and Ella Fitzgerald,”It’s Only a Paper Moon” (Jazzstandards.com, 2005), used as a device toexpress the incongruity of Blanches mental state and her complete lack ofinsight.
Blanche sings the popular song (Scene seven) epitomizing her turn tomake-believe and desire for ugly reality to disappear. However, “real” reality,as the song states, requires other people to believe her. Dramatic irony ensuesas Blanche sings in the bathroom, symbolically cleansing her self-loathing,whilst Stanley spews Blanche’s deception to Stella, dirtying Blanche as sheattempts purification and crushing ignorant Blanche’s flimsy veneer.
Williamsuses bathing as a motif, expressing depression, metaphorically displayed inBlanche’ bathing. Her cleansing of the guilt of her past alludes to Lady Macbeth’sobsessive hand washing to relieve her guilt after murder, (Shakespeare,1904)Music is an aspect of “plastictheatre” fundamental to Streetcar (Corrigan, 2000), setting character moods,(Williams 1976) and expressing Blanche’s mental spiral with destiny. Theleitmotif Varsouviana Polka is symbolic of Blanche’s loss and the effects ofdeath on her mental state. Blanche challenged her husband homosexuality duringa polka, leading to his suicide. The Polka adds increasing dramatic tensionthroughout and is representative of Blanche’s chagrin, guilt, shame and loss.
First appearing distant “The music of the polka rises, faint in thedistance.” (Scene one). It initially appears to be another street soundbut becomes increasingly frenetic, affecting the audience beyond simpletheatre. Williams incrementally reveals the polka is an hallucination (Stagedirection, scene nine), exposing the essence of her deterioration from illusionto delusional to psychosis, allowing the reader/audience to understand and movewith Blanche’s literal and metaphorical lost battle.
When Stanley gives Blanchea ticket back to Laurel for her Birthday (Scene seven), reality bites and her fantasyworld cracks wide open, represented by the rising polkas “sinister rapidity”suggesting approaching climax, and further symbolizing psychotic decent. Heralienation is complete as Williams directs the polka as “rapid, feverish”(Stage Directions, scene nine) expressing loss of reality (e-guide, n.d.).
Now “sheis drinking to escape” contrasting the concealed alcoholism in scene one, shedoesn’t care, her lies are exposed. Later, the polka is directed as “filteredinto a weird distortion, accompanied by the cries and noises of the jungle.”, adiscordant, distorted flip-side of her fantasy world, that exposes Blanchesretreat into the permanent world of ‘magic’ that “draws the audience intoBlanche’s nightmare” (Hern, 2009) Another leitmotif is introduced in in theform of “a tinny piano being played with the infatuated fluency of brownfingers.” (Stage direction, scene one). Thisimagery arouses auditory, tactile and visual sensuality, as the “”BluePiano” expresses the spirit of the life which goes on here.” (Stagedirection, scene one). This atmospheric motif adds depth and meaning, and is testamentto Williams’ skill with affective sound direction grown from his love of earlycinema (Sambrookand Eddy, 2015). The blue piano is a flexible motif that symboliseswhoever or whatever the scene represents, rising and falling with the action.
The piano creates a sense of lively, colourful setting, whilst expressingcharacter mood, and representing Blanche’s loss and incremental alienation.”Blanche opens her eyes, the “blue piano” sounds louder.” (Stagedirection, scene one), reflecting her discordant emotions around Stella’spregnancy and exposing a lost and squashed Blanche under the façade of fakejewels, cheap furs and manipulations.
In Scene two, Williams releases the”perpetual” nature of the “Blue Piano” around the corner. The music isunrelenting, pacing Blanche’s predicament after Stanley discovers herduplicity. The tune expresses Blanche’s failed transition to alien culture. The”Blue Piano” reaches its crescendo with Blanche’s birthday, fading out andreturning, to be replaced by the polka which is carried into scene nine.
Again,direction is explicit “The rapid, feverish polka tune……. is in her mind; “. (Stagedirection, Scene nine) Blanche can hide no more when a suitor, Mitch, divulgeshis disgust, rejecting Blanche, after clumsily attempting to be intimate withher. He is a symbol that foreshadows the American Dream’s real-life duality andpsychopathy, a non-character that juxtaposes Blanche to expose her shame andfall from grace. He is a man that she would not have given a second look at inher former glory, exposing her desperation. The blue piano returns as “the distant piano …slow and blue” (Stage direction, scene nine), expressing Blanche’s helplessnessand hopelessness. Music is also used to portray Blanche’s sassy side, but thisbecomes farce. “Rhumba music comes over the radio.
” (Stage direction, scenethree) adding a sense of passion behind Blanches façade, and Mitch’swillingness to follow her (Scene three), foreshadowing the betrayal Mitch willexperience from Blanche’s duplicity alluding to Mitch’s character as a followernot a leader and symbolising those from the North who will always be losers. Streetcar wascertainly ground-breaking and remains popular seventy years on. The realism of “plastic theatre” results inan immersive experience for the audience but not the average reader. Withoutmusic and lighting direction Streetcar would be flat, but Williams creates amulti-dimensional experience that still wows audiences today. The scenes areeasy to grasp, and the tension is cumulative, climaxing in Scene Ten. Suspensebuilds in Blanches interaction with Stanley, her delusions and paranoiaexpressed, “I’m caught in a trap,” (scene ten), the “low honkey tonk”(Stage direction, scene one) juxtapose to Blanche’s expressed emotion.
Stanley’s perverse statement to Blanche,”We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning!” alludes again to fate and desire and foreshadowsthe climax and rape of Blanche. The action falls drastically with thedenouement in Scene Eleven. Blanche is removed from the society that has noroom for her whilst life goes on around her with an ordinary game of cards.
Thebrutal reality is exposed… the American Dream is certainly a Nightmare.