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How does the text conform to, or deviate from the conventions of a particular genre and for

what purpose?

This essay explores how Tennessee Williams has made use of props and stage directions, in

A Streetcar Named Desire (written in 1947), to provide the audience insight into Blanche’s

character and psychological state as well as develop her character.

By exploring the symbolic meaning of bathing, lighting and flowers, and the necessity of

music and clothing for Blanche’s character, this essay concludes that the play has conformed to the

norms followed by a majority of plays. This has been done to captivate the audiences interest and

arouse speculation and excitement within the crowd. Through the use of quotes and examples from

A Streetcar Named Desire, the essay has provided evidence to support why something was done and

for what purpose. Also, the use stage directions are discussed and the purpose behind them.

The conclusion drawn at the end of this essay is how props and stage directions contribute to

Blanche’s character and what we can understand about Blanche through the symbolism used in the

play.

Rationale word count: 165

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The importance of symbolic props and stage directions in understanding of Blanche

Dubois, in A Streetcar Named Desire.

In his play, A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams helps the audience comprehend

Blanche’s character through the use of props and stage directions. The use of these two vital

elements stimulates the audience to think about Blanche’s complex personality, helps understand

her psychological and mental state and also arouses curiosity.

Throughout the play, Blanche bathes frequently to ‘soothe her nerves’ and achieve peace of

mind. The baths denote her effort to cleanse herself of her execrable history and her attempts to turn

a new leaf. However, she is unable to evade her haunting past. For example, in scene two, after

having a bath Blanche says: ‘Here I am, all freshly bathed and scented, and feeling like a brand-new

human being.’ Similarly, in scene three, Stanley turns to water after he struck Stella. This tells us

that Williams has portrayed water as an object to erase mistakes, soothe nerves and elude

subconscious guilt. The baths could also be associated to the Fountain of Youth, a mythical fountain

in St.Augustine that is said to provide the consumers with everlasting youth. Blanche’s insecurities

about her appearance and constant need to bathe represents her desire to obtain the beautiful

features she possessed when she was younger.

Having been through some upsetting ordeals, Blanche’s delusional nature causes her to

pretend like everything is alright. Blanche always cowers away from bright light is reluctant to

reveal her age to Mitch, with whom she is romantically involved. Her desperate attempts to evade

the light shows that she lets her insecurities control her, making her apprehensive of rejection due to

her fading beauty and increasing age. Blanche’s fear of being seen in the light represents that she

wants to hide away her secrets and past. She is afraid of being exposed and having to face reality

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once the mask comes off, allowing everyone to see her for who she truly is. In fact, Blanche covers

the light bulb in the Kowalski’s apartment using a Chinese paper lantern. Williams has done this to

show that Blanche wants the truth and reality to remain hidden; she wants to live in her delusional,

perfect world. Shying away from the light also refers to Blanche’s unwillingness to accept that her

old life is over, because being exposed to the world means she would have to move on.

Clothing, in A Streetcar Named Desire, offers a clear view of which class each character

belongs to. Williams portrays Blanche as an upper class woman, wearing expensive silk and satin.

In scene 1, Blanche arrives at the Kowalski’s apartment wearing white clothes, giving her an

elegant, dainty and pure look. The way she is portrayed in the beginning, wearing Angel-like

clothes, contradicts with her personality which doesn’t seem to be pure. In scene two, Blanche

wears a red satin robe; red being the color of the Devil. The red clothing implies Blanche’s loss of

innocence and the dangerous secrets and delusions she has. Clothing is significant because it is a

reflection of the personality of the character, giving us insight into the kind of person they are, or in

Blanche’s case, the kind of person she is trying to be.

Williams has used references to flowers and presented Blanche as wearing flowery dress to

represent her innocence. In scene three, when Stella tells Blanche that she is as fresh as a daisy,

Blanche responds with: ‘One that’s been picked a few days’ Daisies symbolize beauty, and purity.

Blanche is a flower that is wilted, in need of two things: Water, representing her attempts to wash

away her past, and Light, representing that she needs to face reality. A flower, once picked,

gradually starts to lose its beauty and life. Similarly, Blanche, who is ageing tiredly, is slowly

moving towards the horrible fate that awaits. As the play progresses, in scene five, Mitch gifts

Blanche roses which represent love. Finally, in scene nine, Blanche sees a Mexican vendor selling

tasteless flowers for the dead, hinting her awaiting, untimely end.

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Throughout the play, a ‘blue piano’ is heard playing at times of passion or lust. In scene one,

the blue piano’s music is heard before Blanche’s arrival. In scene three, after Stanley abuses Stella,

the piano is heard once again, during their passionate reunion. And finally, in scene ten, when

Stanley rapes Blanche, the blue piano’s plays softly, its music overpowered by the sound of drums

from ‘Four Deuces’. The Varsouviana polka, on the other hand, is associated with death and

disaster. Williams has linked the polka with the death of Blanche’s young husband which was

disastrous for her. Blanche speaks about her former husband in scene one and six. At both times the

polka is heard. Finally, in scene eleven, Blanche is having an insane episode and believes that Shep

has come to sweep her away. However, the polka is used to suggest that something horrible is going

to happen instead. Williams has linked the blue piano to lust or passion and the polka to death so

that the moods would reflect on the audience each time the music is heard.

Through the entire play, the women are made to look inferior. Ultimately, it is Blanche who

receives a punishment regardless of whether or not she was the villain. Her rebellious, secretive

nature was unacceptable to the men, especially Stanley. Most of the props used made Blanche seem

either weak and vulnerable, or contemptible and dishonest. Blanche being portrayed in a negative

light and facing a horrible end could be seen as Williams way of warning the audience about the

inequality between men and women as well as the results of being an independent woman.

Without the use of props and stage directions, Williams wouldn’t have been able to develop

Blanche’s character. He would be unable to arouse curiosity, excitement or speculation within the

audience and Blanche’s character would be incomplete. Using props and stage directions is vital in

a play and by following conventions, Williams has ensured his play was enjoyed and appreciated.

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Bibliography

Dukes, Kate. Prezi. 29 May 2013. <https://prezi.com/snfio45qwtx5/stage-directions-a-streetcar-


named-desire/>.
Sparknotes. n.d. <http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/streetcar/canalysis.html>.
Williams, Tenessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. Ed. E. Martin Browne. Penguin Group, 2009.