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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
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POINT OF VIEW

Unlike The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire has no narrator to tell you the story. No one comes between you and the characters on the stage. The story is presented as it is in most plays-by characters simply playing their parts. What the characters represent, how they interact, how they resolve conflicts all help to establish the playwright's point of view.

In the script of the play Williams includes plenty of material that describes the set, the appearance of the characters, the sound and light needed to create moods and so forth. But he doesn't tell you how to view the characters: Is Blanche sane or insane? Does Stanley have redeeming qualities? Is it right for Stella to commit Blanche to an asylum? Although these are questions that Williams probably wants you to answer for yourself, he gives you his own bias by focusing the play on Blanche.

Blanche stands apart as the central figure. Streetcar is her story, and you have a ringside seat to her private agony and disintegration. You never see anyone except Blanche on stage alone. Minor characters like the newsboy and the flower peddler are interesting only insofar as they touch Blanche. By the time the play ends you know Blanche better than any other character. You probably understand why she acts as she does and appreciate what has happened to her. That doesn't mean you cherish her. But you might feel compassion for her, as you might for anyone who has lost her way.


How you feel about Blanche and how you interpret her actions will ultimately determine your views not only about the other characters, but about the themes and ideas conveyed by the play as a whole.

FORM AND STRUCTURE

Most plays have acts. Streetcar doesn't. Rather it is divided into eleven scenes occurring in chronological order and taking place between May and September.

In most productions of a play, you'll find intermissions at natural breaks in the action. In many productions of Streetcar, intermissions come after Stanley has won his first major victory over Blanche, at the end of Scene Four. A second break sometimes occurs when Scene Six concludes, after Blanche has won Mitch's love. Thus, the first third of the play ends with a defeat for Blanche, the second with a triumph.

The last scenes follow Blanche's decline into permanent defeat-her insanity. You might observe a kind of rhythm in the action of the play, a pulsing series of episodes, which may explain why Williams chose to build the play using several short scenes instead of a few longer acts. There's a rhythm of conflict and reconciliation: Stanley and Stella have a row, then make up. Eunice and Steve fight, then make up. Blanche, as usual, is out of step with the others. She establishes a liaison with Mitch, which then breaks up. Perhaps the regularity of the pattern is meant to suggest vaguely the rhythm of passion, which reaches a climax in the rape scene. The suggestion becomes more plausible if you think of the play as a sexual battle between Stanley and Blanche.

A Streetcar Named Desire is episodic. A drawing of the play's structure traces the conflict between Blanche and Stanley and also parallels the state of Blanche's emotional and mental health.

• Scene 1: Blanche arrives in New Orleans, meets Stanley; each takes the other's measure. Blanche generally optimistic.

• Scene 2: Conflict over loss of Belle Reve. Blanche submits papers to Stanley.

• Scene 3: Poker night. Blanche meets Mitch. Blanche hopeful about the future.

• Scene 4: Blanche berates Stella. Stanley defeats Blanche in competition for Stella's allegiance.

• Scene 5: Blanche plans for future; she kisses newsboy. Blanche hopes that Mitch will provide love.

• Scene 6: Date with Mitch. Blanche wins Mitch's love.

• Scene 7: Preparation for party. Blanche in high spirits.

• Scene 8: Stanley gives Blanche bus ticket; Blanche horrified.

• Scene 9: Mitch visits Blanche, attempts rape. Blanche distraught.

• Scene 10: Stanley returns; rapes Blanche. Blanche destroyed.

• Scene 11: Blanche sent to insane asylum.

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