A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams, is a play that offers great opportunities to discuss class, gender identity, and the importance of appearance. Gender is an important focus of this play, as Williams explores masculinity and femininity through the nature of the main characters of the play. Gender stereotypes of the 1950s serve as important historical information and should be explained to the students and related to the text. Comparing these typecasts to changes in gender roles and stereotypes today will allow students to analyze and trace the progress (or lack thereof) of gender-related movements.

Teachers should explain the historical context of post-war America in the 1940s in order to help students understand the time in which the play takes place. During the years following WWII, America was shifting toward a more robust and optimistic nation. Elucidation of the values of citizens during that time will offer students perspective and help them understand historical references throughout the play.

Content Warning

This play contains adult themes and controversial elements, such as sexuality, rape, suicide, domestic abuse, violence, and alcoholism.

Summary

After leaving her teaching job in Mississippi, Blanche DuBois arrives in the French Quarter of New Orleans to visit her younger sister Stella. Upon arrival, a disillusioned Blanche reveals to her sister that she's lost their ancestral home, Belle Reve, following the death of their relatives. Once Stanley, Stella's husband, learns of this loss, he is instantly suspicious and relentlessly bothers Blanche. As the story unfolds, Blanche falls further into her disillusionment, with flashbacks to her past, which eventually pushes her over the edge.

Objectives for Teaching
A Streetcar Named Desire

  • Explain the significance of the play's title and discuss how it emphasizes some of the play's major themes
  • Identify and point out the meaning of the play's symbols.
  • Present an argument demonstrating that Blanche is a tragic hero.
  • Define dramatic irony, identify examples, and explain Williams's reasons for using it.
  • Compare and contrast Stanley and Blanche, focusing on their behavior, values, and the concepts they each represent.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Climax
  • Foreshadowing
  • Irony
  • Juxtaposition
  • Personification
  • Setting
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Society and Class — The play deals with intermingling and distinctions between upper and lower social classes. Sisters Blanche and Stella grew up in Belle Reve, their ancestral plantation home. Blanche is used to a lavish lifestyle, dressing in rhinestones and beautiful clothes to keep up her appearance. When she arrives at Stella's home in New Orleans, she is taken aback by the destitute conditions in which she lives, refusing to believe that this is her sister's home.
  • Appearance — Throughout the play, there is constant tension between the inside and outside world. Blanche is one character whose appearance is misleading—she is very concerned with keeping up her looks while her mind is unraveling. This concept of appearance is also present in the descriptions of action inside and outside the Kowalski household.
  • Gender Identity —  This theme is explored through the distinct characteristics of each of the characters. While Stanley represents the aggressive, strong, dominant male character, Mitch is his opposite, representing a more gentlemanly, kind side to a man. The female characters in the play, Blanche and Stella, rely on the men in their lives. While Blanche is more delicate and helpless, Stella still exerts some control over her husband.

Related Works

Themes of Society and Class

 

Theme of Appearance

 

Theme of Gender Identity

Key Facts

  • Length: 208 pages
  • Publication Date: 1947
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10

Awards

  • Pullitzer Prize for drama in 1948
  • New York Drama Critics' Circle Best Play

Movies

A film version of this play was released in 1951 starring Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois, Marlon Brando as Stanley, and Kim Hunter as Stella. This film was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won four.

Your students will love:

  • Learning more about Blanche's mysterious past
  • Vivid set descriptions Williams provides

Students may have problems with:

  • The dialect of certain characters
  • The fact that a great deal of Williams's depictions of characters stem from stage direction

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