she is (personality wise) because he breaks off their relationship.
Blanche says here that she wants magic! And that she tries to “give that to people. [She] misrepresents things to them. [She doesn't] tell the truth, [she] tells what ought to be the truth. And if that is sinful, then let [her] be damned for it!” She obviously has her mind in a fantasy world and tries to hide from reality and “realism,” very unlike Mitch. Blanche is very frightened of light and sensitive of it probably because she is afraid that people will see how she really looks and she is sensitive of her age. But symbolically she doesn’t want others to see the negative side to her. That is why the “dark is comforting to [her].” She can just hide there from reality and imagine that some magic is happening in her life.
You do a nice job pointing out the important distinction between realism and romanticism as well as the stylistic technique that Williams uses to highlight this theme – light and dark imagery. This section provides us with an important insight into Blanche’s character. She admits here that she exaggerates and embellishes the truth as well as her motivation for doing this – that she wants to create magic for others, and for herself. So, Blanche here is associated with romanticism, illusion and darkness – not so much the darkness that we sometimes see in literature, which is related to evil, but darkness as related to shadows, mystery and lack of clarity – as well as illusion – what Blanche says “ought to be truth.” Mitch, on the other hand, is associated with light – an imposing, painful light, in this case, which is related to realism. His first line “It’s dark in here” implies that he finds it frustrating or distasteful. He wants to “turn the light on here” so he “can look at (her) good and plain.” Meanwhile, Blanche says that she “like(s) it dark. The dark is comforting to (her).” The motif of vision vs blindness helps to underscore the theme as well. Mitch’s lines are full of references to sight and looking. Clear vision is associated with truth, which is what Mitch wants. Blanche, however, does not want to be “seen” in her true light. Williams extends the characterization of Blanche as romantic and Mitch as realist in other ways as well. Blanche’s lines are characterized by heightened emotion – as indicated by the repeated questions and exclamations. Mitch’s lines, on the other hand, are statements: “It’s dark in here”; “You never go out in the afternoon”; “Let’s turn on the light on here” – all of which seem to be statements of fact – or truth. He also uses several superlative adverbs, such as “never” and “always” as well, making his lines sound definitive. Overall, this is a significant moment as Blanche must confess to her fabrications and, in doing so, she provides Mitch and the audience with an insight into her motivation for her invented self.
I loved someone, too, and the person I loved I lost.
[She crosses to the window and sits on the sill, looking out. She pours herself another drink.]
He was a boy, just a boy, when I was a very young girl. When I was sixteen, I made the discovery – love. All at once and much, much too completely. It was like you suddenly turned a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow, that’s how it struck the world for me. But I was unlucky. Deluded. There was something different about the boy, a nervousness, a softness and tenderness which wasn’t like a man’s, although he wasn’t the least bit effeminate looking – still – that thing was there…He came to me for help. I didn’t know that. I didn’t find out anything till after our marriage when we’d run away and come back and all I knew was I’d failed him in some mysterious way and wasn’t able to give the help he needed but couldn’t speak of! He was in the quicksands and clutching at me – but I wasn’t holding him out, I was slipping in with him! I didn’t know that. I didn’t know anything except I loved him unendurably but without being able to help him or help myself. Then I found out. In the worst possible ways. By coming suddenly into a room that I thought was empty – which wasn’t empty, but had two people in it…
[A locomotive is heard approaching outside. She claps her hands to her ears and crouches over. The headlight of the locomotive glares into the room as it thunders past. As the noise recedes she straightens slowly and continues speaking.]
Afterwards we pretended that nothing had been discovered. Yes, the three of us drove out to Moon Lake Casino, very drunk and laughing all the way.
[Polka music sounds, in a minor key faint with distance.]
We danced the Varsouviana! Suddenly in the middle of the dance the boy I had married broke away from me and ran out of the casino. A few moments later – a shot!
[The Polka stops abruptly. Blanche rises stiffly. Then the Polka resumes in a major key.]
I ran out – all did! – all ran and gathered about the terrible thing at the edge of the lake! I couldn’t get near for the crowding. Then somebody caught my arm. “Don’t go any closer! Come back! You don’t want to see!” ‘See? See what! Then I heard voices say – Allan! Allan! The Grey boy! He’d stuck the revolver into his mouth and fired – so that the back of his head had been – blown away!
[She sways and covers her face.]
It was because – on the dance floor – unable to stop myself – I’d suddenly said – “I know! I know! You disgust me…” 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…
[Mitch gets up awkwardly and moves towards her a little. The Polka music increases. Mitch stands beside her.
MITCH [drawing her slowly into his arms]
You need somebody. And I need somebody, too. Could it be – you and me, Blanche?
[She stares at him vacantly for a moment. Then with a soft cry huddles in his embrace. She makes a sobbing effort to speak but the words won’t come. He kisses her forehead and her eyes and finally her lips. The Polka tune fades out. Her breath is drawn and released in long, grateful sobs.]
Sometimes – there’s God – so quickly! (Williams 75-77).
This is a very important scene in the play as it provides the audience with a look into Blanche’s past and the start of the decent into madness. It also is when Mitch makes his proposition to Blanche and wants it to be “just [her] and [him]“. There is examples of light imagery that is prevalent throughout the text in this section that is often associated with Blanche as ironically her name means white and she always wants to stay in semi darkness. Blanche says about her past “It was like you suddenly turned a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow”. In this quote she is referring to herself as being in shadow. But unlike the present where she tries to hide away from the light, when she was young she was enraptured by it, like a moth to flame, and moved toward it. This motif is continued even into the staging of the play when “The headlight of the locomotive glares into the room as it thunders past. As the noise recedes she straightens slowly and continues speaking.” This is a physical representation of Blanches mental delusions and her trying to hide herself in shadow and only straightens up when the light has past. When her husband had killed himself Blanche felt that “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…” She is hiding herself away from ugliness and the possibility of hurt and her guilt in the death of her young love. It is also important that the place that her husband killed himself was next to the lake at Moon lake casino, making her husband associated with the moon and night that Blanche likes to come out in, maybe because she in some ways feels like she should join him because of her involvment with his suicide.
In this section in Blanches monologue there is also evidence to support the theme in the text of despiration, both Blanches and her young husband. Blanches despiration comes across in the way that she structures her sentences, the repetition and the polka music that is starting to talk hold and the fact that when she is close to Mitch the music overpower her for a moment and she is unable to speak, trapped in her own memory. It is like in death, her husband was finally able to pull Blanche down with him and trap her in the dark as well when “He was in the quicksands and clutching at [her] – but [she] wasn’t holding him out, [she] was slipping in with him!”. In his death, through the guilt that Blanche has, he started her decent into madness.
Sound is also very important in this section, from the noise of the train to the polka that Blanche hears from the past. These are used to highlight Blanches decent into her own mind and her fear of oncoming forces. Hands are also mentioned when Blanche puts her hands up to her face as if to hide from her past wrong doings.
