What are examiners looking for in a passage-based question,specifically drama? (Please provide a detailed answer)

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When examiners provide a passage from a dramatic work and base a question upon this passage, there are a couple to concepts that are usually being tested. One of them is an understanding of the play as a whole, and the other is an understanding of characterization and how this character contributes to the drama and its theme..

The passage that a student may be asked about is almost always lines of dialogue. Sometimes these lines are said by more than one character as they are thematic and the playwright wants them repeated for effect. An example of this thematic dialogue is in Tennessee Willaims's Streetcar Named Desire. In Scene One [this play has no acts] Blanche DuBois arrives in New Orleans to stay with her sister, Stella. When she first arrives, she is unsure of where she is because Stella's apartment is so small. When Eunice, the landlady sees her bewilderment she asks Blanche what is wrong.

BLANCHE: [with faintly hysterical humor]:
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.

Then, in Scene Four, Blanche and her sister talk; Blanche wonders why Stella has married Stanley, whom she considers a brute and his environment crude. Stella explains her tremendous sexual attraction to Stanley; Blanche acts appalled, saying her sister is speaking of 

...brutal desire--just--Desire!--the name of that rattle-trap streetcar that bangs through the quarter, up one old street, and down another...
Haven't you ever ridden on that street-car?

After this, in Scene Six in an intensely romantic moment with Mitch in which he approaches a proposal of marriage, 

You need somebody. And I need somebody, too. Could it be--you and me, Blanche?

Sometimes--there's God--so quickly!

Here Blanche feels that she has arrived at a figurative Elysian Fields ( the final resting places of souls, the paradise of heroes in The Aeneid by Virgil). However, her happiness is short-lived as Stanley reveals to his friend Mitch Blanche's questionable past.

Finally, Blanche puts all three--Desire, Cemeteries, and Elysian Fields--together in Scene Nine (ll.69-71) as she asks Mitch to marry her and he refuses, the Mexican woman selling flowers for the dead arrives and the hereafter does not appear far off as Blanche falls to her knees. In the final scene, Blanche is taken off to a sanotarium.

So, a question by an examiner could present the passage from Scene One and ask students how this passage is pivotal to the character development of Blanche DuBois, or how it is thematic or acts as a motif in Williams's play. Or, a question could be asked how Sex[Desire] leads to Death (figuratively) in A Streetcar Named Desire. The student, then, responds with character and plot analysis, supported by textual examples.