Lecture on *Streetcar* Beauty and Brokenness

Lecture on ‘Streetcar’:
Beauty and Brokenness
Belle Reve
The Individual and Society
Issues; Sources of Conflict
Gentle Man and Brutish Man
Ladies and Women of Easy Virtue
Societal representations of Sexual Promiscuity
Adultery; Homosexuality
Love and Marriage
Hard and Soft People; Strength and Weakness;
the Strong and the Weak (Lambs and Birds of Prey)
Good and Evil
Civilization and the Caveman
The Smart and the Stupid
Racial Prejudice and Discrimination
‘And so it was I entered the broken world’
from the poem, The Broken Tower
by Hart Crane
Character Focus and Point of View
Point of View —
in Drama?
• Character Perspective;
• Privileging of one character’s perspective;
• Blanche is the central focus of our attention;
• Blanche commands audience attention through
her arresting language, actions, and gestures;
• We notice and note Blanche, as a stage character,
is the central focus of virtually every scene;
• And virtually ‘signs off’ on every scene;
Key Concepts in Context
• Concerns:
[ Point of View ]
What is Beauty?
What is Brokenness?
Broken Beauty; Crushed Beauty
‘Frailty, thy name is woman.’
Methods / Techniques
• How are these thematic concepts presented?
Dramatic Techniques, and Dramatic Effects;
• Seeing Patterns and making Connections with ‘Othello’
Williams writing in the stage directions
of The Glass Menagerie
• ‘When you look at a piece of delicately spun
glass, you think of two things:
• How beautiful it is and
how easily it can be broken.’
• (It can be argued) that nearly everything in
Williams’ plays is focused on
• The Theme of: Beauty and Brokenness
Concept of Beauty
The beautiful?
• Love, Romance, Humanity; Art (literature, poetry
and music), Civilization; Culture (haute couture);
Courtly Chivalry; the Glories of the Past; Nature
Past Selves of Blanche & Stella
• But will always somehow remain out of reach,
• If elements of the beautiful are briefly achieved
• they will inevitably always be smashed;
• ‘Stanley’s always smashed things’ Scene 4 p36
Art: Blanche to Stella in Scene 4, p41
• God! Maybe we are a long way from being made
in God’s image, but Stella—my sister—there has
been some progress since then! Such things as
art—as poetry and music—such kinds of
new light have come into the world since then!
In some kinds of people some tenderer feelings
have had some little beginning! That we have got
to make grow! And cling to, and hold out the flag!
In this dark march toward whatever it is we’re
approaching. . .
Don’t—don’t hang back with the brutes!
Causes and Effects of Brokenness?
• Brutality and Vulgarity of Masculine Humanity and
Patriarchal, Bestial, Industrialized, Urbanized Society
• Desperation; Desire (Brutal; Sexual); Decisions; Defeat
• Hopelessness; Failure
• Fragility; Vulnerability (Suffering; Trembling)
• Fragile sense of reality; Stanley’s ripping up dreams;
• Decline; the crumbling grandeur of Southern
• Destruction of traditional old Southern values;
• Self-destruction; Broken Spirit; Mental Breakdown /
Fragility: Blanche in Scene 5 p45
• I never was hard or self-sufficient enough.
When people are soft—soft people have got
to court the favour of hard ones, Stella.
Have got to be seductive—put on soft colours,
the colours of butterfly wings, and glow—
make a little—temporary magic just in order
to pay for—one night’s shelter!
An observation re Incubation period of
• Williams’ macho, male characters do not straight
away set about ripping up and destroying
dreams; smashing their fragile sense of reality;
• Rather they are usually provoked into
a violent reaction;
• By someone perceived as an intellectual superior;
• A crepe-de-chine wearing outsider like Blanche
who cannot help belittling someone like Stanley
notably in Scene 4 and throughout the play;
• Leading to an emotional dance of death;
In Williams’ World
• In Williams’ world, intelligence, intellectual
sophistication amongst male characters
• Is the province of the ‘degenerate’;
of Queers and Queens (like Allen Grey)
• Straight, tough, macho males have other more
down-to-earth manly qualities to offer;
• Like being able to punch some guy’s lights out
if he is getting fresh with his squeeze;
• Or sorting out the plumbing in your bathroom
Sexual, not Super-Subtle Southerner
Blanche, you saw him at his worst last night.
On the contrary, I saw him at his best!
What such a man has to offer
is animal force and he gave a wonderful
exhibition of that!—
But the only way to live with such a man is to—
go to bed with him!
And that’s your job—not mine! [Scene 4 p39]
Eunice about men in Scene 11 p82
• I always did say that men are callous things
with no feelings,
but this does beat anything.
Making pigs of yourselves.
Othello in Act 1, Scene 3
• Upon this hint I spake:
She lov’d me for the dangers I had passed,
And I loved her that she did pity them.
This only is the witchcraft I have used:
Here comes the lady. Let her witness it.