Good. Many observant comments. This passage deals with many of the play’s important themes, three of which are mentioned in the first few lines: love, loss, and death. Of course, these ideas are all closely intertwined throughout the play as love and loss are associated with desire – its positive and negative faces – and death is portrayed as desire’s opposite. Williams’ word choice is significant here, and in fact whenever Blanche is speaking about her past. She repeatedly refers to Allan as a boy, rather than a man, and herself as a girl, highlighting their youth, naivete and innocence – qualities that Blanche wishes to recapture through remaining in the dark and bathing repeatedly. The tragedy lies in the fact that they are irretrievable. Allan’s name is also worth mentioning – the fact that he is called Grey, indicates a level of obscurity in his character which fits with our understanding of his situation as well as Blanche’s lack of understanding. There is a degree of irony in the fact that the two of them danced the Varsouviana, as this is a Polish dance – interesting connection with Stanley. You do well to point out the motifs of light and body parts. Blanche’s connection with light is interesting, as it seems to be a positive, life-giving force in her youth, but now is associated with the harshness of reality. The body parts, particularly the hands, predictably, highlight the fragmentation of the characters, the idea that they are not whole or self-aware, that they operate on instinct and reflex. Blanche’s final line is interesting also – a suggestion that God has intervened at some level in her life here – interesting as earlier she refers to herself as unlucky, suggesting that life is about chance (this being a link to the gaming that we see throughout the text). You do well in pointing out the importance of the stage directions here – Williams’ use of sound effects as well as his character descriptors. All of these provide insight into Blanche’s mind.
What have people been telling you about me?
You haven’t heard any—unkind—gossip about me?
Why, no, Blanche, of course not!
Honey, there was—a good deal of talk in Laurel.
About you, Blanche?
I wasn’t so good the last two years or so, after Belle Reve had started to slip through my fingers.
All of us do things we—
I never was hard or self-sufficient enough. When people are soft—soft people have got to court the favour of hard ones, Stella. Have got to be seductive—put on soft colours, the colours of butterfly wings, and glow—make a little—temporary magic just in order to pay for—one night’s shelter! That’s why I’ve been—not so awf’ly good lately. I’ve run for protection, Stella, from under one leaky roof to another leaky roof—because it was storm—all storm, and I was—caught in the centre . . .People don’t see you—men don’t—don’t even admit your existence unless they are making love to you. And you’ve got to have your existence admitted by someone, if you’re going to have someone’s protection. And so the soft people have got to—shimmer and glow—put a—paper lantern over the light . . . But I’m scared now—awf’ly scared. I don’t know how much longer I can turn the trick. It isn’t enough to be soft. You’ve got to be soft and attractive. And I—I’m fading now!
[The afternoon has faded to dusk. STELLA goes into the bedroom and turns on the light under the paper lantern. She holds a bottled soft drink in her hand.]
Have you been listening to me? (Williams 60-61).
This extract is from Tennesse William’s ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, Scene 5. This passage explores Blanche’s growing anxiety over her reputation, her looks, and her fantasy as she attempts to rationalize her strange behavior to her sister, Stella. Her anxiety is evident almost immediately as she bombards Stella with question after question, all of which inquiring ‘about [Blanche]‘. Stella, on the other hand, does not share Blanche’s desperation as she appears to reply briefly, with empty reassurance, or, like at the end of this passage, completely disregards Blanche as she is seeking satisfacotry reassurance in a cruel world. Blanche interupts Stella, apparently not contempt with the level of interest that Stella is commiting, and begins to rationalize why she has not been ‘so good the last two years’, suggesting adultery. This is supported when Blanche mentions that ‘men don’t…even admit to your existence unless they are making love to you’ and she adds that ‘you’ve got to have your existence admitted by someone’, therefore placing her in the situation where she has been reduced to a form of prostitution. Blanche also admits to being ‘soft’ rather than ‘hard or self-sufficient’ which suggests that her character is very dependent on the support of others, which would explain her desire to acquire “support” by means of prostitution and meeting with complete strangers. In this moment of slef-relaization, she protrays herself in a realistic portrait, rather than romanticaly, where her beauty is ‘fading’ which will consequently lead to her fantasy lifestyle coming to a full stop. Finally, the motif of light is mentioned in this passage where it begins to ‘fade to dusk’ after Blanche’s monologue, possibly setting an appropriate atmosphere where Blanche simply feels alone as she clearly has very little stability to live off of. The paper latern that Stella turns on, only emits a dimmed version of the light, keeping Blanche relatively out of the light and so is able to continue the illusion of her charms and beauty by masking the dreaded ‘fading’ aspect. It is ironoic that Blanche says that ‘soft people have got to shimmer and glow’ and yet, despite classifying herself among the soft, weak people, she is still terrified by light. The less she tolerates light, the greater her loss is with her grasp on reality as light exposes the present ‘fading’ features that Blanche is so afraid of.
Nice job, Sam. You’ve included a great deal of detail here and identified some key concepts. This is one of the key moments of clarity and sincerity that we see in Blanche. She speaks quite frankly here about the way she views life and about the way that she has attempted to cope with her pain. Some nice metaphors used by Williams here – referring to the outside world as a storm from which she seeks shelter, in addition to the softness/hardness and light metaphors. I don’t think it’s too unusual for Blanche to mention that soft people need to shimmer and glow – to me that is a play of light – a softer, more romantic light rather than a harsh white light. But, yes, it’s somewhat ironic. The staging here reflects the content, the light fading toward the end into evening. The language also reflects the awkwardness of the moment, which many hesitations and reversals. Stella also has a habit of saying Blanche’s name repeatedly, which creates a kind of halting rhythm in the scene. Nice job.
He acts like an animal, has an animal’s habits! Eats like one, moves like one, talks like one! There’s even something – sub-human – something not quite to the stage of humanity yet! Yes, something – ape-like about him, like one of those pictures I’ve seen in – anthropological studies! Thousands and thousands of years have passes him right by, and there he is – Stanley Kowalski – survivor of the stone age! Bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle! And you – you here – waiting for him! Maybe he’ll strike you or maybe grunt and kiss you! That is, if kisses have been discovered yet! Night falls and the other apes gather! There in front of the cave, all grunting like him, and swilling and gnawing and hulking! His poker night! – you call it – this party of apes! Somebody growls – 10 some creature snatches at something – the fight is on! God! Maybe we are a long way from being made in God’s image, but Stella – my sister – there has been some progress since then! Such things as art – as poetry and music – such kinds of new light have come into the world since then! In some kinds of people some tenderer feelings have had some little beginning! That we have got to make grow! And cling to, and hold as our flag! In this dark march toward whatever it is we’re approaching … Don’t – don’t hang back with the brutes!
[Another train passes outside. STANLEY hesitates, licking his lips. Then suddenly he turns stealthily about and withdraws through front door. The women are still unaware of his presence. When the train has passed he calls through the closed front door.]
Hey! Hey, Stella!
STELLA [who has listened gravely to BLANCHE]
Stell, I –
[But STELLA has gone to the front door. STANLEY enters casually with his packages.]
