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A Streetcar Named Desire’ is a fascinating and intriguing play. The playwright, Tennessee Williams, uses many sound effects and dramatic devices to emphasize the influence of the past on the present in a mesmerizing and interesting way. It is upon the main character, Blanche, that Williams shows this influence. Many of these effects and devices are expressionistic and give us an insight into what Blanche feels at any one time, as they are a physical representation of Blanche’s mental regression. Williams also uses a variety of naturalistic effects. These are stage directions which describe the realities of the quarter.
The “Blue Piano” music and the cat which screeches in the first scene are both examples of this. On the other hand, expressionistic devices describe Blanche’ psychological progression depending on what the context is. The most important example of this in the play is the Varsouviana, which appears regularly throughout the play. At the beginning of the play, Blanche appears unexpectedly at her sister’s home, the influence of the past begins to appear. The way she treats Stella reflects her desire to return to the past as she calls her “my baby” and “Stella for Star”.
It also seems that Blanche is trying to lay claim to Stella by reminding her that she is the younger sister and that Blanche should be able to control her. It also becomes apparent that Blanche is reluctant to relinquish her high class past, as she is secretive about the loss of Belle Reve, as it is a key part of her past and she is very reluctant to shed any light on her background, shown by her state of nervousness and her tendencies towards alcohol. For example, when she says “I-rarely touch it (alcohol)”,) she has actually already had two glasses of whiskey. Blanche’s nervousness is shown when she panics when a ‘cat screeches’.
This nervousness is probably caused by her past and makes the audience curious as to what happened in that past to make her so nervous. It becomes obvious that many of the devices that Williams uses are quite subtle and are not immediately obvious. For example, the stage direction for the first scene, in which Williams describes the Quarter as “grubby… poor, but has raffish charm. ” This is a complete contrast to the illusion of Belle Reve, which is shown through Blanche’s appearance when she first appears in the Quarter, “dressed in a white suit… earrings of pearl, white gloves”.
Williams, however, also says that “the houses are mostly white frame” which is the French colonial style, which shows a slight similarity to Belle Reve. The literal translation of Belle Reve is Beautiful Dream. However, this turns into a nightmare, because of all the deaths that took place there. This is similar to how Elysian Fields, which is supposed to be heaven, actually turns out to be hell for Blanche, as being there eventually leads to her transition to insanity. There are many references to Blanche’s European background, such as her name and Belle Reve, which are both French, as well as the Varsouviana, which is also European.
This is another contrast to the quarter, as “Blue Piano” music, for example, is lively, unlike the slow Varsouviana which is a waltz. The Blue Piano also represents America whereas the Varsouviana represents Europe, further reinforcing the difference between Blanche and Stanley, who is proud to be “one hundred percent American” and not a “Polack”, a term which he finds very insulting, or even a “Pole”. Blanche on the other hand does not want to relinquish her high class ‘European’ past, shown by her refusal to sell all her expensive clothes, in an attempt to keep up the illusion of Belle Reve.