In Scene 1 of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, during Blanche's monologue scene starting from Blanche saying: " I know, I know",  analyse characterization, themes and dramatic...

In Scene 1 of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, during Blanche's monologue scene starting from Blanche saying: " I know, I know",  analyse characterization, themes and dramatic techniques and their effects.

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

By the moment in Scene 1 of Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire in which Blanche DuBois utters the lines “I know, I know,” the viewer has been provided sufficient information to understand that Blanche is the proverbial “fish out of water” in her new setting.  References to an apparently palatial plantation in Mississippi called Belle Reve and to Blanche and Stella’s upper-class upbringing provide for the stark contrast with the lower-income neighborhood in New Orleans where the play takes place.  Hints of the clash of cultures that lie ahead are provided at early in Scene 1 with entrance of Blanche.  As Williams describes the scene, Blanche has just arrived in an area that is clearly beneath that to which she is accustomed:

“Blanche comes around the corner, currying a valise. She looks at a slip of paper, then at the building, then again at the slip and again at the building. Her expression is one of shocked disbelief. Her appearance is incongruous to this setting. She is daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, white gloves and hat, looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district. She is about five years older than Stella. Her delicate beauty must avoid a strong light. There is something about her uncertain manner, as well as her white clothes, that suggests a moth.”

Further evidence of Blanche’s intense discomfort in her new surroundings include the haste with which terminates her conversation with Eunice, Stella’s neighbor, and stage directions Williams provides that demand Blanche appear visibly ill-at-ease in Stella and Stanley’s apartment.  In addition, Williams has Blanche notice a bottle of whiskey, pour herself a glass, and quickly consume it.  All of this has occurred prior to Stella’s return to the apartment and initial encounter with her older sister.  Dialogue between Blanche and Stella further cements the notion of vast disparities between the perspectives of the two women, with Stella having carved out a life for herself with Stanley in New Orleans while Blanche remained behind at Belle Reve and an apparently aborted or interrupted career as a teacher.  So, we know Blanche is a heavy drinker, is, or was, a teacher asked by the school principal to take a leave of absence, or was fired, and presents herself as culturally and socially superior to her new surroundings, with not so subtle references to Stanley’s heritage (“Polacks”) and to Stanley’s lower-class background (referring to the apartment and neighborhood as “this horrible place,” and “Never, never, never in my worst dreams could I picture--Only Poe! Only Mr. Edgar Allan Poe!--could do it justice!”). 

We have also, by now, become aware of Stella’s domesticity and relative comfort with her husband and her life.  She discusses how much she misses Stanley when he’s away, and how minimal are their needs.  While Blanche continues to attempt to present a front of restraint and abstinence, she also just as obviously continues to consume the whiskey, punctuating drinks with asides like “I am going to take just one little tiny nip more, sort of to put the stopper on, so to speak.... Then put the bottle away so I won't be tempted.”  We have also learned that Stanley is a simple man of simple needs and expectations, his life revolving around work, bowling, drinking and sex with his wife.  The opening scene, in which he nonchalantly tosses a package of raw meat to Stella without pausing on his way to the bowling alley, combined with additional details of his background (a stint in the military, his Polish heritage), let us know that he is not a man of sophistication, and that cultural clashes with his newly-arrived sister-in-law can be expected. 

Arriving at the scene in which Blanche begins with “I know, I know” and continues with her recitation of the difficulties she endured caring for, and burying, her and Stella’s family while struggling to keep the plantation afloat, and the costs associated with the funerals all combining to impoverish her and her monologue ending with the following all contrive to establish a theme of humanity – Blanche’s humanity -- in decline while the world of her sister’s continues along it way:

“Which of them left us a fortune? Which of them left a cent of insurance even? Only poor Jessie--one hundred to pay for her coffin. That was all, Stella! And I with my pitiful salary at the school.  Yes, accuse me! Sit there and stare at me, thinking I let the place go! I let the place go? Where were you! In bed with your--Polack!”

With this burst of anger and resentment, Williams has set the tone for the conflicts to follow.  There are still important details to emerge, such as when Stanley digs into Blanche’s background and discovers the scandal from which she was fleeing, but Williams has established a claustrophobic setting within which the dynamics among the three main characters develop.  The dramatic techniques, including the setting – the small, confined low-income apartment, the visible signs of a menial existence, Stella’s pregnancy, Stanley’s clothes and passion for bowling – all serve to provide A Streetcar Named Desire its atmosphere.  The effect is to draw the view into this confined, economically and socially destitute environment and to sit anxiously as the inevitable confrontation between Stanley and Blanche approaches. 

kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Blanche’s monologue, she is obviously decrying the physical, emotional and financial burdens under which she subsisted as her and Stella’s relatives passed away over time and it became increasingly difficult to maintain the family estate.  She is angry and resentful of her sister’s domestic bliss and has to conceal the fact that she was essentially chased out of town following a string of sexual affairs that culminated in an inappropriate relationship with one of her students.  The scandal and subsequent dismissal from her job has left her further destitute and with no choice but to travel to New Orleans and live with Stella and Stanley. 