Destructive Gossip see p45 Scene 5
• Blanche is undone in part by the malicious,
destructive gossip Stanley spreads about her;
• He tells Mitch about all the men she has slept
with, and how she was suspended from her
teaching of English in high school in Laurel;
• She is as a result perceived as cheap goods;
(Southern Belle, Blanche, as ‘Broken’ goods)
• Mitch is thus Blanche’s last hope of escaping
the Kowalskis and living a respectable life
The Beauty of the Glories of the Past
• And you’re from Mississippi?
• She showed me a picture of your
home-place, the plantation;
• Belle Reve; ‘A great big place
with white columns.’
• ‘Belle Reve? Lost, is it? No!’
• We hear the music of the Blue Piano that
expresses the spirit of life which goes on here
grow louder upon this revelation.
Blanche to Stella Scene 4 p39/40
• I take for granted that you still have
sufficient memories of Belle Reve
to find this place and these poker players
impossible to live with.
• You can’t have forgotten that much
of our bringing up, Stella
• But there are things that happen between a
man and woman in the dark…
• What you are talking about is brutal desire
Note 6 in Methuen Edition p93
• Belle Reve:
the DuBois family home is an impressive
plantation house architecturally defined by its
‘white columns’.
Belle Reve will remain a picture or idea
throughout the play,
a symbol of privileged existence
that has been forcibly relinquished,
a way of life that has been superseded.
• The house is a fantasy, a version of
the Old South that was never quite true.
Literary Allusion to Poe
• She looks at a slip of paper, then at the building;
her expression is of shocked disbelief.
Her delicate beauty must avoid a strong light.
• Oh, I’m not going to be hypocritical, I’m going to
be honestly critical about it! Never, never, never
in my worst dreams could I picture— Only Poe!
Only Mr. Edgar Allan Poe!—could do it justice!
Out there I suppose is
the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir!
• Note Blanche’s poetic imagination
[Scene 1 p8]
Beauty: Glories of the Past, Scene 3
Nature, Culture, and Civilization
• ‘Miss DuBois?
• It’s a French name. it means woods and Blanche
means white, so the two mean
white woods. Like an orchard in spring!
• You’re French?
• We are French by extraction.
Our first American ancestors were
French Huguenots. ‘
Brabantio: ‘This is Venice.’
Implied contrast of stereotypes of Polish descent?
Blanche and Mitch in Scene 6 p52
Blanche and her fantasy world
• We are going to be very Bohemian. We are going
to pretend that we are sitting in a little
artists’ café on the Left Bank in Paris!
< She lights a candle stub and puts it in a bottle>
• Je suis la Dame aux Camellias!
Vous etres—Armand! Understand French?
• Naw. Naw, I—
• Voulez-vous couchez avec moi ce soir?
Literary Heritage Scene 3 p31
• Blanche alludes to literary giants of American
literature— Hawthorne, Whitman, and Poe
Blanche remarks
• ‘Their literary heritage is not
what most of them treasure above all else!’
A Beautiful Mind, Spirit and Heart
Blanche to Stanley in Scene 10 p78
• A cultivated woman, a woman of intelligence
and breeding, can enrich a man’s life—
immeasurably! I have those things to offer,
and this doesn’t take them away. Physical
beauty is passing. A transitory possession. But
beauty of the mind and richness of the spirit
and tenderness of the heart—and I have all of
those things—aren’t taken away, but grow!
Increase with the years! How strange that I
should be called a destitute woman!
Stella to Stanley about the first
Marriage of Blanche to Allen Grey
• She married a boy who wrote poetry….
He was extremely good-looking.
I think Blanche didn’t just love him but
worshipped the ground he walked on!
Adored him and thought him almost too fine
to be human! But then she found out—
• This beautiful! And talented young man
was a degenerate. [Scene 7, p61-62]
Suicide; Self-Destruction;
Beauty Broken; Scene 6 p57
Blanche to Mitch
• We danced the Varsouviana!
Suddenly in the middle of the dance the boy
I had married broke away from me and ran
out of the casino.
A few minutes later—a shot!
• Allan! Allan! The Grey boy! He’d stuck the
revolver into his mouth, and fired—so that the
back of his head had been—blown away.
Adultery; the Rape Scene; Scene 10
• Oh! So you want some rough house!
• He springs towards her, overturning the table.
She cries and strikes at him with the bottle-top
but he catches her wrist.
• Tiger—tiger! Drop the bottle-top! Drop it!
We’ve had this date with each other
from the beginning!
• She moans. The bottle-top falls. She sinks to her
knees. He picks up her inert figure and carries her
to the bed. The hot trumpet and drums from the
Four Deuces sound loudly.
Mental Breakdown; Stage Directions
Scene 11 p85
• A Doctor and a Matron have appeared around
the corner of the building
and climbed the steps to the porch.
The gravity of their profession is exaggerated—
the unmistakable aura of
the state institution
with its cynical detachment.
• Blanche: Whoever you are—I have always
depended on the kindness of strangers. p89
• To Mitch in Scene 3: I need kindness now. p34
Final Observation on the Theme of
Beauty and Brokenness
• Note the pathetic tension between
the characters’ illusions (beautiful dreams)
about themselves;
• And the crushing disappointments
we as an audience know inevitably awaits them.
• Stanley: ‘We’ve had this date with each other
from the beginning.’