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TERM PAPER IDEAS AND OTHER TOPICS FOR WRITING
1. How real are the play's characters? To what degree are they grotesques or caricatures of real people?
2. What are the sources of conflict between Stanley and Blanche? In what ways does the nature of their conflict change as the play progresses?
3. In what ways are Stanley and Blanche symbolic figures?
4. How does each character contribute to Blanche's breakdown? What does Blanche contribute herself?
5. Regardless of her past, why is Blanche a generally sympathetic figure? Explain.
• THE MEANING OF THE PLAY
1. Do the themes in the play have contemporary relevance? In what ways?
2. Is Williams' portrayal of the world totally pessimistic, or does he leave
room for at least a little optimism? Defend your answer.
3. Does Williams prefer Blanche's world of traditional Southern gentility or Stanley's of modern hedonism? What is your evidence?
• THE PLAY AS DRAMA
1. How does the setting contribute to the mood and meaning of the play?
2. What kinds of symbols does Williams insert in his play, and what does symbolism add to the play's mood or meaning?
3. In which ways does the use of sound contribute to the mood of the play?
4. How does Streetcar compare to a classical Greek tragedy?
ON A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
Some early theatergoers were attracted to A Streetcar Named Desire by its sensationalism. Others objected to its sordidness. Here is part of theater critic Brooks Atkinson explanation of the artistry of the play:
As a matter of fact, people do appreciate it thoroughly. They come away from it profoundly moved and also in some curious way elated. For they have been sitting all evening in the presence of truth, and that is a rare and wonderful experience. Out of nothing more esoteric than interest in human beings, Mr. Williams has looked steadily and wholly into the private agony of one lost person. He supplies dramatic conflict by introducing Blanche to an alien environment that brutally wears on her nerves. But he takes no sides in the conflict. He knows how right all the characters are-how right she is in trying to protect herself against the disaster that is overtaking her, and how right the other characters are in protecting their independence, for her terrible needs cannot be fulfilled. There is no solution except the painful one Mr. Williams provides in his last scene.
"'Streetcar' Tragedy Mr. Williams' Report on Life in New Orleans," The New York Times, 1947
George Jean Nathan, another respected theater critic, found less to admire in Streetcar:
The borderline between the unpleasant and the disgusting is... a shadowy one, as inferior playwrights have at times found out to their surprise and grief. Williams has managed to keep his play wholly in hand. But there is, too, a much more shadowy borderline between the unpleasant and the enlightening, and Williams has tripped over it, badly. While he has succeeded in making realistically dramatic such elements as sexual abnormality, harlotry, perversion, seduction and lunacy, he has scarcely contrived to distil from them any elevation and purge. His play as a consequence remains largely a theatrical shocker which, while it may shock the emotions of its audience, doesn't in the slightest shock them into any spiritual education.
"The Streetcar Isn't Drawn by Pegasus," The New York Journal-American, 1947
IMAGERY IN A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
Much of the verbal and theatrical imagery that constitutes the drama is drawn from games, chance and luck.... Indeed, the tactics and ceremonial games. in general, and poker in particular, may be seen as constituting the informing structural principle of the play as a whole. Pitting Stanley Kowalski, the powerful master of Elysian Fields against Blanche DuBois, the ineffectual ex-mistress of Belle Reve, Williams makes the former the inevitable winner of the game whose stakes are survival in the kind of world the play posits.
Leonard Quirino, "The Cards Indicate a Voyage on A Streetcar Named Desire," Tennessee Williams: Thirteen Essays, 1980.