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"A Streetcar Named Desire" Study Guide and Character Outline

Plot Summary of Tennessee Williams' Masterpiece

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The Basics:

A Streetcar Named Desire is one of Tennessee Williams most famous plays. It was first performed on Broadway in 1947. It won a Pulitzer Prize and launched the careers of the playwright, director (Eliza Kazan), and several of the actors (Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Karl Malden, and Kim Hunter).

The drama focuses on the emotionally frail woman, Blanche DuBois, who (although she was once part of a wealthy family) has no place to live except the small New Orleans apartment of Stella, her well-meaning sister. However, Blanche's world crumbles due to the cruel, domineering brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski.

Learn more about the setting of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Plot Summary:

Read a detailed breakdown and analysis of each scene.

Character Breakdown:

Blanche DuBois: The protagonist of the play. After her family's once opulent estate falls into financial ruin, she is resorts to living with her younger sister, creating tension between herself and the rugged, abusive husband (Stanley). She is proud yet emotionally fragile, in part because she has lost everything, but also because of her regretful past.

Stanley Kowalski: The antagonist of the play. Strong, tough, arrogant, Stanley loves to drink, play poker, and have sex with his wife. However, now that Blanche has intruded, Stanley feels his home life and his habits are under attack.

Stella Kowalski: Blanche's sister. She is pregnant, loves her husband, but still feels a nagging loyalty to her high-maintenance sister. When Stanley hits her, she is quick to forgive him. Whereas Blanche claims to be repulsed by Stanley's animal magnetism, Stella is drawn to it.

Mitch: Stanley's co-worker and poker buddy. Mitch is a relatively nice guy, unmarried, still living with his mother. He is looking for a decent woman to marry, and hopes that Blanche will be the one. Mitch is dreadfully disappointed, however, when he learns about Blanche's sordid past in her home town.

The Upstairs Neighbors: An older couple, Eunice and Steve live above the Kowalski's. Eunice is the landlady who advises Stella to stay with Stanley, despite her mistreatment. Steve is seen and heard a few times during the play, often drunk and abusive -- thus implying that Stella and Stanley are likely to end up the same way.

Essay Topics and Ideas:

Struggling to come up with an idea for your essay? Check your instructor's prompt carefully. Sometimes teachers give detailed questions that help students generate a thesis statement. However, sometimes teachers expect the student to pick a topic or argument. In that case, here are some possibilities:

Compare / Contrast Two Characters (Ex: Blanche and Stella)

Analyze the decisions, motivations and reactions of Stanley Kowalski. Why does he behave the way he does?

What is the significance of the many sounds and voices that take place outside of the apartment? What does it reveal about the society? How does it reflect Blanche's anxiety?

Provide a detailed analysis of Blanche DuBois' mental downfall. How has guilt, regret, and death shaped her character?

How should the audience feel about the character Mitch? Is he a "nice guy"? Why / why not?

Explore biographic details about Tennessee Williams. Are the characters from A Streetcar Named Desire derived from people/experiences in the playwright's life? What personal philosophy is Tennessee Williams attempting to convey?

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