Scene 3: how does Williams represent the relationship of Stanley and Stella?

Scene 3 contains one of Tennessee Williams’ most famous scenes where we see Stanley and Stella have a terrible row, resulting in Stella being hit.

Williams presents Stanley and Stella’s relationship as being complex. You need to think about how and why he does this. In order to think about Williams’ representation of their relationship, answer these questions in your groups.

What does Williams present as the causes of the row they have?

How is the conflict between Stanley and Stella provoked by Blanche’s presence?

How do Blanche and Mitch get to know each other in this scene? How does their burgeoning relationship contrast with Stella and Stanley’s one?

How and why does Stella return back to Stanley? What is Williams showing about their relationship here?

How do the stage directions represent their relationship?

What language is employed by the couple: what nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs do they commonly use? How do their registers differ?

Please respond for homework.

Questions to answer on Scene 2



Why is Stella reluctant to tell Blanche about being pregnant?

What do we learn about Stella and Blanche’s relationship in this scene?

How important are the stage directions in this scene?

How does Williams generate mystery around the character of Blanche in this scene?

What do we learn about Stella and Stanley’s relationship in the scene?

How does Williams use nouns, verbs and adjectives in the scene to create a sense of the characters, generate interest and colour?

What topics of conversation are coming up again and again? Why is this?

What do you think will happen next?

Pupil responses to Scene 1 of Streetcar together with teacher comments

What makes Scene 1 such a fascinating opening to the play?

Here are some responses to this question. My comments are in bold.

D’s :

Williams uses a variety of techniques to make the start of the play fascinating and to draw in and interest the reader. Firstly, he uses the stage directions to be very descriptive and to paint a detailed picture in the reader’s head of how the stage would look during the play. For example, he says that the place has a ‘raffish charm’ and that the houses are ‘weathered grey’ and that they have ‘quaintly ornamented gables.’ I think this helps to create an effective opening as it allows the reader to become involved in the play right from the very beginning and allows them to almost feel as if they are there.

I like your use of quotation here, but your follow-up analysis is very vague, you need to be precise, what does the noun phrase “raffish charm” really suggest? It connotes a risqué atmosphere, a run-down attractiveness. You could analyse the phrase “ornamented gables” more precisely; this language creates a visual effect, and suggests a place that has seen better days, these houses were once rich people’s houses??

Also, I think it helps to create an interesting opening as the scene is said to begin with two women ‘taking air on the steps’ of a building which is said to be in a ‘poor section’ of New Orleans. I think this is interesting as it isn’t a typically fascinating or intriguing setting and seems almost dull, which made me want to read on and find out what the play was actually about.

It is suggestive of social deprivation but I don’t think “dull” is the right word. This is a poor neighbourhood, but it has “allure”,

Williams also uses dramatic irony to make the opening to his play effective, for example we see elements of  the character of Blanche Dubois, who is introduced relatively early on in play, which we see she is trying to hide from other characters. Firstly,

I think it’s wrong to say “firstly” here; we learn a great deal more about her before she drinks the whiskey. We learn that she is new in the city, that she is worried and horrified by the place she is in, that she is tense. We see this place through her eyes to begin with I think; I think we the audience share her anxiety.

we see that she ‘pours a half tumbler of whiskey and tosses it down’, but that she also quickly clears away the drink and later on asks her sister where she keeps the liquor, saying ‘I know you must have some liquor in the place! Where could it be I wonder?’ The fact that we see she lies to her sister and clearly wants to cover up her drinking suggests there is more than meets the eye and that below the surface these characters have problems and that everything may no be as it seems. Again, the fact that Williams gives us these hints and clues during the opening but doesn’t reveal everything made me keen to read on and unpick the characters and see why they were acting in this way.

Yes, I agree with this.

