Born in 1911 in the American South Grew up in St Louis, Missouri Moved to New Orleans 1n 1938

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The Writer

  • Tennessee Williams
  • Born in 1911 in the American South
  • Grew up in St Louis, Missouri
  • Moved to New Orleans 1n 1938
  • Wrote “Streetcar” in 1945 – set in New Orleans
  • Died an alcohol related death in 1983.

Streetcar Named Desire

  • Tennessee Williams

Background to the Play

  • The play focuses on the transition between the old traditions of the American South and the newly industrialised South.
  • It chronicles the defeat of an aristocratic southern belle by a new working class society.
  • Up until the 1940s the American South had an agricultural driven economy which allowed for a distinct white upper class.
  • The1940s saw this society change.
  • Industrialisation saw a new working class emerge. A working class from a huge number of different backgrounds. The American Dream!

Stanley and Blanche

  • The characterisation of these two characters represents the two different outlooks:
    • Blanche – romantic old fashioned, traditionalist and elitist views
    • Stanley – new America, American dream, anyone can succeed if they work hard.
  • Stella is a hybrid character: one who was of the old traditions, but has moved with the times as a result of her marriage to Stanley.

Overview and Background to the Play

  • Stella and Blanche Dubois are sisters who previously owned and lived on a plantation: Belle Reve
  • Stella left Belle Reve around the time of the death of her father, whilst Blanche stayed and watched it crumble as the relatives all died.
  • Blanche clings to the traditional lifestyle, whilst Stella recognises a need for change.
  • Stella married Stanley and they live humbly in Elysian Fields – Blanche is horrified by their living conditions.
  • When Blanche arrives to stay for a short time, it is clear that the sisters are very different and slightly estranged.
  • It quickly becomes evident that Blanche has had some kind of traumatic experience that has affected her significantly, shown through her erratic behaviour and actions.

The Classic Southern Woman

  • “Model of Virtue”
  • “Guardian of youth”
  • “a restraint on man’s natural vice and immorality”
  • Considered inferior to men
  • Looks to others for protection
  • Blanche DuBois is educated but stuck in the past.

The Napoleonic Code and The French Quarter

  • New Orleans owned by the French up until 1803.
  • French Law continued.
  • Part of this law meant that a spouse had a right to own part of a property previously owned by the other.
  • The play is set in the French Quarter
  • At the time a “melting pot” of different races and classes.

The Characters

  • Blanche DuBois
  • Stella Kowalski
  • Stanley Kowalski
  • Harold Mitchell (Mitch)
  • Eunice Hurbel
  • Steve Hurbel
  • Pablo Gonzales
  • Negro Woman
  • A Strange Man
  • A Strange Woman
  • A Young Collector
  • A Mexican Woman


  • ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’
  • What is a streetcar and what might this represent in terms of the play?
  • Why is desire important in the play – in what ways has it affected all of the four central characters?
  • How does the full title symbolise Blanche’s life?

The Streetcars

  • Blanche takes two streetcars before arriving at Elysian Fields.
    • Desire and
    • Cemeteries
  • Elysian Fields is the name for the land of the dead in Greek mythology.
  • In what ways do the names of the two streetcars and her final destination mirror the journey of Blanche’s own life?

Key Themes

  • Think about the themes below. In groups of four, number yourselves and think about the corresponding numbered theme below. Create a mind map coming up with all the different ways that the dramatist has addressed these themes. Remember to consider all of your literary techniques.
  • Insanity
  • Reality versus fantasy
  • Sex, death and fate
  • Conflict
  • Characterisation
  • Symbolism
  • Key scenes
  • Dialogue
  • Climax
  • Aspects of staging
    • music (important in this play)
    • lighting
    • stage directions
    • stage set

Streetcar Named Desire

  • Establishment of conflict between Blanche and Stanley in the opening scene…

The Conflict

  • The play “A Streetcar Named Desire” revolves around the conflict between the characters Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski.
  • It is very much a conflict between two worlds. The genteel, aristocratic, traditional American South of Blanche and the working class immigrant world of Stanley.
  • Stella is caught in the middle – between these two worlds.

The Opening Scene!

  • The conflict between Blanche and Stanley is set up in the opening scene of the play.
  • In this scene the differences between Blanche and Stanley are made clear to the audience.


  • Read pages two and three and compare your first impressions of these different characters: consider descriptions, objects, and dialogue they use.
  • What is Stanley carrying when he comes home?
  • What does he do with it?
  • How is this package described?
  • Where is Stanley going next?
  • How is Blanche dressed?
  • What colour is she wearing?
  • What does “incongruous to this setting” mean?
  • What animal is Blanche compared to?

