Tennessee Williams Questions for English 222 American Literature, CSU Fullerton



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A Streetcar Named Desire, (Norton Vol. E 93-155).

A Streetcar Named Desire, Scene 1 (Norton Vol. E 93-102)

1. On pages 93-96 of A Streetcar Named Desire, the stage descriptions render the play's New Orleans setting and Blanche DuBois makes her way into New Orleans, taking train lines with the symbolically charged names Desire and Cemeteries to get to a street called Elysian Fields (named after the abode of the blessed in classical literature) where her sister Stella lives. Once inside Stella's apartment, Blanche awaits her sister's return. If we combine the relevant stage descriptions with Blanche's words and actions up to this point before she meets Stella, how much do we already know or how much can we surmise about this character? Set down your thoughts on who Blanche DuBois is, based on what you've heard and visualized so far.

2. On pages 96-100 of A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche greets her younger sister Stella upon the latter's return, and the two exchange pleasantries before engaging in a rather intense conversation about their childhood estate, Belle Reve. First of all, how does Stella characterize her marriage with Stanley Kowalski? And how does Blanche defend herself while delivering the bad news that Belle Reve is no longer a family possession? What more do we learn about her anxieties and unhappiness as she makes this defense?

3. On pages 101-02 of A Streetcar Named Desire, we are introduced to Stanley Kowalski as he makes his way towards and then enters the apartment, whereupon he and Stella have their first encounter. How do the stage directions as well as Stanley's own words and gestures help establish him for us as a strong, if by no means refined, character? How does this first brief meeting between Blanche and Stanley go?

A Streetcar Named Desire, Scene 2 (Norton Vol. E 103-09)

4. On pages 103-05 of A Streetcar Named Desire, Stanley rehearses his suspicions about Blanche to Stella. What are those suspicions, and how does he go about trying to back them up? What suggests that Stanley is misinterpreting Blanche and her personal effects?

5. On pages 105-08 of A Streetcar Named Desire, Stanley confronts Blanche about the loss of Belle Reve, and the two have a frank conversation about the matter. What does Blanche reveal to Stanley about the manner in which the old estate was lost? But what else happens during this conversation? What about the personal side of the interaction between these two very different characters -- how does Blanche try to maintain some control over the conversation, and how does Stanley try to undercut her or get under her skin?

A Streetcar Named Desire, Scene 3 (Norton Vol. E 109-16)

6. On pages 109-110 of A Streetcar Named Desire, Stanley and friends are playing poker when Stella and Blanche return home. A few unpleasant exchanges soon occur between Blanche and a very unchivalrous Stanley, but Blanche also meets Mitch and ends up talking with him at some length from pages 111-14. How does Mitch distinguish himself from Stanley during this conversation and afterwards, on 115-16 when he deals with Stanley's unruly behavior and comforts Blanche? And how does Blanche represent herself to Mitch as they talk?

7. On pages 115-16 of A Streetcar Named Desire, a brawling and out-of-control Stanley, after being treated to an unscheduled shower to sober him up a bit, starts wailing because Stella has fled the premises. This is the scene in which Stanley lets out his famous booming cry, "STELL-LAHHHHH!" Read this scene closely, including Tennessee Williams' detailed stage directions that fill us in on what happens aside from the words spoken. How does this scene epitomize the kind of relationship that Stella and Stanley have? How does it contrast with the ideal of womanhood and gender relations that Blanche seems to be trying to uphold when she meets Mitch?

A Streetcar Named Desire, Scene 4 (Norton Vol. E 117-22)

8. On pages 117-22 of A Streetcar Named Desire, Stella defends Stanley and her decision to marry him from the negative assessment of an incredulous Blanche, who is determined to rebuild her life and get her younger sister out of a marriage she considers disastrous. What does Stella lay out for Blanche as the basis of her marriage with Stanley? How does Blanche's subsequent response (see page 121, "He acts like an animal …") go well beyond insulting the silently listening Stanley to constitute a passionate defense of "progress" in human affairs? What is Blanche defending under the umbrella term "progress"?

