Consider HOW playwrights make characters speak in A Streetcar Named Desire and Death of a Salesman, and say HOW the language and tone of these dialogues, conversations, or monologues contribute to each play as a whole.
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In A Streetcar Named Desire Blanche DuBois is the central character, a sensitive and unbalanced woman who suffers from guilt over her husband's suicide. To compensate, Blanche creates an illusory world. When she arrives in New Orleans, her sister Stella pampers Blanche because she is worried about Blanche's condition. When, for instance, Blanche complains that Stella has not done something, Stella placates her and flatters her and tells her she will get along with Stanley,
STELLA You'll get along fine together, if you'll just try not to--well--compare him with men that we went out with at home.
The conversations between Stanley and the unstable Blanche are essentially Strindbergian battles of the sexes. In Scene Four, for example, Blanche reminds Stella of their upbringing, complaining that Stanley is no gentleman.
BLANCHE He acts like an animal....There's even something--sub-human--something no quite to the stage of humanity yet!....Thousands and thousands of years have passed him right by, and there he is--Stanley Kowalski--survivor of the stone age! Bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle! And you--you here--waiting for him!
Later in Scene Five, Blanche reads a letter that he has composed to "Shep." She laughs aloud at the lies she has written, then reads the letter to Stella which states that she is spending the summer with her sister whose friends
...go north in the summer but...have homes on the Gulf and there has been a continued round of entertainments, teas, cocktails....
Blanche's illusory world is depicted by her use of the lanterns over the lights, her fabrications about her past, and her delusions about the present. In fact, the "blue piano"--symbolic of illusion and what Williams called "the spirit of life which goes on" in New Orleans--plays while she tries to seduce a young man who comes to the door as she awaits Mitch.
BLANCHE Young, young, young man! Has anyone told you that you look like a young Prince out of the Arabian Night?...Come her. I want to kiss you, just once, soft and sweetly on your mouth!
In Scene Ten, Stanley confronts Blanche in the real Strindbergian battle,
STANLEY I've been on to you from the start! Not once did you pull any wool over this boy's eyes! You come in her and sprinkle the place with powder and spray perfume and cover the light bulb with a paper lantern, and lo and behold the place has turned into Egypt and you are the Queen of the Nile! Sitting on your throne and swilling down my liquor! I say--Ha!--Ha! Do you hear me? Ha--ha--ha!
Blanche's struggle with Stanley brings her to the breaking point of her delicate sensibilities. Afterwards, she is taken to a mental hospital; as she is escorted, she tells the doctor her repeated line that she has "always been dependent upon the kindness of strangers."
Interestingly, the alternate title for Death of a Salesman is Certain Private Conversations in Two Acts and a Requiem; in accordance with this particular title, the acts are divided into conversations, conducted in the present and past, that merge with and flow out from each other. Thus, the interior and exterior dialogues are intrinsic to the play as a whole as these dialogues reveal exaggerations and untruths mixed with more objective and factual observations that, consequently, confuse what really exists for the principal characters.
- Symbolic of the illusory tone of some of Willy Loman's thoughts, a blue light falls upon the house and forestage. In Act I Linda hears her husband enter when he should be on the road to a sales meeting. He tells his wife that he is "tired to the death," foreshadowing future action. Further, Willy explains that he had to stop because he could no longer stay on the road as he was driving,
WILLY....Suddenly I realize I'm goin' sixty miles an hour and I don't remember the last five minutes. I'm--I can't seem to--keep my mind to it.
LINDA Willy, dear. talk to them again. There's no reason why you can't work in New York.
WILLY They don't need me in New York. I'm the New England man. I'm vital in New England.
LINDA But you're sixty years old. They can't expect you to keep traveling every week.
- While Willy realizes he is not the man he was, he is also delusional about his importance. Linda is more realistic; however, she is not aware of Willy's tenuous position with the company for whom he works. Here this conversation exemplifies the mixture of realism with untruth and exaggeration.
- When they speak of their son Biff, it is Linda who seems more deluded than Willy as she credits Biff with more drive than he has,
WILLY ...I simply asked him [Biff] is he was making any money....
LINDA ....You know how he admires you. I think if he finds himself, then you'll both be happier and not fight any more.
- Both Linda's and Willy's subjective perceptions of Biff contribute to Biff's failure as well as Willy's conflicts with his son. (e.g. Willy's condoning of Biff's cheating)
- Later in this act, Willy exaggerates his success to his wife, but his sense of desperation comes through as his optimism begins to fail:
WILLY Oh, I’ll knock ’em dead next week....I’m very well liked in Hartford. You know, the trouble is, Linda, people don’t seem to take to me.
- Willy's interior dialogue with his mistress contradicts his strong claims of love for his wife; also, in this conversation, Willy expresses his terrible loneliness.
- When Biff and Happy talk to Linda, she tells them that their father has "been trying to kill himself" and hints about the other woman. Her conversation reveals her penchant for hoping for the best like Willy; Biff reveals his selfishness and self-pity as he complains about his jobs and lack of breaks.
- Flashbacks also reveal much; Willy's conversation with Ben reveals their different philosophies of competition, success, and the “jungle” of life as well as Willy's attempts to win his brother's approval and feel better about himself.
- Near the end of the play, delusions are portrayed as nephew Bernard asks Willy about what happened with Biff's dream of being a college athlete, relating that Biff came home and burned his sneakers that had University of Virginia on them.
BERNARD I've often thought of how strange it was that I knew he'd given up his life. What happened in Boston, Willy?"
WILLY What are you trying to do, blame it on me?
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