Stanley - Answers

  • He comes home with a package of meat which is described as being “covered in blood.”
  • This immediately informs the audience that Stanley is a primitive, physical character – He is seen here in the role of the hunter gatherer.

Stanley Continued…

  • Stanley also speaks in a very brisk, monosyllabic way underlining his primitive image.
  • He is also about to go bowling and this activity is very much a part of the new immigrant culture that is connected to Stanley and not Blanche.

Blanche - Answers

  • Blanche is described as being “daintily dressed in a white suit…” Her appearance does not fit into the tough, working class environment she finds herself in.
  • The reference to the moth reminds the actress that Blanche is to appear fragile, bewildered and shocked by the area where her sister lives.
  • By using the words “daintily” and “delicate” in the stage directions we are immediately aware that she is very different from the confident and direct manner of Stanley.
  • Notice the word “white” is also repeated three times, suggesting the purity and naivety of Blanche in comparison with Stanley who is later seen wearing a red bowling jacket.

Blanche Pages 5-17

  • Find quotes to support the following points about Blanche’s character.

The Character of Blanche

  • She is fragile and vulnerable
  • She has a craving for alcohol
  • We become aware of her class snobbery
  • She has a constant need for flattering comments from her sister
  • She treats Stella as a child and acts the “big sister”
  • There is an undercurrent of tension between the sisters


  • Learning Intentions
  • Identify relevant information.
  • Choose appropriate quotations and frame them effectively in your writing.
  • Quotations should be…
    • Relevant
    • Short
    • Part of your sentence

Some Useful Quotations

  • “Her appearance is incongruous to the setting.” (Page 7)
  • “She looks bewildered”
  • “Why, that you had to live in these conditions?” (Page 11)

Using Your Quotations!

  • The conflict between Blanche and Stanley is set up in the opening scenes. The audience is immediately aware that Blanche is ill-at-ease in the shabby surroundings of downtown New Orleans. When she arrives at her sister’s address, “she looks bewildered” and her appearance is “incongruous to the setting.” In addition Blanche is portrayed as a snob. She asks Stella, “Why, that you had to live in these conditions?” These factors contradict major aspects of Stanley’s character and alert the audience to Blanche’s unease and lack of respect for her surroundings.
  • Similarly, the opening depiction of Stanley’s character alert the audience to impending conflict…

Your Task

  • Focus on the opening scene of “Streetcar”.
  • Find three quotations that describe Stanley and demonstrate how different he is to Blanche.
  • Continue the paragraph on the previous slide using your 3 quotations.


  • Make notes about Blanche and Stella’s past and what we find out about Belle Reve.
  • Pages eleven and twelve


  • Stanley
    • Loyal
    • Primitive
    • Aggressive
    • Sexist
    • Hospitable
    • Passionate
    • Proud
    • Cruel
    • Family man
    • Realist
  • Stella
    • Sensitive
    • Understanding
    • Helpful
    • Selfish
    • Passionate
    • Obedient
    • Submissive
    • Welcoming
    • Honest
    • Independent
  • Blanche
    • Polite
    • Vulnerable
    • Sensitive
    • Vain
    • Creative
    • Old-fashioned
    • Flirtatious
    • Thoughtless
    • Dreamer
    • Insane

Scene 2

  • Stanley is irritated at the beginning of this scene – what is causing him to feel this way and why do you think he is particularly sensitive about this?
  • How do Stella’s actions exasperate Stanley’s feelings further?
  • Blanche emerges from the first of many long baths – bathing is a motif in this play – why do you think she spends so long in the bath during the play?
  • What colour of robe is Blanche wearing and what does this suggest about her past?
  • What causes the first major conflict between Blanche and Stanley?
  • What does Stanley do to Blanche’s belongings and what event does this foreshadow?

Scene 3

  • Describe the way that Stanley interacts with his friends and the position that he holds within the group.
  • Describe the inconsistencies between Blanche’s behaviour around men and her expectations of how they should behave.
  • Select a quotation from this scene that highlights Stanley’s sexist and disrespectful attitude to women. Analyse and evaluate its effect.
  • A significant symbol in the play is light, but its normal associations have been reversed. Blanche’s purchases a paper lantern and whilst asking Mitch to put it up explains that she “can’t stand a naked light-bulb, any more I can a rude remark or a vulgar action”. Why do you think she avoids the light?