Hiyuh, Stella, BLANCHE back?
Yes, she’s back.
[He grins at her.]
You must’ve got under the car.
Them darn mechanics at Fritz’s don’t know their can from their third base!
[STELLA has embraced him with both arms, fiercely, and in the full view of BLANCHE. He laughs and clasps her head to him. Over her head he grins through the curtains at BLANCHE. As the lights fade away, with a lingering brightness on their embrace, the music of the ‘blue piano’ and trumpet and drums is heard.] (Williams 54-55).
In her monologue, Blanche repeatedly uses animalistic imagery to describe and belittle Stanley. Her hysterical attack on Stanley helps illustrate Blanche’s instability and how her upper-class upbringing has shaped her. At first, she compares him to an animal, but then changes her opinion to “sub-human”, degrading him to something not even animal. She cites “anthropological studies”, perhaps to try and distance herself from the stupidity she sees in Stanley and the education she believes makes her superior. The irony of Blache’s statements about “thousands of years having passed him by” is evident, as in fact time has passed her by as she remains fixated on her own past. However, her remark about “bearing the raw meat home” reflects Stanley’s earlier throwing of meat to Stella and gives some credence to her claims. The line “if kisses have been discovered yet” suggests a direct contrast between Blanche’s classical ideas of romance and Stella and Stanley’s highly physical relationship. Balche’s notion that “we have made some progress since then” creates a very condescending feel, creating a deliberate partition between her and Stella and Stanley. Her reference to “new light” coming into the world is a contrast to how she only stays in darkness. This could refer to a loss of knowledge, perhaps due to her losing her work as a teacher. Blanche’s desperation becomes evident, as well as her need for survival which can be seen as animalistic. Stanley is decribed as stealthy and “licking his lips” suggesting predatorial and thus animal-like behaviour thus somewhat supporting Blanche’s claims. Stella and Stanley “embrace fiercely” and Stanley “grins at (Blanche)” essentially refuting her claims and promoting his dominance.
Nice job, Andrew. This extract serves to contrast Blanche with Stanley and puts them into a direct territorial conflict, which Stanley is currently winning. You are right to point out the irony of Blanche’s statements. Not only is she caught up in a world that is no more, failing to progress, a primitive in her own right, but she has also behaved in the same “animalistic” manner that she now accuses Stanley of displaying. She has maintained the exterior of manners, perhaps, but she has allowed herself to give in to her baser desires, albeit to fill the void left by all the death she has experienced. The shame that accompanies this behavior is presumably why she spends so much time bathing, an attempt to cleanse or purge herself of these appetites and return to the innocence of her girlhood and of Allan before her discovery. The staging in this section, particularly Williams’ use of sound effects, adds to the tension of the situation. Stanley’s double entry provides a degree of suspense in the performance of the scene. The train seems to be associated with Stanley, perhaps because, like a locomotive, he moves forward powerfully on his own track without regard to anything in his path. The music at the end is the running theme of the text, the ‘blue piano’ that represents the spirit of those in the quarter. This time, it’s coupled with drums, perhaps giving a slightly primitive feel to the moment, appropriate for this animalistic competition. And, lastly, the grin, described as “over [Stella's] head” creates tension between Blanche and Stanley, a direct challenge of sorts. Several motifs are evident here, including the use of animal imagery, music, light and body parts. Important themes such as artifice vs naturalism and refinement/manners vs animalism or instinct are also explored. Structurally, the extract is fairly typical in Williams’ use of punctuation to express heightened emotion as well as the rather poetic stage directions that he provides to make vivid the scene.
MITCH [sadly but firmly]
Poker should not be played in a house with women.
[The door closes on them and the place is still. The negro entertainers in the bar around the corner play “Paper Doll” slow and blue. After a moment STANLEY comes out of the bathroom dripping water and still in his clinging wet polka dot drawers.
[There is a pause.]
My baby doll’s left me!
[He breaks into sobs. Then he goes to the phone and dials, still shuddering with sobs.]
Eunice? I want my baby!
[He waits a moment: then he hangs up and dials again.]
Eunice! I’ll keep on ringin’ until I talk to my baby!
[An indistinguishable shrill voice is heard. He hurls phone to floor. Dissonant brass and piano sounds as the rooms dim out to darkness and the outer walls appear in the night light. The “blue piano” plays for a brief interval. Finally, STANLEY stumbles half-dressed out to the porch and down the wooden steps to the pavement before the building. There he throws back his head like a baying hound and bellows his wife’s name: “Stella! Stella, sweetheart! Stella!”]
EUNICE [calling down from the door of her upper apartment]
Quit that howling out there an’ go back to bed!
I want my baby down here. Stella, Stella!
She ain’t comin’ down so you quit! Or you’ll git th’ law on you!
You can’t beat on a woman an’ then call ‘er back! She won’t come! And her goin’t have a baby!. . . You stinker! You whelp of a Polack, you! I hope they do haul you in and turn the fire hose on you, same as last time!
Eunice, I want my girl to come down with me!
[She slams her door.]
STANLEY [with heaven-slitting violence]
[The low-tone clarinet moans. The door upstairs opens again. STELLA slips down the rickety stairs in her robe. Her eyes are glistening with tears and her hair loose about her throat and shoulders. They stare at each other. Then they come together with low, animal moans. He falls to his knees on the steps and presses his face to her belly, curving a little with maternity. Her eyes go blind with tenderness as she catches his head and raises him level with her. He snatches the screen door open and lifts her off her feet and bears her into the dark flat. BLANCHE comes out on the upper landing in her robe and slips fearfully down the steps.]
Where is my little sister? Stella? Stella?
[She stops before the dark entrance of her sister’s flat. Then catches her breath as if struck. She rushes down to the walk before the house. She looks right and left as if for sanctuary. The music fades away.] (Williams 42-44).
This passage offers several important characteristics that are carried throughout the play.
An example of these can be found at the beginning of the extract, when Mitch states that “poker should not be played in a house with women”. This clearly goes to show the distinction given by society between men and women, since poker is seen as a manly game of chance and risk, not appropriate for the latter. Needless to say that by highlighting this in his play, Williams clearly criticises this distinction society puts up.
Behind Mitch’s statement, however, there is a subtler meaning. It indirectly compares poker to women, identifying them as a “game of chance” for a man, which could end up hurting the “player”. The fact Mitch says this foreshadows how he himself is going to be emotionally wounded by Blanche later on in the play.
Another example of the important characteristics in the passage can be seen in the dehumanisation of the characters, in particular Stanley. There is a doubt, throughout the play, that Stanley has a very materialistic approach towards his relationship with Stella, rather than romantic and loving. That is, he tends to follow his sexual instincts more than his emotional attachment to the woman. This passage offers a clear hint of this materialism. When he says that “[he] wants [his] baby” there is an ambiguity and the audience does not quite know at first whether he refers to Stella or the child she is bearing. It is almost as if he is more affectionate to his “product” than to his wife, which shows his animal-like features since he tries to protect, selfishly, his possessions.
