Streetcar Named Desire Importance of Stage Directions
With reference to the first four scenes of the play, discuss the significance of setting and stage directions to our understanding and appreciate of the play
Tennessee William’s uses the setting and stage directions to help reinforce the various themes such as desire and death and to help the audience to relate further to the characters. This helps the audience to understand the scenes in greater detail and to ultimately increase the enjoyment of the play.
When Streetcar was written, Southern America was going through a time of economic decay, which mirrors the image of Belle Reve in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. The Southern and European culture at that time were acting against each other, mirrored in Stanley and blanche. Stanley represents the new heterogeneous America to which an aristocratic Blanche doesn’t belong because she is a relic from a defunct social hierarchy. Blanche is stuck win the past and she clings dearly onto her new possessions which is represented by her possessiveness of her letters. Stanley is clearly represented by this changing and the ability to adapt to new cultures of New Orleans.
The mix of characters and social elements around Elysian fields demonstrates the way New Orleans is historically different from other American cities in the South. It was originally a Catholic settlement (unlike most southern cities which were Protestant) and consequently typical southern social distinctions were ignored. Hence, blacks mingle with whites, which is evident from the stage directions of the white woman (Eunice) and the black woman sitting together.
Stanley, the son of polish immigrants, represents the changing face of America. Stanley is able to accept and is part of this change, which contrasts him to Blanche’s stubborn inability to change.
The name of the Kowalski’s street underscores these extreme, opposing archetypes that Stanley and Blanche represent. Elysian Fields is the name for the ancient Greek vision of the afterlife. Stanley, the primitive, pagan reveller who is in touch with his vital core, is at home in Elysian Fields but the Kowalski’s home and neighbourhood clearly are not Blanche’s idea of heaven. Blanche represents a society that has become too detached from its elements.
Tennessee uses the idea of setting through names and locations to show the contrast between his characters and reinforces the differences between their backgrounds. Through setting the play in a diverse and constantly changing setting it makes the following scenes more believable.
William’s uses language to help paint a picture of the characters personalities through the way they pronounce words and use vocabulary. This helps the audience to relate more to the characters because they feel they are more authentic.
Tennessee Williams cleverly toys with each characters tone of voice and vocabulary in order to establish their status and personality in the play. Stanley is portrayed as a uneducated, working class man through his use of language. He uses phrases such as ‘Your damn tootin’ and ‘swindled baby’. His speech is straight to the point and he uses many slang words, which emphasises that he is streetwise. This compares to Blanche’s more refined and articulate language. Remarks such as ‘I hereby endow you with them’ helps to reinforce the idea that she is from a higher class.
Through the language we are also reminded of the 50’s era of the play. Language such as ‘atomiser’ and ‘cologne’ are uses which seem dated in our modern vocabulary.
William’s also uses the stage directions to successfully portray his characters. By Blanche’s characteristics and mannerisms, it emphasises her incompatibility with her surroundings. Blanche is immediately described as ‘dainty’ and ‘incongruous’ to her surroundings’. This instantly portrays her in the readers’ mind. William’s uses the stage directions as he would had he written a novel. It gives us an insight into the character ‘her delicate beauty must avoid a strong light’. This helps us to visualise the character because we cannot see it on set.
The play immediately establishes Blanche and Stanley as polar opposites, with Stella as a link between them, just through stage directions. These describe Stanley as a virulent character whom ‘the centre of his life has been pleasure with women’. This is much contrasted to the previous ‘dainty’ description of Blanche.
Stanley’s entrance with a package of meat underscores his primitive qualities. It is as if he were bringing back the meat to his cave, fresh from the kill. His entrance also underscores the intense sexual bond between Stella and himself which is evident to the other characters as well. Stanley yells ‘Catch’ as he tosses the package, and a moment later the Negro women replies ‘Catch what!’. Eunice and the Negro woman see something sexual and scandalously hilarious in Stanley’s act of tossing the meat to a breathlessly delighted Stella. This helps the audience get a further insight into Stanley’s character and the crude nature of his behaviour. This shows the divergence between Stella and Blanche, Blanche on initial arrival seems pure and innocent in her white suit.
Finally, Tennessee uses the music to help the audience feel integrated into the performance. The changing in the tempo of the music. For example when the loss of Belle Reve is mentioned, the music exceeds in amplitude. This symbolises foreshadowing and conflict and helps to increase the tension on the stage. In Scene 1, William’s combines the stage directions and music to help show the importance of music in the society. ‘The infatuated fluency of brown fingers’ show how the music encaptivates and absorbs the pianist into the music. This also shows the importance of music in the New Orleans culture in brining people together, no matter what race or denomination.
Through these William’s helps to emphasise themes throughout the play. Through symbolism such as the streetcar, running unswervingly along the rail to its destination is symbol of the inexplicability of fate. The destinations also represent the themes of fate, death and desire. It is evident from ‘cemeteries’ and ‘desire’ that the streetcar will lead her headlong into a descent of disaster. Through many symbols, such as Blanche’s white suit show her desire for purity. Her constant washing is symbolic on a religious level of her constant need to wash away her sins as in baptism.
William’s successfully uses these varieties of techniques to help the audience to understand the play. By choosing a setting, which represents the characters on another level, it helps the audience to relate to the performance. By language and stage direction William’s increases their belief in the performance and through music the tension and suspense is introduced. William’s uses these to most effect in creating a world, which is believable through reading or performance.
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