Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. What does Williams’s
depiction of Blanche and Stanley’s
lives say about desire?
Answer for Study Question #1
As its title indicates, A Streetcar
Named Desire explores the destinations to which desire leads. In
following their respective desires, Blanche
end up in very different places. Blanche
is the victim of a culture that has unhealthily repressed its connection to
primal and natural urges. Blanche’s
culture also forbids love to cross boundaries of class, race, and “normal”
gender relationships. This means that, for Blanche,
all but a narrow realm of sex is illicit, demonized, and taboo. The suppressed
desire of Blanche and her forebears
erupted from time to time in “epic fornications.” Blanche’s
ancestors paid for their lust with their wealth, and Blanche
pays with her sanity.
The interclass bond between Stanley
on the other hand, is animal and spiritual rather than intellectual or
practical. Blanche cannot understand
why her sister would enter into such a rough-and-tumble union, because Blanche has never reconciled her genteel identity
with her own profound desire. The divide between her aristocratic sense of self
and the “animal” urges that have at times controlled her is too great. Instead,
Blanche invents a reality that
conveniently ignores her own sexuality, her own vitality. She knows that a
streetcar named Desire brought her to her
present predicament, but intellectually she separates that desire from herself.
Williams advocates a moderate approach to the
indulgence of desires. Desire is a fact of life and a
driving force in the lives of Williams’s
characters. Though Stanley, a rapist and wife
beater, is no one’s prototype for the perfect man, Blanche’s
denial of her desire, which leads her to hit on young boys, is equally
2. The plot of A Streetcar Named
Desire is driven by the dueling personalities
of Blanche and Stanley.
What are the sources of their animosity toward one another?
Answer for Study Question #2
The most obvious difference between Blanche
is one of social background. Whereas Blanche
comes from an old Southern family and was raised to see herself
as socially elite, Stanley
comes from an immigrant family and is a proud member of the working class. They
meet one another in the socially turbulent postwar period in New
Orleans, one of America’s
most diverse cities. Each represents values that are antagonistic to the
other’s chance at success in the modern world.
Within the play, Stella’s
loyalty serves as a symbol of that societal success. Blanche
attempts to convince Stella to leave Stanley because she was born for better society
and values, while Stanley
keeps Stella in his grasp through his unpretentious,
powerful sexual attraction. The basic differences in Blanche’s
and Stanley’s social stations and relationship to Stella expand into larger issues that make compromise
Blanche and Stanley
are polar opposites in several respects. Blanche
clearly represents the world of fantasy. As she admits to Mitch,
she wants to misrepresent things, and she wants things misrepresented to her.
She lives for how things ought to be, not for how they are. She prefers magic
and shadows to facing facts in bright light. Stanley, on the
other hand, is a no-nonsense, cut-to-the-chase kind of guy.
He looks for joy in life, and where he finds it, he celebrates it. But, as he
says, he expects people to lay their cards on the table. He has no patience for
idle chit-chat, social compliments, fools, and frauds.
Blanche repeatedly refers
and his world as brutish, primitive, apelike, rough, and uncivilized. Stanley finds this sort of
superiority offensive and says so, but there is
something primal and brutish about Stanley. By contrast, Blanche represents civilization on the decline. She
speaks vaguely of art, music, and poetry as proof of progress, but reveals
little true knowledge. Blanche does
not give Stanley
credit for any higher feelings, but Stanley dislikes Blanche because of her unwillingness to reconcile
herself to her own “lower” feelings.
3. A Streetcar Named Desire can be described as an elegy, or poetic expression of
mourning, for an Old South that died in the first part of the twentieth
century. Expand on this description.
Answer for Study Question #3
The story of the DuBois and Kowalski
families depicts the evolving society of the South over the first half of the
twentieth century. The DuBois clan, embodied in the
play by Blanche,
represents the genteel society of the Southern plantation owners that presided
through the nineteenth century. Stanley
Kowalski, the son of Polish immigrants, descends from new Southerners. He
works in a factory and is therefore engaged in the industrialization of the
South, which contributed to the demise of the agrarian society in which Blanche and Stella
were raised. The play demonstrates that Stanley is well adapted for survival in the New
South, represented by the diverse city of New
Orleans, while Blanche
is unable to survive in the new society.
Blanche and Stella
are remnants of Southern aristocracy’s decadence. The family’s material
resources have been swallowed up, and all that remain
are its manners and pretensions. Blanche
deludes herself and imagines she lives in a world in which manners and
pretensions are still relevant. Stella, however, has
turned her back on her ancestors and married someone who would
have been considered below her station by her own people. Stanley
is new blood, for a new South in transition. But Williams
portrays Stanley as
possessing a fare share of brutality, suggesting that the changing world in
fits so perfectly is not necessarily a kind one. The struggle for survival has
replaced gentility, and Blanche is an
inevitable loser in this struggle.
The events of the play’s conclusion represent the death of the
Old South. Unable to cope or to find a way to support herself since the loss of
Belle Reve, Blanche goes mad and
departs from reality. Stella sustains herself
through her marriage and sexual union with Stanley. Stella
and Stanley’s newborn child, a mixture of immigrant
American and Southern American heritage, represents the South’s future.
Suggested Essay Topics
1. Describe the use of light in the play. What does its presence
or absence indicate?
2. How does Williams use sound as a
3. How does Blanche’s
fascination with teenage boys relate to her decline and fall?
4. Compare and contrast Mitch
to the other men in the play.
5. Compare and contrast Blanche