Another example of this dehumanisation is seen when Williams depicts Stanley and Stella as “they come together with low, animal moans”. Stanley has just finished beating Stella and, as if nothing has happened, they embrace and go into the dark room. Again this goes to underscore their animal-like features and the prevalence of their sexual instincts over their emotions.
Lastly, this passage provides some characterization for Blanche. At the end of the extracts she asks “where [...] [her] little sister [is]” and this apparent naivety shows the fake facade of the innocent, pure woman she puts up. After she figures out what Stanley and Stella are doing in the room “she looks right and left as if for sanctuary”, as if she is lost. In reality, as the audience will later get to know, she knows men really well from her past experiences and all she tries to do now is to seem like a new, pure woman.
Hence, the extract in question is rich with important motifs and characteristics that are seen throughout the play and it is an important place in the piece as it provides the animalistic characterisation for Stanley and Stella and the fake, naive one for Blanche, which will carry through, and will be central to Williams’ work.
There are quite a few important features in this extract, many of which you have pointed out. You’re right to point out the dehumanizing characterization, particularly of Stanley. Throughout the text, Stanley is portrayed in animal-like terms. Blanche even calls him an animal. Here, he is described as throwing “back his head like a baying hound and bellow(ing) his wife’s name.” Eunice calls his shouting “howling” as well. Stella, as you mention, is also linked with animal behavior (“they come together with low, animal moans”). Both, but especially Stella, are also fragmented through references to body parts (“eyes”, “hair”, “throat”, “shoulders”, “knees”, “face”, “belly”, “eyes”, “head”, “feet”). This gives the fragmented effect of extreme closeups in film. Through moments like this, Williams seems to draw a distinction between the mannered facade associated with genteel society, or really society in general, and the more primal potential in each of us. Stanley and Stella are more honest and in touch with that side of themselves while Blanche, as you have pointed out, tries to cover up that part of her identity – though she still has it. This scene is charged with emotion – it is the signature scene of the play, with Stanley bellowing his wife’s name. You do a nice job pointing out his egotism – his references to himself and use of first person pronouns – especially the possessive form – indicates his egocentrism as well as his territorial nature. This scene also uses several of Williams’ simultaneous staging techniques. The music helps create a mournful and raw atmosphere. There is some irony in the choice of “Paper Doll” as it is about a fantasy love, but the fact that it is played “slow and blue” suggests a more visceral version of the concepts the song puts forth. Later in the extract, Williams refers to “Dissonant brass and piano sounds” and the “blue piano” and later still “low-tone clarinet moans”. All of this provides that engrossing effect that is meant to draw audiences in – to touch all their senses. The staging is also evident when “the rooms dim out to darkness and the outer walls appear in the night light”. This gives the physical space a malleable feel, highlighting the the changing, unpredictable behavior being represented in the play. You make a nice point about the ambiguity of the “baby”. Is Stanley referring to Stella, his “baby” and “doll” or is her referring to his progeny? Either way, we see again the egotism.
Here are the lyrics to the song “Paper Doll”:
I’m gonna buy a Paper Doll that I can call my own
A doll that other fellows cannot steal
And then the flirty, flirty guys with their flirty, flirty eyes
Will have to flirt with dollies that are real
When I come home at night she will be waiting
She’ll be the truest doll in all this world
I’d rather have a Paper Doll to call my own
Than have a fickle-minded real live girl
I guess I had a million dolls or more
I guess I’ve played the doll game o’er and o’er
I just quarrelled with Sue, that’s why I’m blue
She’s gone away and left me just like all dolls do
I’ll tell you boys, it’s tough to be alone
And it’s tough to love a doll that’s not your own
I’m through with all of them
I’ll never ball again
Say boy, whatcha gonna do?
I’m gonna buy a Paper Doll that I can call my own
A doll that other fellows cannot steal
And then the flirty, flirty guys with their flirty, flirty eyes
Will have to flirt with dollies that are real
When I come home at night she will be waiting
She’ll be the truest doll in all this world
I’d rather have a Paper Doll to call my own
Than have a fickle-minded real live girl.
[Mitch laughs uncomfortably and continues through the portieres. He stops just inside.]
Hello! The Little boys’ Room is busy right now.
We’ve – been drinking beer.
I hate beer.
It’s – a hot weather drink.
Oh, I don’t think so; it always makes me warmer. Have you got any cigs?
[She has slipped on the dark red satin wrapper.]
What kind are they?
Oh, good. What a pretty case. Silver?
Yes. Yes; read the inscription.
Oh, is there an inscription? I can’t make it out.
[He strikes a match and moves closer.]
[Reading with feigned difficulty.]
“And if God choose,
I shall love thee better – after – death!”
Why, that’s from my favourite sonnet by Mrs. Browning!
You know it?
Certainly I do!
There’s a story connected to that inscription.
It sounds like a romance.
A pretty sad one.
The girl’s dead now.
BLANCHE [In a tone of deep sympathy]
She knew she was dying when she give me this. A very strange girl, very sweet – very!
She must have been fond of you. Sick people have such deep, sincere attachments.
That’s right, they certainly do.
Sorrow makes for sincerity, I think.
It sure brings it out in people.
The little there is belongs to people who have experienced some sorrow.
I’m positive that I am. Show me a person who hasn’t known any sorrow and I’ll show you a shuperficial – Listen to me! My tongue is a little – thick! You boys are responsible for it. The show let out at eleven and we couldn’t come home on account of the poker game so we had to go somewhere and drink. I’m not accustomed to having more than one drink. Two is the limit – (Williams 37-38).
this is an important passage in the text for two reasons. The first reason is that the character mitch is introduced. He is portrayed as a working class gentle man. He is kind and shy, which are suppored by his dying mother and his care of her. The theme of death is importabt in this passage because it is the foundation upon which the relationship between mitch and blanche is established. This relationship is the second reason why this part of the text is significant, this is the first time that the two characters meet, and many of the motifs in this section are important throughout the text, for example when mitch moves the match closer to blanche so that she can read the inscription. This is important to note because throughout the text blanche is constantly trying to controll light and manipulate it in order to make herself look better. But Mitch is controlling it, both in this scene and in the end when he confronts her and holds her in the light, this could be foreshadowing the fact that blanche has no real controll. This passage both begins and ends with the over cnsumption of alcohol, which could be linked to the theme of intoxication which can be linked to blanches purfume and effect on men and also to her rape in the end and her obsession with her ex lover.
You make some very good observations here, Jake. You’re right to point out the significance of the first meeting – or at least the first conversation between the characters. Their relationship is founded on several things. The first, as you point out, is death. This is something that brings them together, that creates mutual sympathy between them. Mitch has lost this “very strange girl” and his mother is ill, and Blanche has lost her husband, not to mention everyone at Belle Reve. They have both suffered loss, which brings them together. They are also brought together by the inscription on the cigarette case, which is related to love and romanticism. Perhaps the fact that it is inscribed on a cigarette case foreshadows the conflict between realism and romanticism that will arise later between the two. They are also brought together by this kind of society role playing. Blanche is described as “feign(ing) difficulty” and uses terms such as “the Little boys’ Room.” She is also very solicitous, asking many questions and inviting comments from Mitch. Mitch, on the other hand, is like a nervous young man, as highlighted by the many hesitations (shown through dashes and repetitions). In the true style of the southern belle, she attempts to put him at his ease. This is carried through later in the text when she refers to him repeatedly as her beau.