A Streetcar Named Desire, Scene 5 (Norton Vol. E 122-27)

9. On pages 122-27 of A Streetcar Named Desire, Stanley startles Blanche by sneeringly recounting rumors he has heard from a friend regarding Blanche's scandalous connection to the Hotel Flamingo in Laurel, Mississippi. Later, she and Stella have an intimate conversation, in which Blanche's fragility is very much on display. What deep anxieties and counteracting hopes does Blanche reveal to Stella during this conversation? How does Blanche's rather unsuccessful attempt to seduce the paperboy who shows up towards the scene's end reinforce or deepen our understanding of the dread she has already revealed?

A Streetcar Named Desire, Scene 6 (Norton Vol. E 127-33)

10. On pages 127-33 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how do things stand between Blanche and Mitch? To what extent is she honest with him, and he with her?

11. On pages 132-33 of A Streetcar Named Desire, what story does Blanche relate to Mitch about her young, now-deceased husband, Allan Gray? Why was she drawn to him, and what happened on the fateful night that he committed suicide? How does this story impact the end of the evening that Blanche and Mitch have spent together?

A Streetcar Named Desire, Scene 7 (Norton Vol. E 133-37)

12. On pages 133-37 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how does the seventh scene serve as a preparation for the one that follows, i.e. Scene 8? How does the 1933 Harold Arlen song that Blanche keeps singing, "It's Only a Paper Moon," reinforce the tragic contrast between her and her increasingly hostile opponent Stanley? Look up the song's lyrics online (performance or text -- it has been sung by greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Paul McCartney) and study them for what they have to offer in illuminating Blanche's way of looking at things and representing herself.

A Streetcar Named Desire, Scene 8 (Norton Vol. E 137-41)

13. On pages 137-41 of A Streetcar Named Desire, Stanley, Stella and Blanche celebrate (if you can call it that) the latter's birthday at home. Aside from Stanley's usual cruelty towards "sister Blanche" (her "gift" is a one-way ticket back to Laurel, Mississippi), consider this scene for its representation of Stella and Stanley's marriage. What grievances are aired in this scene between these two, and what is implied about the kind of relationship they have? (Earlier scenes are, of course, also valuable in this regard -- Scene 3 in particular.)

A Streetcar Named Desire, Scene 9 (Norton Vol. E 141-45)

14. On pages 141-45 of A Streetcar Named Desire, Mitch finally confronts Blanche about the disjunction between her unhappy past and the way she now wants to be understood. How effective is Blanche's self-defense against her sometime admirer's blunt charges? To what extent does Mitch's behavior and attitude resemble Stanley's thus far?

A Streetcar Named Desire, Scene 10 (Norton Vol. E 145-50)

15. On pages 145-50 of A Streetcar Named Desire, trace the circumstances in which Stanley sexually assaults Blanche. Why is the scene not surprising, given what we have seen and heard from Stanley up to this point? How does he attempt to rationalize what he is about to do? Finally, what about the manner in which the playwright has chosen to represent Stanley's criminal act -- consider this scene's words, gestures, and actions for what they reveal or suggest about the characters involved.

A Streetcar Named Desire, Scene 11 (Norton Vol. E 150-55)

16. On pages 150-55 of A Streetcar Named Desire, why doesn't Stella come to the aid of her sister Blanche against Stanley's lies after he has attacked her? We have considered Blanche's illusionism or fantasy-spinning for herself the status of a southern belle. But what illusion is Stella propagating (along with Stanley) in her refusal to take Blanche's side, and why does she need to do that?

17. On pages 150-55 of A Streetcar Named Desire, how do the doctor and nurse treat Blanche when they come to take her away to an asylum? Explain how they neutralize her opposition to being removed from her surroundings. Finally, when Blanche invokes "the kindness of strangers," how do you unpack that statement? What philosophy, what anxiety, underlies Blanche's affirmation?

18. General question. We will have watched the well-regarded 1951 Elia Kazan film version of A Streetcar Named Desire, (based on the successful Broadway play) before discussing the text. How faithful to the text we have did you find the film? Were there any significant alterations in tone or action? If so, explain how any such differences affected your understanding of the text.

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