In addition to the use of dramatic irony, the way that Williams sets the play straight into the middle of speech and begins the action right away means that the opening is especially fascinating. Many books This is a play remember… begin by setting the scene and giving the reader context about who the characters are and why they are doing what they are doing, but ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ begins in the middle of a sentence of one character, who we know nothing about, saying ‘…she says St.Barnabas would send out his dog to lick her and when he did she’d fee; an icy cold wave all up and down her.’ This sentence has no meaning to the reader as they don’t know the context of the situation so it would probably create slight confusion. However, I think it is effective as it creates a sense of realism in the sense that the conversation is natural and casual, which I think would come across well as the play is being performed.

Lastly, I think Williams creates a fascinating opening to the play as he clearly outlines and defines the character of Blanche Dubois right from the beginning. We can see that she is snobbish and looks down on the place that she has arrived at from the way she is described, ‘daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice’, ‘white gloves and hat’, ‘looking as if she were arriving to a cocktail party.’  We also see she doesn’t fit in as she calls it a ‘horrible place’ and feels sorry that her sister has to live in ‘these condition’.

Yes, this is  a really good point about her characterization.

This instantly creates a contrast and is at odds with the area and the other women who live in flats in this poor town. This is effective as it makes you wonder and question why she would be there and that there is obviously as story and a reason behind her arrival. This mystery is furthered by Blanche’s secret drinking and her overemotional and theatrical greeting with her sister; ‘Stella, oh Stella, Stella! Stella for Star!’ It also says that she speaks with ‘feverish vivacity’ which shows her excitement and suggests that this is not a normal visit.

Yes, I strongly agree that he makes the audience intrigued by Blanche. This is a strong paragraph to end with. Now we need to work on getting you to apply more literary terminology. I really like the way you are using quotation.


Firstly, when we begin reading the play we are thrown straight into the action, midway through a conversation between the Negro woman and Eunice. There is no introduction to the storyline or anything, it just jumps straight in. We know very little about the storyline, what type of play it is when it begins. There is no detail to the background of the characters either, which is fascinating because you immediately want to find out more and understand the storyline and the characters, and the only way to do that is by reading on.

Secondly, the amount of characters is fascinating, there is around nine characters introduced within the first few pages of the play, which does seem confusing at first to understand who is who. However, on the other hand it is fascinating as you want to learn about the different characters and how they relate to other character and the storyline.

Finally, the dramatic irony, Blanche’s alcohol addiction, Blanche pretends to not know where the alcohol is when her sister returns from the bowling alley, despite having already previously drunk some and very shadily washed up the glass quickly and returning the bottle back in its place. Blanche also lies about not turning into a ‘drunkard’ which shows how secrets are already being revealed to the audience but not the other characters which is fascinating because it suggests more secrets and lies to come in the rest of the play, which yet again intrigues the audience to want to read on.

Yes, some interesting points here, but I think we need to work on drawing out your points, with much more attention to the stage directions. Williams’ builds up a sense of his world with his stage directions; the stage set immediately situates the play in a particular context, the context of 1940s New Orleans, with its “raffish charm”, its blue, jazzy music and seedy qualities. You’re right to point out there are a lot of characters at the beginning. The fact that we come across Eunice and the Negro woman first is interesting because they are not major characters in the play, but they set the scene; this is a world where black and white mix, where women are left at home, wondering where their men are. I would like you to explore a little bit more about how an audience might respond to Blanche; we actually encounter this world through her eyes. She expresses horror at this scene, and we can partially sympathise with her, can’t we? It is a run-down world for a person from a “posh” background.


Tennessee Williams create a fascinating entrance to the play by creating an eerie setting that leaves the reader wanting to learn more about the area. He casts the area in a dim light such as describing the houses as ‘weathered grey’ and that the stairs were ‘rickety.’

This is an interesting adjective to point out; now analyse the EFFECT it has on the reader in more depth; what does ‘rickety’ suggest about this place?

It leaves the reader wondering what happens in the area and what sort of characters live there. It also makes the area seem mysterious and this will entice the reader to continue to read.