BLANCHE: [Picking up a large envelope containing more papers]
There are thousands of papers, stretching back over hundreds of years, affecting Belle Reve as, piece by piece, our improvident grand-fathers and fathers and uncles and brothers exchanged the land for their epic fornications – to put it plainly!
[She removes her glasses with an exhausted laugh]
Till finally all that was left – and Stella can verify that! – was the house itself and about twenty acres of ground, including a graveyard, to which now all but Stella and I have retreated.
[She pours the contents of the envelope on the table.]
Here all of them are, all papers! I hereby endow you with them! Take them, peruse them – commit them to memory, even! I think it’s wonderfully fitting that Belle Reve should finally be this bunch of papers in your big, capable hands!…I wonder if Stella’s back with my lemon-coke…
[She leans back and closes her eyes.]
I have a lawyer acquaintance who will study these out.
Present them to him with a box of aspirin tablets.
STANLEY: [becoming somewhat sheepish]
You see, under the Napoleonic code – a man has to take an interest in his wife’s affairs – especially now that she’s going to have a baby.
[Blanche opens her eyes. The "blue piano" sounds louder.]
Stella? Stella going to have a baby? [Dreamily] I didn’t know she was going to have a baby!
[She gets up and crosses to the outside door. Stella appears around the corner with a carton from the drugstore. Stanley goes into the bedroom with the envelope and the box. The inner rooms fade to darkness and the outside wall of the house is visible. Blanche meets Stella at the foot of the steps to the sidewalk.
Stella, Stella for Star! How lovely to have a baby!
[She embraces her sister. Stella returns the embrace with a convulsive sob. Blanche speaks softly]
Everything is all right; we thrashed it out. I feel a bit shaky, but I think I handled it nicely. I laughed and treated it all as a joke, called him a little boy and laughed – and flirted! Yes – I was flirting with your husband, Stella!
This extract is significant as it shows two sides to Blanche – and indicates her ability to function fairly successfully in the real world. Before the extract begins, she has put on her glasses, indicating an ability, perhaps, for her to see more clearly, if only temporarily. When talking about the “thousands of papers”, she speaks “plainly” and does not do her usual sugar-coating. She refers, for example, to the fact that her “improvident grand-fathers and fathers and uncles and brothers exchanged the land for their epic fornications.” This is quite a crude and direct statement for Blanche, much different from her usual play-acting style. The repetition of quantities (“thousands”, “hundreds”, “all”) underscores the realistic nature of her comments her – she’s providing the facts. When she communicates with Stanley in this way, he responds “sheepish(y)” suggesting that he is much more responsive to this kind of straight communication. Unfortunately, Blanche isn’t able to sustain this temperament very long. Williams describes her as “lean(ing) back and clos(ing) her eyes”, suggesting that this realism is too much for her. When she opens her eyes moments later, it is in response to the news about Stella’s pregnancy and is associated with the “blue piano”. At this point, Blanche loses that realistic demeanor and acts “dreamily”. Her comments to Stella are of a romantic nature as well. The phrase “Stella, Stella for Star!” is poetic showing Blanche moving into a dreamy state of mind. She also begins her child-like, nervous chatter, talking about how she “flirted” with Stanley. All of this is significant in that it suggests that Blanche has the potential to survive in this tough world. However, she finds it exhausting and hard and would rather exist in the dreamy world of the past, of youth, and of romance.
[More laughter and shouts of parting come from the men. Stanley throws the screen door of the kitchen open and comes in. He is of medium height, about five feet eight or nine, and strongly, compactly built. Animal joy in his being is implicit in all his movements and attitudes. Since earliest manhood the center of his life has been pleasure with women, the giving and taking of it, not with weak indulgence, dependency, but with the power and pride of a richly feathered male bird among hens. Branching out from this complete and satisfying center are all the auxiliary channels of his life, such as his heartiness with men, his appreciation of rough humor, his love of good drink and food and games, his car, his radio, everything that is his, that bears his emblem of the gaudy seed-bearer. He sizes women up at a glance, with sexual classifications, crude images flashing into his mind and determining the way he smiles at them.]
BLANCHE [drawing involuntarily back from his stare]:
You must be Stanley. I’m Blanche.
H’lo. Where’s the little woman?
In the bathroom.
Oh. Didn’t know you were coming in town.
I – uh –
Where you from, Blanche?
Why, I – live in Laurel.
[He has crossed to the closet and removed the whiskey bottle.]
In Laurel, huh? Oh, yeah. Yeah, in Laurel, that’s right. Not in my territory. Liquor goes fast in hot weather.
[He holds the bottle to the light to observe its depletion.]
Have a shot?
No, I – rarely touch it.
Some people rarely touch it, but it touches them often.
My clothes ‘re stickin’ to me. Do you mind if I make myself comfortable?
[He starts to remove his shirt.]
Please, please do.
Be comfortable is my motto.
It’s mine, too. It’s hard to stay looking fresh. I haven’t washed or even powdered my face and – here you are!
You know you can catch cold sitting around in damp things, especially when you been exercising hard like bowling is. You’re a teacher, arent you?
What do you teach, Blanche?
I never was a very good English student. How long you here for, Blanche?
I – don’t know yet.
You going to shack up here?
I thought I would if it’s not inconvenient for you all.
Traveling wears me out.
Well, take it easy.
[A cat screeches near the window. Blanche springs up.]
In this section we are first introduced to Stanley, Stella’s husband. The description of him at the start of this passage is purely for the reader as Williams includes descriptions of Stanley that would otherwise not be visible to the audience. For example, he writes that “Since earliest manhood the center of his life has been pleasure with women, the giving and taking of it…”. This provides extra information for the reader and characterizes Stanley from an outside perspective rather than from only what he says in his dialogue. Williams, in his portrayal of Stanley, also includes a lot of animal imagery, referring to him as having ‘animal joy’ and the ‘pride of a richly feathered male bird among hens’. This provides a contrast of him to Blanche, whom he is about to meet. Stanley also takes off his shirt and begins to drink. Williams depicts Stanley as animalistic, simple, and rough in order to convey the basic ideas of instinct and desire later in the play. The long description of Stanley serves to show his importance of a character and the paragraph is a list of descriptors of him separated by commas. He refers to his wife as the ‘little woman’, which shows a certain lack of respect and politeness that we will observe later in the play as well. He is characterized as powerful and imposing and this is immediately shown as Blanche draws “involuntarily back from his stare” as soon as she meets him.
Blanche is characterized here as very timid and unsteady, shown by the constant use of dashes in her sentences. Stanley acts as a foil for her and reveals her insecurities. Noise is also used here to show Blanche’s uneasiness and we can see throughout the play that whenever she begins to panic, there is the sound of a train going by or in this case, a cat screeching.
