This lesson showcases another example of how Tennessee Williams uses another genre to put forth a theme. In this example, Williams references a poem by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning which mirrors the emotions Blanche conveys as she recounts the circumstances of her husband's suicide. By close reading the poem against Blanche's explanation, it becomes apparent the love and loss she experienced when her husband confided in her. We also see the horror and lasting effect his suicide has on Blanche and her escape into her fantasy world.
At this point in the play, I like to check for understanding. The quiz is quick and lets me know if students are grasping the essential plot and major themes in the play so far. This quiz has been modified to be Common Core aligned.
In this section, we read Scene Six of A Streetcar Named Desire. I especially want students to take notice of Blanche's relationship with her deceased husband. (As a quick note: depending on the maturity of the class, teachers may want to skip this portion. Blanche discusses the discovery of her husband's sexual orientation.) After reading Blanche's monologue in which she reveals the intimate nature of her marriage, I ask students to characterize how Blanche would deal with this subject in the late 1940s? My school is very open-minded and liberal with the discussion of sensitive issues. Students generally recognize that sexuality was not something discussed during this time period. Additionally, there were often many misconceptions with regard to sexuality.
We also get a glimpse of how Blanche "courts" Mitch by casting a "veil" around her true nature and age. We see that Blanche is a firm believer in creating an illusion in order to seem more attractive to a suitor. I ask students to consider what illusion has Blanche constructed to ensnare Mitch? Students often recognize, based on previous lessons, that a woman in the 1940s/1950s needs to appear youthful and beautiful in order to marry. Students recognize that a woman's success is related to her ability to marry and have a family. Additionally, as Blanche recounts the circumstances of her husband's death, we get a clearer picture of the source of her delusions. I know whether students have grasped the important concepts in scene six if they become sensitive to Blanche's imaginary world--which is a direct result of the tragic circumstances of her marriage.
After reading Scene Six, I want to spend some time discussing the relationship Blanche had with her husband. This relationship is at the core of her psychological problems and difficulties in dealing with reality. In Scene Three, Blanche mentions that her favorite poem is "Sonnets from the Portuguese, #43" by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. This poem expresses the deep, but sometimes painful love that the speaker feels for her beloved. The reader senses from her words the often blurred line between love and pain. I want students to draw the same conclusion from Blanche's speech in Scene Six where she explains to Mitch the circumstances of her husband's suicide. (This is the passage in Scene Six that begins "He was a boy...") Blanche is deeply in love with her husband, but does not know how to cope with her husband's sexuality. Even though he confesses his homosexuality, she admits that she still loves him even if that love is now painful. There are many parallels between Blanche and the speaker in this Barrett-Browning poem.
To draw out those parallels, I ask students to read the poem and connect it to Blanche's speech by writing lines from the play next to the appropriate lines from the poem. Hopefully, students will see the connection. Finally, students will write a short paragraph describing Blanche's relationship with her husband and the inferred emotions that the reader can extract from what she says. The reader should sense the guilt and helplessness that Blanche feels toward her husband and his suicide.
Students may have to finish this assignment for homework if time runs out.