Introduction to Literature, Spring 1998
Ray's Syllabus             Last Updated May 30, 1998           Kate's Syllabus
A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)
Tennessee Williams (1914-1983) 

Leading Questions
Scenes 1-3 Scenes 4-6 Scenes 7-11
Relevant Links

Left: painting inside the house--The Night Cafe (1888) Van Gogh.  (The painting is mentioned in the beginning stage directions for scene three.  Larger size)
*On-line Journal for Ray's class; for Kate's class
Before you read . . .
(Glimpse through General Topics for Discussion)
  • Remember "A Rose for Emily" and the history of southern gentility.
  • As we move from Wuthering Heights to A Streetcar Named Desire, keep in mind that love is still a major topic, but--set in a different place and time, the play is more about love combined with sex and desire than the Romantic, spiritual love in the novel.
  • The play has both realistic (and even naturalistic) and expressionist  elements.  We will  define these terms later, but you should pay attention to: 
    •  the conflicts between the characters (Blanche and Stan) as those between two classes from two places;
    • the symbolic functions of names, music, images of life,  darkness, color, etc.
  • Don't forget to read the stage directions closely.
"An anti-naturalistic movement chiefly associated with Germany after World War I.   . . . Expressionism does not seek to "hold the mirror up to nature" or to present reality dispassionately; rather, it seeks to show the world as we feel (rather than literally see) it.   (Barnet, Sylvan, et al.  Types of Drama 794)

Leading Questions

Scenes 1-3 
    • Setting and Place Names
  1. Describe the setting of the play.  What does the house where the play is set look like?  What does the Kowalski apartment look like? What city is the play set in?  As you are introduced to each of the major characters in the first three scenes, how does the setting help you to understand them and their situation more?
  2. Are there symbolic meanings suggested by the names of places (e.g. Desire, Elysian, Cemeteries) in the play? If so, explain the symbolic meaning.

    • Characters: Blanche vs. Stella & Stanley; Eunice and Steve
  4. Blanche and Stella--Describe Blanche. What is she like?  Why is she described as being moth-like(15)?  How is she like and unlike her sister Stella in, for instance, the issues of appearance and class difference?  How would you describe their relationship?  What is their background like?  What is Belle Reve (17; 25-26)?   Is Blanche always honest in the first three scenes?  What does she think about fibs and lies (41)?  Why does she drink so much?  Why does she bathe so often?  Why does she flirt with Stanley?
  5. How does Stanley Kowalski differ from Blanche?  How do they respond to each other?  In what ways is he the opposite of Blanche?   Besides their different cultural background, Belle Reve is a major reason for their conflict.  How do they each handle the conflict (37-44)?  How does Stella deal with the opposition between her sister and her husband?
  6. Describe the relationship between Stanley and Stella.  Since Blanche and Stella are sisters and share the same background, why do you think one sister is so attracted to Stanley and the other so repulsed by him?  Can you find out a pattern in their marriage?  Why is the word "animal" used on them (esp. Stanley; pp. 29; 60)?
  7. Eunice and Steve: How are the two of them used as a foil to the major characters, here esp. Stanley and Stella?
    • Characters: Mitch & Blanche
  8. How does Mitch compare and contrast with Stanley? How does he respond to Blanche? How does Blanche respond to him? Discuss his relationship with his mother and the other men.

    • Themes: sex 
  10. From the beginning of the play to the end it presents a sexual tension. Describe the presence and influence of sexual desire that you see in the first three scenes. Does the attraction between Mitch and Blanche seem different from the attraction between Stanley and Stella?

    • Symbols: music,  light & color
  12. The play includes many stage directions referring to music. What music and songs are present in the first three scenes (e.g. "the blue piano" on pp. 13, 32, 43; and polka , p. 31)?  What is the significance of that music? In what ways is it symbolic? How does the music relate to the characters?
  13. Discuss Blanche's response to the light bulb in scene three (p. 55).  Light, too, has symbolic importance in the play. Why is the paper lantern important for Blanche?
  14. Related to light is the use of colors in this play: for instance, the tender blue of the sky (13), the primary colors of the poke players' shirts (45) and the "red-hot" of the vendor's (44).  What do they mean?  And what do you think about Williams' style, or his use of symbols and images? 
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Scenes 4-6
    • Characters: Blanche vs. Stella & Stanley; Eunice and Steve
  1. Stella and Blanche respond differently to Stanley's violent actions during the poker game the previous night (at the end of scene three). What does Blanche want to do? Who is Shep Huntleigh? What does Stella want to do? On page 70 what does Stella suggest is the foundation of her marriage with Stanley? In what ways is Stella being asked to choose between her sister and her husband?
  2. At the end of scene four Blanche reveals her thoughts about Stanley.  How does she describe and characterize him?  Where is Stanley while Blanche is talking?  Does he overhear her?  If so, how do you think he would respond?  When Stanley reenters the apartment at the end of the scene, Stella runs to him and hugs him.  Why is this significant?  Does it suggest something about Stella's relationship with Stanley and her relationship with Blanche?
  3. Describe Blanche's relationship with Stanley in scene five.  How does this latest conflict between them end? Are their conflicts in each scene becoming increasingly more serious?
  4. How would you describe the relationship between Steve and Eunice? Does their marriage provide a different view of love in the play?