However, the sentences exchanged between Stanley and Blanche are of equal length which shows Blanche’s attitude of false strength at the beginning of the play before she begins to lose her mind. She is extremely concerned with the way she appears to others and wants Stanley to think the best of her. This also applies to her physical appearance and she makes excuses like “It’s hard to stay looking fresh. I haven’t washed or even powdered my face and – here you are!” Her false impression falters when she jumps at as she hears the cat screech. Stanley begins to realize that Blanche is insecure as shown by the ellipses in his final comment explaining to her that the noise was just ‘cats…’
You do a nice job showing the difference between the two characters. Williams does spend a good deal of time describing Stanley, not just in physical terms but also in psychological terms, indicating how important that dimension was to him. The description gives the reader and the actor insight into the character, not only in terms of what is seen but also in terms of what is unseen – including motivation and attitudes. He is shown as animalistic here, but not quite in the same way that he is later. Here is is a little less dangerous. He is described as having “animal joy” and compared by a metaphor to “a richly feathered male bird”. However, some of the descriptors foreshadow the more dangerous persona he is to show later in the play. Words such as “crude”, “rough”, “power” and “pride” all suggest an underlying dangerous potential. You’re right to point out the foil. The two do stand out more in comparison with one another. Their language alone differentiates them. Blanche attempts to be well-mannered (“please, please do”) while Stanley is much more casual (H’lo”). There is some foreshadowing in the fact that Blanche “draw(s) back from his stare”. Later, it becomes clear that she doesn’t like to be exposed – especially in light – and here it seems like Stanley is reading her – assessing her. Blanche does come across as weaker here, especially as Stanley is in a sense interrogating her – as indicated by the number of questions he asks and the little he considers her answers. But, you’re also very observant to point out that their lines are similar in length, indicating possibly that they are well matched, at least at this point. This is kind of the beginning of the game which Stanley will later dominate and win.
You’re a fine one to sit there accusing me of it!
I, I, I took the blows in my face and my body! All of those deaths! The long parade to the graveyard! Father, mother! Margaret, that dreadful way! So big with it, it couldn’t be put in a coffin! But had to be burned like rubbish! You just came home in time for the funerals, Stella. And funerals are pretty compared to deaths. Funerals are quiet, but deaths–not always. Sometimes their breathing is hoarse, and sometimes it rattles, and sometimes they even cry out to you, “Don’t let me go!” Even the old, sometimes, say, “Don’t let me go.” As if you were able to stop them! But funerals are quiet, with pretty flowers. And, oh, what gorgeous boxes they pack them away in! Unless you were there at the bed when they cried out, “Hold me!” you’d never suspect there was the struggle for breath and bleeding. You didn’t dream, but I saw! Saw! Saw! And now you sit there telling me with your eyes that I let the place go! How in hell do you think all that sickness and dying was paid for? Death is expensive, Miss Stella! And old Cousin Jessie’s right after Margaret’s, hers! Why, the Grim Reaper had put up his tent on our doorstep!… Stella. Belle Reve was his headquarters! Honey–that’s how it slipped through my fingers! Which of them left us a fortune? Which of them left a cent of insurance even? Only poor Jessie–one hundred to pay for her coffin. That was all, Stella! And I with my pitiful salary at the school. Yes, accuse me! Sit there and stare at me, thinking I let the place go! I let the place go? Where were you! In bed with your–Polack!
Blanche! You be still! That’s enough!
[She starts out.]
Where are you going?
I’m going into the bathroom to wash my face.
This passage takes place as Blanche enters a heated conversation with Stella, as she reveals that she has lost Belle Reve. Prior to Blanche’s monologue, she explains to Stella the numerous hardships she had to endure once Stella had left for New Orleans. Immediately Blanche attempts to impose a sense of guilt on Stella exclaiming, “you’re a fine one to sit there accusing me of it” as the two discuss the loss of Belle Reve. The manner by which Williams applies a very condescending and self righteous tone to Blanche’s speech, characterizes Blanche as one whom fails to accept responsibility for the events that have occurred. Instead she finds comfort in supplying Stella with accusations of abandoning her responsibilities at home. Hereby Williams also leads into the theme of dependence and how through out the novel Blanche relies on the support of strangers as she is unable to function independently.
Blanche’s monologue then provides justification for Blanche’s behavior towards Stella, as she explains the experience of observing the multiple deaths within the family. Here Williams reintroduces the theme of death and its importance in characterizing Blanche and her experiences of death have affected her character. In addition the concept of appearance versus reality is also demonstrated through Blanche’s discussion of death. As she states that “funerals are pretty compared to deaths”. Here the author depicts how Blanche appears to be consumed by her own fantasy as she is haunted by the deaths of family members and is unable to overcome the experience. The authors use of rhetorical questions and repetition in Blanche’s speech sets up an obsessive tone which serves to foreshadow her eventual insanity at the end of the play. The character is eventually over run by her insanity, as she retreats to her own fantasies in order to escape the truths of reality.
This extract is very important in establishing Blanche’s character and in showing us why has become so desperate. She has been surrounded by death and ugliness and this explains why she has been searching for safety and security and trying to recover some of the beauty that she has lost – both physically and more abstractly. Her anger, frustration and indignation are clear here in the repeated exclamations and accusatory questions. She dominates the conversation, claiming center stage. This is underscored by her repeated use of first person pronouns, indicating a level of self-absorption. She also uses epigrams, to some extent, making statements that sound like universal truths, such as “funerals are pretty compared to deaths”. Underlying Blanches comments is the ever present theme of realism vs romanticism. Here, death is associated with the real – the harsh reality of life, the ugliness of illness and desperation. Funerals, somewhat ironically, are associated with romanticism. Blanche says they are “pretty” and “quiet”, with “gorgeous boxes”. This is related to the idea that Blanche is focused on the package – the illusion and the magic. She prefers these to reality. And this passage really indicates why that is. She is weary of struggle and pain. Remembering this line can make a reader or audience member sympathize with her later as she starts to lose touch with reality.
[Blanche sits in a chair very stiffly with her shoulders slightly hunched and her legs pressed close together and her hands tightly clutching her purse as if she were quite cold. After a while the blind look goes out of her eyes and she begins to look slowly around. A cat screeches. She catches her breath with a startled gesture. Suddenly she notices something in a half-opened closet. She springs up and crosses to it, and removes a whiskey bottle. She pours a half tumbler of whiskey and tosses it down. She carefully replaces the bottle and washes out the tumbler at the sink. Then she resumes her seat in front of the table.]
BLANCHE [faintly to herself]:
I’ve got to keep hold of myself!
[Stella comes quickly around the corner of the building and runs to the door of the downstairs flat.]
STELLA [calling out joyfully]:
[For a moment they stare at each other. Then Blanche springs up and runs to her with a wild cry.]
Stella, oh, Stella, Stella! Stella for Star!
