First performed in 1947, A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams, is a play that epitomizes 20th-century theater's shift from melodrama to dramatic realism.

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 Elucidation of the values of citizens during that time will offer students perspective and help them understand historical references throughout the play.

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 evolution of gender-related movements.

Summary of A Streetcar Named Desire

Key Facts

  • First Performance Date: 1947
  • Length: 208 pages
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9-12
  • Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1948
  • New York Drama Critics' Circle Best Play

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.

Content Warning: A Streetcar Named Desire contains adult themes and controversial elements, such as sexuality, rape, suicide, domestic abuse, violence, and alcoholism.

What Your Students Will Love About A Streetcar Named Desire

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

Potential Student Struggles With A Streetcar Named Desire

  • Understanding some of the characters’ dialects
  • The fact that a great deal of Williams's depictions of characters stem from stage direction

Learning Objectives for 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 within the play, 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.

Literary Elements in A Streetcar Named Desire

  • Allusion
  • Climax
  • Foreshadowing
  • Irony
  • Juxtaposition
  • Personification
  • Setting
  • Symbolism
  • And more!

Major Themes in A Streetcar Named Desire

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.

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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.

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Gender Roles —  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:

Other Resources for A Streetcar Named Desire

Order A Streetcar Named Desire Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
A Streetcar Named Desire Paperback Student Edition
A Streetcar Named Desire Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
A Streetcar Named Desire AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
A Streetcar Named Desire Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
A Streetcar Named Desire Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
A Streetcar Named Desire Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
A Streetcar Named Desire Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

This free guide was originally posted in March 2016. It has been updated as of January 2020.