Disturbing scene essay colour coded - MrsMillar-s5

Higher English
Critical Essay – ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’
Question 3
Choose from a play a scene which you find amusing or moving or disturbing.
Explain how the scene provokes this response and discuss how this aspect of the
scene contributes to your understanding of the play as a whole.
 Summarise the scene that is disturbing
 Explain why they find it disturbing
 How does it develop understanding of the whole play
The penultimate scene of Tennessee Williams’ play, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, in
which the protagonist, Blanche DuBois, is raped by her brother-in-law, Stanley
Kowalski, is deeply disturbing to the audience. Williams uses this scene as the climax
of both the play’s plot and a number of key themes, such as fate, desire and insanity.
This is a key scene and it features effective characterisation, significant aspects of
setting through Williams’ use of stage directions, and music to convey the disturbing
nature of the central character’s ultimate downfall.
At the start of the scene, we can see that Blanche’s already eccentric character has
retreated deeply into the world of fantasy, after being rejected by her previous suitor,
Mitch, in the previous scene. She is described as having ‘decked herself out in a
somewhat soiled evening gown’, and as the scene opens she is placing a tiara on her
head. This very powerfully demonstrates how fragile and unstable she has become, as
she appears to be dressing up for some fantastical event. Blanche’s fantasies are
developed further as the scene continues; when Stanley arrives home, she begins to
tell him a variety of tall tales, for example, that she has been invited on a cruise with
an oil millionaire acquaintance of hers. At first it seems she is merely lying to
Stanley, as she is described as ‘improvising feverishly’, but as the scene develops she
seems to become caught up in her own fantasy, leading to a desperate attempt to
contact her millionaire. All of this shows very clearly the rapidly declining stability
of Blanche’s state of mind, which is disturbing enough to the audience, but when
Stanley eventually takes advantage of Blanche’s vulnerable state and rapes her, we
are completely unsettled and disturbed as we see Blanche’s mind irreversibly
damaged, leading to her committal to a mental institution in the following scene. This
disturbing decline in Blanche is symbolic of fantasy and illusion, key themes of the
play; Williams demonstrates that when we are hurt unimaginably, we retract further
into the world of fantasy. This is highly unsettling as the suggestion is that this could
happen to anyone of us as it did to Blanche.
Williams also uses Stanley’s actions throughout the scene to disturb and unsettle the
reader. When he first enters, he is presented as very friendly, even described as
‘smiling amiably’ at Blanche. This is extremely unsettling to the audience as this
behaviour is utterly incongruous to everything that we know about Stanley, and
therefore we suspect there is something being hidden from us, some hidden agenda of
This agenda is partially revealed when Stanley drops his façade and
mercilessly tells Blanche, ‘there ain’t one goddamn thing but imagination!’ while this
behaviour is more familiar to us, it is still very disturbing as it shows Stanley at his
most brutal, almost sarcastic – he attacks Blanche at her most vulnerable with no
This causes us to question exactly what Stanley’s ‘limits’ are.
This is
revealed to us as the scene progresses to its deeply disturbing conclusion as Stanley
brutally rapes Blanche. Just before he does so, he says, ‘You and I have had this date
since the beginning!’ suggesting that Blanche’s defeat was inevitable.
showcases very well another of the play’s more unsettling themes, of sex as a
destructive force just as Blanche’s promiscuity lead to unhappiness, so too is her
ultimate defeat brought about by Stanley’s act of aggressive sexual desire.
In addition to the actions of Blanche and Stanley, Williams also uses music and sound
to great effect in building up a very disturbing atmosphere. When Stanley enters, the
‘blue piano’ of the neighbourhood, which symbolises Stanley’s masculine power, is
described as ‘continuing softly’. This subdued backdrop mirrors Stanley’s unsettling
amiability, and again suggests something deeply disturbing lurking out of sight,
waiting to be unleashed. This is added to further when, as Stanley drops his façade,
the music is described as ‘drumming up’, reflecting the disturbing aggression of
Stanley rising up. Williams also uses music to demonstrate Blanche’s mental state; as
her panic grows and mind grows more fragile, we hear ‘inhuman jungle voices’ in the
background. This horrifically disturbing image demonstrates very well the trauma
and fear Blanche is experiencing. As the scene progresses toward its brutal climax,
both sounds become more invasive and powerful, demonstrating how Blanche is
being attached by both Stanley and her own mind. This very disturbing image is
made utterly explicit as Stanley makes his final advance on Blanche – first we hear
how the inhuman voices ‘rise up’, showing Blanche’s rapidly escalating fear, then as
Stanley commits the rape, we hear the sound of the ‘hot trumpet and drums’, showing
that he has ultimately defeated Blanche. In this victory, Williams is also symbolically
referring the victory of the modern, industrialist America over the classical romantic
culture of old, as Stanley and Blanche respectively epitomise the two ideals. This is
particularly disturbing to us as we see the brutality of our own modern culture and its
merciless destruction of past ideals.
The penultimate scene of A Streetcar Named Desire is powerfully disturbing for a
number of reasons. Tennessee Williams shows how the fragile, vulnerable Blanche,
surrounded in fantasy and illusion, is brutally taken advantage of by Stanley’s
unforgiving sexual power. And most unsettling of all is how clearly we see the true
aggression and brutality of our own modern culture as it utterly tramples the old.