‘A Streetcar Named Desire’

How does Williams present conflict between old and new in Scene Two of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’?

Williams presents the conflict between old and new in Scene Two in different ways, such as the manner in which Williams portrays the three characters Blanche, Stanley and Stella, as well the added tension through the structure of the scene, and finally in the stage directions. Through the use of these techniques, an atmosphere of tension is seen and felt by the audience, and the contrasts of the characters motifs are clearly highlighted.

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The conflict between old and new is demonstrated clearly by a statement made by Stanley, which really shows the audience how contrasted the two families in the play are, ‘The Kowalskis and the Du Bois have different notions’. The Kowalskis represent the new world; post World War Two, as Stanley is an immigrant from Poland and represents the new values as mentioned in the description of him in Scene One, ‘with the power and pride of a richly feathered male bird’. The Du Bois however embody the old values, such as Belle Reve, the upper class and a plantation owner’s lifestyle, comprised of daily parties and a rich lifestyle. Blanche is also shown to the audience to be the very opposite of Stanley’s powerful ‘male bird’, as she as described as being very delicate, like a moth, and having a nervous disposition. This nervousness is shown throughout the play, such as at the end of Scene Two when Blanche ‘utters a sharp frightened cry and shrinks away’ after a vendor calls out his wares.

The characters of Scene Two can be compared to Williams’ own family. Stanley is based on his father, Cornelius Coffin Williams, a womaniser and an alcoholic who had little respect for women. These properties are identical to the attitudes portrayed by Stanley to the audience throughout the play. Blanche however represents Williams’ mother, Edwina Dakin, a caring but very sensitive and fragile woman, who too was a Southern Belle but suffered greatly after leaving their own plantation. She can be compared to Blanche and her departure from Belle Reve. These similarities help the audience to relate to the characters and feel sympathy for Williams as they symbolise his parents.

Williams presents conflict between old and new in Scene Two by the way in which the scene is structured. Scene Two has a tripartite structure with tension increasing progressively throughout the scene up until Blanche discovers Stella’s pregnancy. The first part of the scene comprises of Stanley and Stella talking about Blanche and Belle Reve. Stella is portrayed to the audience, at the beginning of the scene, as some sort of ‘peacekeeper’. She is trying to keep Stanley and Blanche happy, and this makes the audience feel sympathy for her as it seems like Stella is the one doing all the hard work. Also, tension and unease is built up during Stella’s polysyndetic listing, when Williams introduces dramatic irony. Stella tells Stanley, ‘don’t mention the baby’ to Blanche, giving the audience a sense of deceit and builds up the tension as some characters of the play have no idea about the baby. Also in the first part of Scene Two, Stanley has a great disregard for Blanche’s privacy as he rummages through all her belongings, and this makes the audience feel awkward as Stanley has no respect for Blanche, or her belongings, whatsoever.

In the second part of the tripartite structure in Scene Two, Blanche and Stanley flirt and argue with each other. This section emphasises the contrast between old and new as Stanley’s main reason for talking to Blanche is to enquire about Belle Reve and establish if he can get any money from it for himself. Blanche however, has other motifs, and is very flirtatious and playful and wears very seductive clothing to attract Stanley such as her ‘red satin robe’. Blanche is also quite sexual, such as when she agrees with Stanley when he uses the innuendo ‘lay…her cards on the table’. This makes the audience feel extremely awkward and uncomfortable as Blanche is flirting with her sister’s husband, and her actions can be considered as morally wrong. In this part of the scene, the sensitive and delicate side of Blanche is also portrayed to the audience, and letters from Blanche’s lover, ‘these are love-letters, yellowing with antiquity, all from one boy’ represent the old and the past.

These letters also show that Blanche was once a lot happier and make the audience feel sympathy for her as she treasures these letters so dearly. Blanche cares about that so much that she even threatens to burn them once Stanley has touched them, especially since he is portrayed as a ‘dirty’ character, ‘Now that you’ve touched them I’ll burn them’. At the end of the second part of Scene Two, Williams shows how Stanley now has control over Blanche and the old values, with the quote, ‘I think it’s wonderfully fitting that Belle Reve should finally be this bunch of papers in your big, capable hands’. This sarcastic quote from Blanche illustrates how Belle Reve and the old values have been reduced to nothing but papers, and are now controlled by Stanley and the new values. The audience are also made to feel uneasy by this, as they know that Stanley only wants Belle Reve for the money, while Blanche actually cares for it.

In the final part of the tripartite structure of Scene Two, Stella returns from the store as Blanche is told by Stanley that Stella is pregnant. This increases tension greatly and make the audience feel wary, as only at the beginning of the scene Stella told Stanley not to tell Blanche about the baby. Williams also makes the audience feel relieved as Blanche openly tells the truth about flirting with Stanley to Stella, and how Blanche had ‘treated it all as a joke’. There is almost an acceptance of the new as Blanche seems to believe that Belle Reve is now in Stanley’s hands, ‘But maybe he’s what we need to mix with our blood now that we’ve lost Belle Reve and have to go on without Belle Reve to protect us…’ However, Williams makes the audience feel uneasy at the very end of Scene Two as Blanche says ‘the blind are – leading the blind’. This gives the audience a feeling of uncertainty and an imminent feeling that some dreadful events will occur.

Williams also uses stage directions to present the conflict of old and new in Scene Two. When describing the actions of Stanley very aggressive words are used such as ‘jerk’, ‘kick’ and ‘booming’. This makes the audience feel uneasy, as the new values Stanley is portraying are very aggressive, controlling and violent. Williams also shows the delicate side of Blanche in the stage directions, and portrays her to the audience as embodying the old values, and demonstrating how they are exhausting her. This is shown by numerous stage directions such as, ‘she now seems faint with exhaustion’, ‘with an exhausted laugh’, ‘touching her forehead’ and ‘she leans back and closes her eyes’. The old values are also shown to be slightly deceitful, as when Stanley is going through Blanche’s trunk, he pulls out a ‘fist-full of costume jewellery’, suggesting that Blanche is putting on an act and that her persona is an illusion.

The audience are again made to feel uneasy at the end of Scene Two where Williams writes, ‘Blanche’s desperate laughter ringing out once more’. This gives an impression that Blanche is forcing this laughter to ‘fit in’ with the new values and shows how different the old values are. Following this stage direction, ‘bellowing laughter’ is heard from the flat, almost as if the new are laughing at Blanche and the old, as she is desperately trying to fit in. This makes the audience sympathise with Blanche and adds tension to the scene. In conclusion, Williams portrays a vivid conflict between old and new in Scene Two of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. Williams does this by using the tri-partite structure and aggressive stage directions to add tension to the scene. Blanche is made to embody all the properties of the old values by being portrayed as a typical Southern Belle and by representing Belle Reve. Whereas Stanley, having emigrated from Poland, is shown to embody the new, post World War Two values, by being a powerful and headstrong man, obsessed with money but having little respect for others. Blanche and Stanley also represent Williams’ mother and father respectively, and this makes the audience sympathise with Williams, as well as highlighting the huge contrast between Blanche and Stanley. The conflict between old and new is ultimately outlined by the quote from Stanley, ‘The Kowalskis and the Du Bois have different notions’.

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‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. (2016, Nov 06). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/a-streetcar-named-desire/