[She begins to speak with feverish vivacity as if she feared for either of them to stop and think. They catch each other in a spasmodic embrace.]
Now, then, let me look at you. But don’t you look at me, Stella, no, no, no, not till later, not till I’ve bathed and rested! And turn that over-light off! Turn that off! I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare!
[Stella laughs and complies]
Come back here now! Oh, my baby! Stella! Stella for Star!
[She embraces her again]
I thought you would never come back to this horrible place! What am I saying? I didn’t mean to say that. I meant to be nice about it and say–Oh, what a convenient location and such–Haa-ha! Precious lamb! You haven’t said a word to me.
You haven’t given me a chance to, honey!
[She laughs, but her glance at Blanche is a little anxious.]
Well, now you talk. Open your pretty mouth and talk while I look around for some liquor! I know you must have some liquor on the place! Where could it be, I wonder? Oh, I spy, I spy!
[She rushes to the closet and removes the bottle; she is shaking all over and panting for breath as she tries to laugh. The bottle nearly slips from her grasp.]
Blanche, you sit down and let me pour the drinks
This section takes place at the very beginning of the play, before Blanche and Stella have been reunited and before Blanche has met Stanley. Blance is alone for the first part of this extract, so her actions here tell us more about who she is when there is no one around her. Her posture is carefully described – she is sat ‘stiffly’ with ‘shoulders slightly hunched’ and ‘clutching’ her purse. All of this indicates how uncomfortable Blanche is in the rough, basic environment of Elysian Fields. The ‘blind look’ in her eyes is also indicative of how lost she is, and the way that she starts at the screeching cat again shows how different this environment is from what she is used to. All of these stage directions are intended to show how uncomfortable and out-of-place Blanche is in these surroundings, even before the people living there have entered it.
Her spotting of the whiskey, and the surreptitious way she drinks it and cleans out the tumbler also show a less innocent and naiive side to her than she tries to lead us to believe. We see her desperation even before she mentions it, but we also see how effortlessly she lies about her misdemeanor – this comes up later in the play as well. With her final words alone onstage, “I’ve got to keep hold of myself!”, we see how close she is to losing control.
Stella’s entrance immediately transforms Blanche’s attitude, although her joy and enthusiasm seem forced and unnatural: she utters a ‘wild cry’ when she sees her sister; she repeats Stella’s name over and over again; and she speaks with ‘feverish vivacity’. All this shows Blanche’s desire to keep conversation at a level that she can deal with, and to prevent Stella from thinking too much about the holes in her story.
Blanche demands to look at Stella, but refuses to let her see her ‘in this merciless light’ – another reference to her desire for concealement. However, she becomes more hysterical, and lets a comment about ‘this horrible place’ slip out. Blanche frequently uses childish language in this section, referring to Stella as ‘Stella star’ and ‘pretty lamb’, and saying ‘Oh, I spy, I spy!’ when she pretends to spot the whiskey in the cupboard. All of these things help to establish Blanche’s character as unstable, deceitful and childlike. Stella on the other hand, is genuine in her emotion; her laughter is real, and her anxiety for Blanche is real. Essentially, this section is intended to establish Blanche’s character, as well as the contrast between the two sisters.
Many good observations here. This section does provide us with a great deal of insight into Blanche’s character. She is on the edge of hysteria and very uncomfortable. Elysian Fields is a foreign land to her and the screeching cat is symbolic of something wild in the environment. Blanche is trying desperately to hold on to herself – not only to keep calm, but also to maintain the persona of the southern lady. Remember that she is all dressed in white and seems very out of place in this earthy environment, which is loud, chaotic and confusing. Her hysteria is apparent, as you mention, in her lines. She uses a childish vocabulary, repeats herself frequently and filled silence with exclamations and questions. She tries to use the liquor to keep herself calm – but it also helps her keep the edge of realism off of her. She wants illusion and in the absence of something more natural, she turns to liquor. The motif of light is really set up here. Blanche doesn’t want to be seen as she is but wants dimmer light so that she can control the image. This foreshadows many of the events that occur later, including Mitch tearing off the lantern to get a clearer look at Blanche. The motif of vision vs blindness is also evident here. Blanche is descirbed as having a “blind look” and then “look(ing) around slowly” and later telling Stella “don’t you look at me”. Blanche prefers clouded or hazy vision, even blindness, to hard, crystal clear truth. This is really fundamental to her character.
[She continues to laugh. Blanche comes around the corner, currying a valise. She looks at a slip of paper, then at the building, then again at the slip and again at the building. Her expression is one of shocked disbelief. Her appearance is incongruous to this setting. She is daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, white gloves and hat, looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district. She is about five years older than Stella. Her delicate beauty must avoid a strong light. There is something about her uncertain manner, as well as her white clothes, that suggests a moth.]
What’s the matter, honey? Are you lost?
BLANCHE [with faintly hysterical humor]:
They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at – Elysian Fields!
That’s where you are now.
At Elysian Fields?
This here is Elysian Fields.
They mustn’t have – understood – what number I wanted…
What number you lookin’ for?
[Blanche wearily refers to the slip of paper.]
You don’t have to look no further.
I’m looking for my sister, Stella DuBois. I mean – Mrs. Stanley Kowalski.
That’s the party. – You just did miss her, though.
This – can this be – her home?
She’s got the downstairs here and I got the up.
Oh. She’s – out?
You noticed that bowling alley around the corner?
I’m – not sure I did.
Well, that’s where she’s at, watchin’ her husband bowl.
[There is a pause]
You want to leave your suitcase here an’ go find her?
This is taken from scene one of Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire. It begins with a lengthy description of the character that has just entered, Blanche. She is the only character to be described so extensively which gives the reader the idea that she will be central to the unfolding of the plot. She has an “expression of shocked disbelief”, her confusion shown through her glancing repeatedly at the paper and up at the house and continued through her speech in the rest of the passage. “Her appearance is incongruous to this setting” which suggests that she comes from elsewhere. This description also implies that she does not and will not fit in here. She is dressed all in white, with pearls and a fluffy bodice. Throughout the play Blanche is obsessed with her clothes and the way she looks as it forms part of her elegant, clean facade and attempts to look younger than she is. She often dresses in white, which is an extension of her need to look and feel pure, as she feels tainted by her past. The description tells the reader that “her delicate beauty must avoid a strong light”. The way that she is lit is important to Blanche and she cowers from strong light, staying in during the day and covering the bedroom light bulb with a paper lantern. This is another method of concealment, she does not want to be seen “good and plain” a Mitch puts it as she doesn’t want anyone to see the ugly past she feels envelops her and the age she attempts to resist. The use of the word delicate to describe her is significant for as well as ‘delicate beauty’ Blanche comes to Elysian Fields with a delicate state of mind. This idea of fragility is supported by the comparison of Blanche to a moth. Although ironic in the sense that moths are attracted to light and Blanche avoids it, she is attracted to the prospect of leaving her dark past behind in Laurel and moving towards a brighter future.