One of the major themes of A Streetcar Named Desire involves the conflict between the imaginary world Blanche contrives and the far more depressing realities in which she now finds herself.  Her attempts at constructing a false image of herself are firmly grounded in a desire to sublimate the depths to which she has descended.  A once proud, prosperous family has ceased to exist, exemplified in the decline of Belle Reve, and Blanche represents the final denouement of that era.  On one level, Blanche knows she is fundamentally dishonest regarding her life back in Mississippi; on another level, however, she so desperately wants to believe her own lies that she continues to sink deeper into the web of deception.  It is no accident that, as Stanley enlightens Stella regarding Blanche’s promiscuity and badly tarnished reputation back home, and as he rails against the lies Blanche has thrown his way while continuously degrading him, Blanche is overheard singing the 1930s song “It’s Only a Paper Moon” ("Say, it's only a paper moon, Sailing over a cardboard sea--But it wouldn't be make-believe If you believed in me!").  A song identified with self-deception and deceit, “It’s Only a Paper Moon” serves to underline the extent of Blanche’s self-absorption and commitment to exist under a false image.

With regard to further characterizations, I’m not sure how much more I can add to what I already submitted.  Perhaps one place might be Williams’ characterization of Stanley when he makes his first entrance in Scene 1:

“He is of medium height, about five feet eight or nine, and strongly, compactly built. Animal joy in his being is implicit in all his movements and attitudes. Since earliest manhood the center of his life has been pleasure with women, the giving and taking of it, not with weak indulgence, dependency, but with the power and pride of a richly feathered male bird among hens. Branching out from this complete and satisfying center are all the auxiliary channels of his life, such as his heartiness with men, his appreciation of rough humor, his love of good drink and food and games, his car, his radio, everything that is his, that bears his emblem of the gaudy seed-bearer. He sizes women up at a glance, with sexual classifications, crude images flashing into his mind and determining the way he smiles at them.”

Stanley is a crude, entirely unrefined individual of animalistic instincts and magnetism.  He also, however, no fool, seeing through Blanche’s lies and possessed of the wherewithal to investigate his sister-in-law’s background.  Stella lives in a form of awe of Stanley, attracted to his physique, confidence and commanding presence, at least within the confines of their community.  She is very much in love with him, and is content to serve him, both as homemaker and as lover. 

Mitch, Stanley’s coworker and friend, is a less self-assured individual whose attraction to Blanche is undermined by Stanley’s conveyance of the information he acquired regarding her reputation in Mississippi.  Williams makes sure we know that Mitch lacks Stanley’s confidence and commanding presence, suggested in Mitch’s reference to his mother, with whom he lives (“No--not at my place. My mother's still sick!” he yells in defiance of the notion the poker game could be held at his place).  Stanley is definitely the leader of his little pact, which also includes Steve.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is interesting to note in the beginning of Scene One when Blanche DuBois first steps off the streetcar, the stage directions describe her as "daintily dressed" and having "a delicate beauty" that must avoid the light. And, there is something about her "uncertain manner" that "suggests a moth." Then, in a moment of portentous foreshadowing, Blanche runs into Eunice,

They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at--Elysian Fields!

This here is Elysian Fields.

Elysian Fields is an allusion from Book VI of Virgil's Aeneid: a temporary place of souls on their journey back to life.

Now, Blanche is in a temporary place, here sister's home in New Orleans; and, as they talk, Blanche displays her resentment that Stella left her to manage the plantation home, Belle Reve [ironically named "Beautiful Dream"] by hysterically declaring,

I stayed and fought for it, bled for it, almost died for it.

When Stella asks her to stop her hysterics, Blanche feels more resentment:

I, I, I took the blows in my face and my body! all of those deaths! The long parade to the graveyard!...You just came home in time for the funerals, Stella....the Grim Reaper had put up his tent on our doorstep!....Which of them left us a fortune! Which of them left a cent of insurance even!...Yes, accuse me! Sit there and stare at me, thinking I let the place go! I let the place go?  where were you? In bed with your--Polack!

Clearly, there are indications of Stella's neuroses and her emotional instability, a theme. Also, there is more foreshadowing of death in her descriptions of the deaths of all the relatives, along with her allusion to the "Grim Reaper." And, from what Blanche says about Belle Reve, it is definitely misnamed. And, yet, it symbolizes the grandiose romantic dreams that Blanche originally has entertained, and now tries to pretend that they have not all been lost. 

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A Streetcar Named Desire

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