This is vague. Be more precise.

Williams uses the senses to show the reader what the area is like, for example ‘you can almost feel the warm breath of the Brown River’ and ‘faint redolence’s of banana and coffee.’

Yes, good quotes, but you need to think about what the writer is trying to suggest with a noun phrase like “warm breath”; is he trying to create a sensual, steamy, risqué atmosphere??

This makes the reader imagine what it would be like to live in the area and what the people who live there experience everyday. It leaves the reader wanting to experience more of the area and so through this clever opening, Williams makes the reader want to read on.

Although the setting could suggest otherwise, Williams shows that the people in the area are all friendly. He reveals that in ‘Elysian Fields’ there is a ‘relatively warm and easy intermingling of races.’ This shows that nobody is judged in the area and that everyone gets on with one and other. It leaves the reader wanting to see how the relationships between people develop and so they will continue to read the play. Yes, I really agree with this. At the heart of the power of the play is the way Williams draws us in to be intrigued by the characters within it.

The noun phrase ‘Elysian Fields’ is important. Do you know what it means? It has a symbolic meaning. I like the way you have spotted how the area is a friendly place; that for all its run-down qualities, people get on here. Remember that with plays we chiefly talk about an audience watching it, rather than readers reading it.

A wrote:

The opening of “A Streetcar Named Desire” is fascinating because we begin to explore a very interesting character, Blanche. We begin to see two very different worlds colliding. Blanche and Stella are sisters and Blanche has just arrived at Stella’s house which is shared with another woman. Blanche is used to living in an upmarket area and therefore has a shock once she  enters Stella’s small world. This is fascinating to the audience as we see two completely different people from different words reunited after what seems to have been a long period of time between them. This shows the contrast between their lifestyles, which we get to explore alongside the characters. We also see Blanche’s very strange motions at the beginning of the play. We are immediately curious of Blanche because once she is in Stella’s house, she begins to have some of Stella’s alcohol and then once Stella has returned, she acts as if she hasn’t had any. This intrigues the audience as we begin to see a shady side of what Blanche is really like.

What dramatic and linguistic techniques does Williams use to create an intriguing opening to the play?

Please post your replies in response to this post.

The opening of a play is very important; if it doesn’t grip then the playwright has lost his audience.

Williams uses a number of techniques to create an intriguing opening, including:

Using stage directions to create an intriguing setting
Creating engaging characters who are clearly going to enter into serious conflicts with each other
Creating a mysterious and psychologically intriguing story-line
Creating believable, engaging dialogue
Building up a sense of suspense and mystery
Deploying rich, poetic images that linger in the audience’s mind
Summoning an atmosphere of loss and regret

When my students read the scene, the vast majority of them were interested in three things: the mystery about Blanche and what’s happened to her, the conflicts that were already occurring with Stella, and the appearance of Stanley. One student commented upon the way in which Stanley is described as sexually classifying women; this, the student said, wasn’t the behaviour of a married man. The students sat in a circle and questioned each other about their own opinions; this worked well because they elaborated upon their initial opinions.

ELLA 1 Scheme of Work for Streetcar

1. Read the opening scene and discuss, focusing on the relationship between Stella and Blanche. Watch two different film versions of the scene and discuss. Write a response drawing from all three sources.
2. Give each group a framework, read the opening scene again, each group feeds back. Everyone annotates using a framework key.
3. See question B4 (June 2010). Look at example responses (see VLE – scripts marked 60) and examiner’s report. Student’s write their own.
4. Read Scene Two. Three characteristics of Blanche so far. Find evidence for 2/3 (Section A). For the third create your own speech/interview utilising the different frameworks (Section B) Dramatise and discuss.

What do you think of Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin’s interpretations of Blanche and Stanley?

Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin interpret Blanche and Stanley in a very different way from Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando in the original film. How and why are their interpretations different? How are the other characters different in this version?

A Student Study Guide To A Streetcar Named Desire