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Minxminnie

A Streetcar Named Desire

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I know that several BGOers have a fondness for Streetcar, so I thought it deserved a thread in our newly expanded poetry and drama forum.

It's the story of Blanche Dubois, a fading would-be Southern Belle who comes to New Orleans to stay with her sister, apparently to recover from a nervous condition. It soon emerges that her circumstances are a bit more complicated than that. She finds her sister living in rather reduced circumstances, but seemingly happily married to a brutish man, Stanley Kowalski, who is immediately suspicious of Blanche.

As Stanley says, "The Kowalskis and the Dubois have different notions", and a subtle war ensues for Stella's loyalty,

culminating in Blanche's defeat at Stanley's hands - first by his raping her, then by his convincing Stella that she is lying about the rape, so that Blanche is committed to a mental asylum.



It must have been heady stuff when it first appeared in the late 1940s!

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Tennessee Williams is probably the only playwright that, when a play is being shown in Central Scotland, is guaranteed to get my bum on a seat. I love Streetcar, but my favourite is Babydoll. I don't have time just now to post more but I will come back tomorrow!

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For me, Blanche represents the idealized, over-romanticized "Old South" of money and cultural privilege, a fading and moribund aristocracy fast giving way to the active, macho, polyglot and (to her) crude "New South" personified by Stanley and his card-playing cronies. An American classic - and who can forget Marlon Brando in the rain howling for Stella?

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For me, Blanche represents the idealized, over-romanticized "Old South" of money and cultural privilege, a fading and moribund aristocracy fast giving way to the active, macho, polyglot and (to her) crude "New South" personified by Stanley and his card-playing cronies.

 

My fifth yr pupils would immediately say, "Oh, yes, old-v-new America. I wrote an essay on that." (Badly, I would quietly add!) I teach the play, and that's one of my favourite themes to teach.

I love to start off by watching the start of Gone With The Wind, then the start of the Brando film. The contrast in Vivien Leigh and the setting brings it to life for them.

But I promise I won't go on too much about my lessons!

 

An American classic - and who can forget Marlon Brando in the rain howling for Stella?

Not me!! Siiigh... No, my favourite moment is his entrance. I was spellbound when I first saw it.

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My fifth yr pupils would immediately say, "Oh, yes, old-v-new America. I wrote an essay on that." (Badly, I would quietly add!)

 

Hey, at least you've got 'em writing...Do you do Strindberg's Miss Julie too? (similar theme, different setting and style)

 

I teach the play, and that's one of my favourite themes to teach.

I love to start off by watching the start of Gone With The Wind, then the start of the Brando film. The contrast in Vivien Leigh and the setting brings it to life for them. But I promise I won't go on too much about my lessons!

 

I'll bet you're a great teacher. I'm a sometime English teacher myself - got senior students dumped in my lap a few times as a sub - and had to do Pygmalion with a bunch of kids who really didn't want to be there - had a hard time just trying to get them to draw modern-day parallels with upper- and lower-class speech patterns (Harvard vis-a-vis Chicago South Side, say). And when we brought in the upper Midwest/Scandinavian accents of the Coen brothers' film Fargo, which are similar to our local accents, the result was laughable! Group, didn't mean to bore you and sorry for the bandwidth - minnie, if you'd like to continue this discussion offlist, please let me know!

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Personally speaking I am enjoying discussions about teaching drama, as well as any other part of the discussion. For me it's all knowledge and insight and adds colour. :)

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I'll bet you're a great teacher. I'm a sometime English teacher myself - got senior students dumped in my lap a few times as a sub - and had to do Pygmalion with a bunch of kids who really didn't want to be there - had a hard time just trying to get them to draw modern-day parallels with upper- and lower-class speech patterns (Harvard vis-a-vis Chicago South Side, say). And when we brought in the upper Midwest/Scandinavian accents of the Coen brothers' film Fargo, which are similar to our local accents, the result was laughable! Group, didn't mean to bore you and sorry for the bandwidth - minnie, if you'd like to continue this discussion offlist, please let me know!

Oh, don't - that's a really interesting discussion - maybe you could start a new thread about your actual experiences of teaching, I would love to read it.

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I love Streetcar too (and also taught it, many moons ago!). It has an emotional honesty and psychological intensity as well as the powerful contrast between Blanche and Stanley that makes it a far more visceral experience than, say, The Glass Menagerie, which is intellectually very interesting but lacks that raw human punch.