As the dialogue recommences, Eunice asks Blanche if she’s lost. The idea of losing something or being lost is one that permeates the storyline and in a sense Blanche is lost at this point, or is on her way to being lost in the alternate reality her mind begins to create. This idea is built upon as the stage directions dictate that she replies with “faintly hysterical humour”. At this point, the hysterical response would be interpreted by the audience as a continuation of the shock she obviously feels at finding herself in a rough street in New Orleans. Blanche describes to Eunice the route that she was told to take to get there, which quite sinisterly, seems to parallel the journey though life and death. The streetcar named Desire is life, Cemeteries death and Elysian Fields where one goes after death. Desire is linked with living throughout the play; Blanche even says later in the play that the opposite to desire is death. The name Elysian Fields is slightly ironic as it is meant to be the place heroes go after death and is in reality a rundown area of town. Blanche then establishes that Stella is her sister and her confusion at this really being the place where Stella lives is continued through the frequent question marks in Blanche’s speech. Although Eunice is being very courteous and friendly towards Blanche, her confusion and dismay seems to hinder her speech as it is short and hesitant (signalled by the dashes).
Very thorough, Charlotte. Excellent comments about the contact of the extract, including the setting and the characterization provided. This, of course, is an important moment in the text as it introduces us to the protagonist (or antagonist, depending on your interpretation). The descriptions of Blanche with words such as “daintily”, “fluffy”, and “delicate”, as well as the repeated references to white, establish her as someone who is vulnerable, an idea that is carried through by Eunice’s question about her being lost. She is already lost in some sense, but will, as you mention, become fully “lost” later in the play. Loss itself is an important theme in the play as the state of being lost or losing something (power, love, respect, a sense of belonging) as well as the fear of both drives much of the action. The description of Blanche “wearily” looking at the piece of paper is the first of many references to fatigue and exhaustion. Such references underscore the suggestion that struggle is a integral part of life that permeates the play. The next description of her reacting “uncomprehendingly” sets up the blindness motif. A lack of understanding forms the foundation for conflict in the play – the tendency of the characters to react rashly, animalistically, before they fully comprehend situations, motivations, and behaviors. You are right to point out the structural elements, particularly the confusion and curiosity represented by the repeated questions and the hesitation suggested by the dashes. Nice discussion.
The exterior of a two-storey corner building on a street in New Orleans which is named Elysian Fields and runs between the L & N tracks and the river. The section is poor but unlike corresponding sections in other American cities, it has a raffish charm. The houses are mostly white frame, weathered grey, with rickety outside stairs and galleries and quaintly ornamented gables to the entrances of both. It is first dark of an evening early in May. The sky that shows around the dim white building is a peculiarly tender blue, almost turquoise, which invests the scene with a kind of lyricism and gracefully attenuates the atmosphere of decay. You can almost feel the warm breath of the brown river beyond the river warehouses with their faint redolences of bananas and coffee. A corresponding air is evoked by the music of Negro entertainers at a bar-room around the corner. In this part of New Orleans you are practically always just around the corner, or a few doors down the street, from a tinny piano being played with the infatuated fluency of brown fingers. This “Blue Piano” expresses the spirit of the life which goes on here.
Two women, one white and one coloured, are taking the air on the steps of the building. The white woman is Eunice, who occupies the upstairs flat; the coloured woman a neighbour, for New Orleans is a cosmopolitan city where there is a relatively warm and easy intermingling of races in the old part of town. Above the music of the “Blue Piano” the voices of people on the street can be heard overlapping (Williams 1).
The section is from the first scene of Tennessee Williams’ play “A Streetcar Named Desire”. It begins by introducing the main setting of the play where a large amount of the character interactions occur. An example of this is present in the second paragraph of the description where two women are “taking the air”. The importance of characters can be recognized by whether they are named. Eunice, the white woman talking on the steps of the building, is identified letting the reader know that she is an important character and is likely to appear later in the text. No other characters are named, for example the other woman mentioned is simply described as the “colored woman a neighbor”. The fact that the second woman is unnamed but is identified as a neighbor, suggests that the action takes place at the corner building and any named characters visit regularly or live in the building throughout the play.
The descriptions of the neighborhood and the corner building further shows that where Stanley and Stella Kowalski live, is the center of the action and conflict. The stage features are described in detail, using lots of adjectives such as “quaintly”, “gracefully”, and “infatuated” establishing a romantic atmosphere. The romantic quality is continued in the name of the area, Elysian Fields. In history, Elysian Fields is the place that heros go after death. The almost mythological comparison adds to the romantic quality of the location. Despite this, the part of New Orleans where the Kowalski’s live is “poor” but has a “raffish charm” suggesting that it is somewhat more pleasant than other locations, perhaps also for the “warm and easy intermingling of races”. The descriptions provided in detail about the neighborhood establishes a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere which is later supported by the conversation between characters.
Throughout the passage musical references are made, further developing the fluidly relaxed way of life in the neighborhood in New Orleans. References to color are also present combining on occasion with the music for example there is a “peculiarly tender blue” color of the sky which “invests” the neighborhood with “a kind of lyricism”. The personification of the sky’s color brings more life to the situation suggesting that life is lived fully around the “dim white building”. However, the dim shade of white brings a sense of impurity or unclarity to Elysian Fields. This also appears where the river is personified and the reader is brought into the text where Tennessee Williams addresses them as ‘You’, making the scene described more realistic.
Nice job, Stephanie. This section sets up several important concepts immediately. One can tell that Williams, like Shaw, understood that his plays would be read as well as seen, so he takes the time to provide visual and aural cues for the reader. The divide between realism and romanticism is established right away here in that the setting is decayed yet charming. There is a sense that the roughness of the place has an authenticity and naturalness that allows people to live there freely and comfortably. This is further emphasized by the music which lingers in the air and later with the set design which moves easily between external and internal – lacking boundaries and barriers, just as society lacks barriers (“easy intermingling”). Of course, this is part of the reason that Blanche does not fit – her forced artificiality and strict boundaries do not work in this fluid, natural environment. Ironically, if she allowed herself to be “real” and did not put on airs, she would likely be more successful here. At the same time, though, the fact that this area is described as being between the train tracks and the river does give it a sense of the finite – perhaps emphasizing its potential to entrap? This is later carried through in Blanche’s panicked phone call during which she says that she is in a trap. The colors described as well as the light are significant. While the buildings are white, they are “weathered grey” so that feeling of a tainted environment is present – it is polluted yet still maintains some of its former purity. The brown and blue provide a richness that is supported by the word choice and imagery – including the odors of coffee and bananas mentioned. And you rightly point out the music that adds to that lyricism and poetry. And Williams’ connecting the Blue Piano with the people of the quarter gives them a sense of poetry as well. There is some contrast in the moment as it is dark but May, one quality suggesting an ending and the other a beginning. This is perhaps appropriate in that this moment is both an ending and a beginning for all of the characters. This section is an excellent example of Williams’ use of descriptive language to create the atmosphere for a reader and his ability to envision a rich theatrical presentation for an audience.