    • Characters: Blanche, her personalities, illusions, her past and her relationship with Mitch 
  6. In scene five, Blanche again mentions Shep Huntleigh.  Why does she write to him?  Is she honest?  Why does she not tell the "truth"?  Does this letter provide a good example of what Blanche said on page 41 about fibbing and illusions?
  7. In scene five, we see Blanche drinking again. Why does she drink? What is she nervous about?
  8. Can you explain the dynamics of Blanche's encounter with the newspaper boy? Why does Blanche flirt with him?
  9. What does Blanche want from Mitch? Is she honest with him? Describe their relationship at the end of scene five and during scene six.  Is Mitch an aristocratic southern gentleman?  If not, provide examples from scene six to support your answer.  Do they love each other? How is their relationship different from the relationship between Stanley and Stella?
  10. In scene six Blanche explains her relationship with her husband. What does she unexpectedly learn about him? How does she respond to this? What does her husband do? How does Blanche respond to his death? Does this explain why the polka music repeats in her mind? What does this music symbolize for Blanche?

    • Symbols & Imagery
  12. Do you see any significance in the brief discussion of astrological signs on pages 76-7?
  13. In scene six Blanche describes her experience with love in terms of light imagery. Yet scene six takes place mostly in the dark¡Xin candlelight. Why? Why does Blanche prefer dim light?
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Scenes 7-11
    • Characters: Blanche, her lies, illness, and personalities
  1. At the beginning of scene seven Blanche is once again taking a hot bath, though it's hot outside.  Why does she bathe so often and for such long periods of time?  How does Stanley feel about Blanche's baths?  Why does he feel that way?
  2. Stanley has found out the "truth" about Blanche.  According to Stanley, what is that truth?  What are the two lies that he refutes?  He mentions the Flamingo Hotel.  What is it?  How does it relate to Blanche?  Why does Blanche in scene nine call it the "Tarantula Arms" (118)?  Why has Blanche lost her teaching job?  What are Stanley's motives for telling Mitch about Blanche's lies?
  3. While Stanley is talking to Stella about Blanche, Blanche is in the bathroom and the audience can hear her singing. What is the significance of her song?  Is it, too, a description of Blanche?  Does it present one side of Blanche that Stanley (and Mitch) cannot understand?
    • Characters: Blanche vs. Stella & Stanley
  4. Describe Blanche's birthday party in scene eight. What birthday present does Stanley give her? Why does Stanley want Blanche to leave? How is her presence changing his marriage? How does he hope his marriage will be after Blanche is gone? Discuss the importance of sexuality and desire for Stanley. The party ends with Stella being taken to the hospital. Why does she go to the hospital?
  5. What changes do you see in the relationship between Stella and Stanley? Between Blanche and Stanley?
    • Characters: Blanche vs. Mitch
  6. How does Mitch respond to the news about Blanche that Stanley told him? Why doesn't he want to marry Blanche anymore? Why does he tear off the paper lantern?  Why does Blanche not want him to tear it off? What does Mitch want from Blanche at the end of the scene nine?  How does Blanche respond?
    1. Character: Blanche and Blanche vs. Stanley
  7. What does Blanche mean when she says on page 117, "I don't want realism.  I want magic¡K.  I try to give that to people.  I misrepresent things to them.  I don't tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth."
  8. Why did Blanche have so many "intimacies with strangers" (118)?
  9. In scene ten Blanche and Stanley are alone in the apartment. Why is Stella not present? Blanche again mentions Shep Huntleigh. He, too, has taken on a symbolic meaning for Blanche. What does he represent to her? Why does she tell Stanley a lie about Shep Huntleigh? What does Stanley mean when he asks Blanche, "Shall we bury the hatchet and make it a loving-cup" (125)? Why does Blanche say no?
  10. What happens between Blanche and Stanley at the end of scene ten? What results of this can be seen in scene eleven? Why has Blanche gone mad? Where is she being sent? Why has Stella decided to send Blanche there? Has Stanley and Stella's marriage changed?
  11. Scene eleven begins with another poker game. This time Stanley is winning and Mitch is losing. Is this signficant? Does the card game also have possible symbolic meaning? Describe how the relationship between Stanley and Mitch has changed.
  12. How does Blanche initially respond to the Doctor and the Matron? Why does she later offer her hands to the Doctor? What does Blanche mean when she says, "Whoever you are¡XI have always depended on the kindness of strangers" (142)?  Describe the relationship between Stanley and Stella at the end of the play, after Blanche has left.
    • Images and Symbols
  13. Discuss the expressionist elements that Williams uses in scene eleven. What do they suggest about what Blanche is thinking and feeling?
  14. What do you think is the symbolic meaning of the Mexican woman selling flowers for the dead in scene nine?
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Relevant Links
Overviews and Biographies

Tennessee Williams (1914-1983)
  • Brief bio and bibliography from Calendar of Authors
  • A Longer Bio from the Kennedy Center
  • Williams, Tennessee: 1911 - 1983: A general introd. site with a photo of Williams from EducETH: 
  • More pictures of and by the Williams from Tennessee Williams' Archive
  • Tennesee Williams Photographs: Some photos of Williams as an older man, taken in 1979.


    A Streetcar named Desire

    Reviews of the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) For Furthur Studies back to the top

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