In this initial lesson beginning the unit on A Streetcar Named Desire, I want students to be able to connect to the archetype of the Southern belle. One of the most prevalent themes in this drama is the juxtaposition of the new South versus the old South. Blanche represents an anachronism from the antebellum South while Stanley is a symbol of the new ideals that have permeated the South post-World War II and at the advent of Civil Rights legislation. When this play was written, President Harry Truman desegregated the military, a precursor to the major advancements in race relations that were yet to come.
The page numbers in these lessons are from the following version of A Streetcar Named Desire:
Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: New Directions, 2004.
In this section, I like to give students vocabulary words for the first part of the play. In this first activity, I will assign students to read the stage directions at the beginning of scene i. I will instruct students to examine the usage of the words raffish, attenuates, and redolences. I will write on the board the following questions: What does it mean to have a raffish charm? What does it mean that blue sky described in the scene "attenuates the atmosphere of decay?" Lastly, I will ask students to define "redolences of bananas and coffee." Finally, I will ask students to write a reflection as to how these three vocabulary words help to create an atmosphere in the first scene. What is the atmosphere and what details do these words add to it?
This activity is Common Core aligned per the Language Standard 11-12 4 since students must use context as a clue to the meaning of the word.
Because some students are not familiar with the Southern belle stereotype, I want to show this clip from Gone with the Wind so students will have a reference of the over-the-top, self-centered nature of the Southern belle as depicted in both A Streetcar Named Desire and Gone with the Wind. Both characters attempt to create a facade to seem more attractive to men. In the movie, Scarlett eats in her room so that she won't eat at the barbeque and appear more genteel by "eating like a bird." As she is told by her maid, no man wants to marry a woman who eats "like a hog." Similarly, Blanche puts on a facade also to see more attractive and younger to men. We will see this in the first scene when she implores Stella to turn out the light. Before viewing the clip, I tell students that the actress playing Scarlett, Vivien Leigh, also plays Blanche in the film version we will watch later in the unit.
I think the Gone with the Wind reference is important so students have a frame of reference as we move further into the play and they see the actions of Blanche as she attempts to snare herself a man.
Hopefully, my intent to convince students to avoid a one woman show of A Streetcar Named Desire has been successful. (See previous lesson). I offer students extra credit in volunteering to take roles. I give two extra credit points each time a students reads and reads with emotion. One point if they are just reading words. These points may be added to quizzes or tests. I write the names of roles needed for the day on a small whiteboard. As students arrive, they may assign themselves to a role. My rule is: The early bird gets the worm. If students are late, they will be left out. Usually, students fights over roles if there is extra credit involved. I also use my judgment if students are continually volunteering for small roles. I may just give them a point of half point for these roles. It really depends on the student.
After we finish reading scene one, I want to make sure students have grasped important concepts. I have them work on these discussion questions. Usually, I separate stduents into small groups and assign one or two to each group. (Group assignments depend on the class. If it is a conscientious class, I let them choose groups; if not, I choose.) I want students to discuss these questions in their groups and prepare an answer that they can share with the class. I use this opportunity to discuss significant themes that have come forth in the first scene.
To reinforce what was read in class, I want students to write a reflection in which they connect the character of Blanche to Scarlett O' Hara from the movie Gone with the Wind. Both characters are gross exaggerations of the Southern belle. I feel it is necessary for students to be exposed to this type of character in order for them to see the contrast between Blanche and Stanley. I will also ask students to consider why Tennessee Williams creates the character of Blanche in the Southern belle tradition? How does she compare to Stanley?