Scene 4 – A Turning Point

  • Summarise the events in this scene
  • Consider the conversation between Stella and Blanche on page 45 and 46, specifically the references to the streetcar – what are they really discussing through the disguise of metaphor?
  • The scene functions as a turning point for the following reasons:
    • Stanley overhears Blanche’s condemnation of him therefore sealing her fate and his decision to ruin her and force her to leave.
    • Stella chooses Stanley over Blanche, foreshadowing her decision at the end of the play to commit her sister to a mental institution.
    • The discussion of the streetcar links with the title and the theme of fate: Just like a streetcar is fixed to tracks, so Blanche is headed for disaster in the play with no alternative path.
    • The idea of desire, is also introduced and is integral to Blanche’s downfall.
    • Blanche’s hysteria and actions (attempting to call Shep Huntleigh), further cast doubt on her sanity.

Scene 5

  • In scene five, Stanley threatens and intimidates Blanche with suggestions of knowledge of her past. She becomes increasingly frightened.
  • Read the account of her actions she gives to Stella, p.53. How do these descriptions link with those in her introduction in scene 1, and what qualities do they reveal about Blanche’s character?
  • Stella spills what on Blanche, p.54? Consider the colour of the skirt, and suggest the various events described within the play that this could reflect.

Scene 5 – Hinge Question

  • What happens with the young man selling subscriptions just prior to Mitch’s arrival at the Kowalski apartment?
  • Consider the reasons for Blanche’s actions. Is this …
  • an indication of just how moth-like Blanche is, clarifying that she is incapable of settling with only one man.
  • a example of her urges for self-destruction, and therefore insanity.
  • a revelation of her hypocritical personality
  • Clarification that after having lost the only man she truly cared about, and blaming herself for this, she cannot allow herself the chance of another happy life?

Scene 6

  • Summarise the key events in this scene.
  • During Blanche and Mitch’s conversation back at the apartment, Blanche’s reckless behaviour surfaces again. Explain the two examples that occur during their conversation.
  • Find quotations from this scene that re-enforce Blanche’s need for illusion and fantasy.
  • In this scene the audience finally understands the full meaning of the polka music. What is it and who is the only character that can hear it?

Scene 2

Summary Scene 8

  • Blanche’s gloomy birthday party is winding down. Mitch does not arrive.
  • Stanley smashes a plate angry at being told he is “greasy.”
  • Stanley complains about the heat from Blanche’s steam bath.
  • Stanley offers Blanche her birthday present – a one way ticket back to Laurel on the bus.
  • Blanche runs to the bathroom making gagging noises – Stanley’s cruelty has literally taken Blanche’s breath away.
  • Stella reproaches Stanley for his cruelty but he explains how they were perfectly happy until Blanche came along.
  • At the end of the scene Stella asks to be taken to the hospital – the baby is on its way.

Analysis of Scene 8

  • Stanley, Stella and Blanche become increasingly short-tempered.
  • Stanley shows he has had enough of Blanche and wants her to leave.
  • Stella grows assertive for the first time in the play. She demands that Stanley should not go bowling and demands to know why he is being so cruel to Blanche.
  • However, just at the moment Stella begins to think independently of Stanley, she goes into labour. This reasserts her connection and reliance to Stanley.
  • Stanley also reminds Stella that she was once posh and snobbish like Blanche but he removed those airs and graces. He tells Stella that before Blanche arrived she was happy to be common.
  • The suggestion of Stanley’s speech is that he desires to take ownership of people and things that make him feel inferior.
  • His actions towards Blanche are so cruel because he misunderstands how weak Blanche was in the first place.

Summary of Scene 9

  • Mitch arrives while Blanche is alone in the apartment.
  • Blanche descends into her own world. Hearing the polka music that was playing when her husband killed himself. She hears the gunshot in her mind and is clearly anxious.
  • Mitch unaware of what Blanche is talking about grows more impatient.
  • Eventually Mitch explains what is on his mind and says he does not care about Blanche’s age but is annoyed about the fact that she lied to him all summer about being morally upright.
  • Mitch explains that he has heard the stories about her behaviour in Laurel.
  • Blanche tries to deny the charges but is eventually forced to admit the truth.
  • She finally breaks down and explains through sobs that after her husband’s death she panicked and searched for companionship to fill her loneliness.
  • She explains that Mitch gave her hope but that she was wrong to hope because her past eventually caught up with her.
  • Mitch tells Blanche that she is not fit to live in the same house as his mother and Blanche orders him to leave, collapsing into hysterics.

Analysis of Scene 9

  • Mitch’s disappointment in the relationship does not stop him from approaching Blanche sexually.
  • However, while Mitch accepts the end of their relationship with resignation, Blanch becomes desperate and unhinged.
  • Blanche sees marriage as the only way to escape the demons of her marriage.
  • Once Mitch crushes the make believe identity Blanche has constructed for herself she descends into madness.
  • Blanche retreats into the make-believe world of her own mind; unable to face reality.