 

It's the portrayal of Blanche in particular that is so rewarding and she is one of those characters that I think is perfectly pitched. Just like Henchard in The Mayor of Casterbridge, there is so much that should alienate her from us, and yet we are drawn to her with strange sympathy. The old world that she clings to and weaves fantasies around is deeply tragic when set against the rough reality of Stanley's world and the construction of her precarious mental state is perfect dramatic writing.

 

I've only ever seen the film and would love to see this on the stage.

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I've only ever seen the film and would love to see this on the stage.

 

I saw a local version a while back with some colleagues. (The Ramshorn, before Hazel asks!)

 

It was far better than I thought an amateur version had any right to be. I look out this company's stuff now. But I'd love to see it done professionally. I couldn't get weekend tickets for the fairly recent National Theatre production with Glenn Close and Iain Glenn - I thought of truanting school to go down and catch it midweek!

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'I am not a Polack,' yells Marlon Brando at Vivien Leigh, as he approaches her, muscles bulging from tight sweat-stained T-shirt.

 

 

That's what I remember most, together with the final heartbreaking scene of VL being persuaded to go with the 'nice' lady to the white van waiting to cart her off to the nuthouse.

 

 

Never seen it on the stage, but the movie takes some beating.

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It's the portrayal of Blanche in particular that is so rewarding and she is one of those characters that I think is perfectly pitched. Just like Henchard in The Mayor of Casterbridge, there is so much that should alienate her from us, and yet we are drawn to her with strange sympathy. The old world that she clings to and weaves fantasies around is deeply tragic when set against the rough reality of Stanley's world and the construction of her precarious mental state is perfect dramatic writing.

 

.

I find Standleys charter much like you see Blanche. (spoiler warning im sorry dont know how to make the boxs that hides them)

The fact he hits Stella and and rapes Blanche should ailenate him from the audience yet the way Williams presents it makes you actually sympathis with Standley.

 

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culminating in Blanche's defeat at Stanley's hands - first by his raping her, then by his convincing Stella that she is lying about the rape, so that Blanche is committed to a mental asylum.

 

It must have been heady stuff when it first appeared in the late 1940s!

Although the film did omit the really crucial detail explaining why Blanche found herself in such a difficult situation -

she had found her husband in bed with another man

 

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Yes, absolutely - the play is nearer the knuckle than the film was allowed to be.

For me, the biggest interference of the censors was

the end: they wouldn't let Stella stay with the man who had raped her sister and hit her, and the film ends with her refusing to return to him. The end of the play is far more powerful, and her betrayal of Blanche only makes sense if this is her final decision. After all, she does say "I couldn't believe her story and go on living with Stanley" - she has chosen who to believe.

 

 

The new DVD edition of the film has a good documentary explaining a lot about the whole censorship issue. Apparently there was a Catholic body in the US called something like The League of Catholic Decency who threatened to give the film some kind of ban, and this was enough to galvanise the censors into action. I'm a Catholic myself and I find that very amusing and Father Ted-ish : I can't imagine that such a threat today would do much harm to a film!

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Now have read all of The Glass Menagerie- it's really disturbing. Absolutely nothing happens but it's upsetting. :(
Do you think you could start a thread on The Glass Menagerie, to tell us what you find disturbing about it, and whether that is disturbing in an enjoyable way?

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I am currently studying this text in my 2 year Literature course (I'm going into my second year in September) and this has to be my favourite text out of the whole set I am studying (Othello, The Little Stranger and The Picture Of Dorian Gray). For me, this play massively focuses on conflicts within society, especially men vs women/masculinity vs femininity. Stanley and Blanche are the embodiment of the gender struggle/conflict that is rife throughout basically all of the play, Stanley is obviously portrayed as the typical American male at the time: with his hyper-masculinity and instrumental role. However Blanche can be seen as somewhat contradicting to the typical expressive role of women, and can therefore be seen as a threat (from Stanley's perspective) because she has her own free will and isn't under his complete control, unlike Stella. 

 

I really do enjoy this play a lot and I believe there is a lot to debate/discuss about it due to the issues Williams faces and addresses through character development and stage directions, I'm looking forward to seeing it in theatre soon! 

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  • Similar Content

    • By kelby_lake
      When I first read this, I'd just read A Streetcar Named Desire and I got bored by the lack of pace. Recently I re-read it, and it's so moving. Basically nothing happens so why it should be so moving it's hard to say.
      I was close to crying a lot.
      But it's really good, although I think my favourite Williams play is Cat on A Hot Tin Roof
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