Analysis Scene 9 Cont…

  • Scene 9 fails to tell us whether Blanche’s difficulties are her own responsibility or whether she is a victim of her own circumstance.
  • It is true that Blanche’s sexual duplicity and romantic delusions have been the source of her fall.
  • She was born into a society that required the suppression of desire and where she expected wealth and social status.
  • Finally, Blanch is also Stanley’s victim. His cruelty and disclosure of her past contribute directly to her fate.


  • Stanley
    • Loyal
    • Primitive
    • Aggressive
    • Sexist
    • Hospitable
    • Passionate
    • Proud
    • Cruel
    • Family man
    • Realist
  • Stella
    • Sensitive
    • Understanding
    • Helpful
    • Selfish
    • Passionate
    • Obedient
    • Submissive
    • Welcoming
    • Honest
    • Independent
  • Blanche
    • Polite
    • Vulnerable
    • Sensitive
    • Vain
    • Creative
    • Old-fashioned
    • Flirtatious
    • Thoughtless
    • Dreamer
    • Insane

Literary Techniques

  • Characterisation
    • Blanche Stanley
    • Stella Mitch (minor character)
  • Setting
  • Symbols/Motifs
    • Bathing
    • Meat
    • Light
    • Varsouviana Polka
    • Contrast of Stanley and Blanche (lion vs. moth, light vs. darkness, realism vs. fantasy, old America vs. New America)

Literary Techniques

  • Key Scenes
    • Scene Four Turning Point (Stanley overhearing Blanche’s opinion of him)
    • Scene Ten: Climax (Stanley’s triumph through the rape of Blanche)
  • Themes:
    • Insanity
    • Fate
    • Conflict
    • Desire
    • Death

The Question!

  • Choose a play in which an important character is in conflict with another character in the play. Describe the conflict and show why it is important to the development of the plot.


  • Your introduction is very important and must refer to the task. You must clearly show that you understand the question and respond appropriately.
  • Include
      • Author and name of text
      • Brief summary of the main themes of the text
      • Reference to the task and explain what your essay is about.

Exemplar Introduction

  • “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams is a powerful and thought-provoking play that was first performed in 1947. The play investigates a clash between two characters Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski who come from very contrasting backgrounds. Blanche is from the traditional genteel American South, while Stanley hails from the urban immigrant world of New Orleans. The clash between these two characters results in a plethora of dramatic incidents, including a violent rape. This essay will explore how Tenessee Williams creates the conflict between these two characters in a play that’s drama is clearly fuelled by two strikingly different figures.

Paragraph One

  • The Setting
  • Begin
  • The setting is vitally important in establishing a sense of conflict between Stanley and Blanche…
  • Include
  • Set in downtown New Orleans
  • Clearly a neighbourhood that is run-down
  • Refer to Blanche arriving and looking “incongruous.”
  • The flat – Small, poky with little space. Claustrophobic.

Paragraph Two

  • Blanche and Stanley’s Very Different Backgrounds.
  • Begin
  • It is clear from the beginning of the play that Blanche and Stanley come from very different social backgrounds. It is this contrast that creates the conflict between their two characters…
  • Include
  • Blanche living in Belle Reve
  • Her manners and lifestyle
  • Stanley – Inner city, immigrant area
  • His manners and lifestyle are very different.

Paragraph Three

  • Blanche’s Character and Behaviour
  • This may be potentially two paragraphs!
  • Begin
  • Williams’s characterisation of Blanche further enhances our understanding of the conflict between the main characters…
  • Include
  • Her appearance and behaviour at the beginning of the play.
  • Her past – Laurel, School, Husband
  • Her behaviour – Drinking, bathing
  • Her behaviour – Looks down on Stanley and his type

Paragraph Four

  • The Character of Stanley
  • Begin
  • Stanley is portrayed very differently and this further amplifies the conflict between the two characters.
  • Include
  • Ungrammatical speech
  • Contempt for woman
  • “Animal Machismo”
  • Napoleonic Code

Paragraph Five

  • Key Scenes
  • Begin
  • Williams has chosen several key scenes to increase the dramatic opposition of Blanche and Stanley.
  • Include
  • Act 1, Scene 3 – The first poker night
  • Act 1, Scene 4 – Stanley overhears Blanche
  • Climax of the rape scene and Stanley’s final victory.

Paragraph Six

  • Dramatic Effects
  • Begin
  • In order to heighten the sense of conflict between the two protagonists Williams has used a variety of dramatic techniques….
  • Include
  • Light/Lighting
  • Sound Effects
  • Music
  • Symbols

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