In this lesson, I want students to understand the ramifications of Blanche's claim that Stanley raped her. In the play, Tennessee Williams creates a slight doubt that perhaps Stella does believe Blanche to some extent, but because of her dependence on Stanley, she must take his side. I throw in the proposition of how would the resolution be different if Stella believed Blanche? Would Stella have left Stanley? Is it just easier for her to take Stanley's side?
In Scene Eleven, it is inferred that Blanche has confided in Stella that Stanley raped her. Stella is essentially faced with the decision of believing Blanche or discounting what she says. Obviously, Stella rejects Blanche's accusations and the result is Blanche's committal to a mental institution. To get a sense of the difficulty that Stella is faced with in accommodating her sister, I want students to re-imagine the scene from the persepective of Stella believing what Blanche has told her: Stanley raped her while Stella was delivering their baby. To begin this activity, I first ask students why Stella rejects Blanche's accusations. Is it because Stella completely trusts Stanley or is there another more practical explanation? Many students will pick up on the fact that believing Stanley would mean leaving her marriage with a small child in tow. For a woman in the 1950s with no job or means of support, that would be a difficult choice.
In this exercise, I would like students to rewrite this scene from the vanatage point of Stella believing Blanche. What would Stella do in this event? Would she try to work things out with Stanley? Where would she live if she left? What would happen to Blanche? Is Blanche competent enough to live alone with Stella?
Students will write the dialogue including stage directions, dialogue, and any motifs that have been continually used in the play. They should try to emulate the style of Tennessee Williams. It should be the same length as the actual scene in the play. I have included a student sample below.)
For this activity, I separate students into groups (about 4 students). I would like to choose a few groups to act out their scenes. I try to construct groups with an array of students and learning styles.
In this section, I would like students to be able to relate the title of the play to the final theme in this work, which has to do with the destructive nature of desire in Blanche's life. So far, we have talked about the themes of the Old South versus the New South and the restricting social roles of women in post-war America. The final theme has to do with Blanche's destructive journey that literally begins on a streetcar named desire and ends with Stella committing her to a mental institution. In this unit, I have virtually pointed out all the significant themes to students because of I was concerned that students would not have the aptitude to discover them on their own. Additionally, many of the play's themes are based on historical context. In teaching this play, sometimes it is difficult to determine if students have knowledge of the Old South or the New South. This is a unit taught in social studies which pertains to pre-Civil War and Civil War history; depending on the semester students have U.S History, they may not be familiar with this theme. To level the playing field, I cover this topic and the roles of women in Cold War America. This latter topic often isn't covered until late in the semester. For these reasons, I introduce the two themes to students. The last theme of fantasy versus illusion is something that we have hinted at since the beginning of the play. It is such a significant part of the play that students identify it immediately. I have taught this play to mid-level and lower level English classes.
In this activity, I want students to trace the specific plot events that have led to Blanche's mental instability. I want students to notice that her arrival in Elysian Fields has been preceeded by many negative events in her life. I have attached a graphic organizer for students to gather information. They may add as many events as they are able to. Finally, when they have completed the graphic organizer, I will ask them the following questions:
How do all these events relate to the title of the book and how has Blanche's pursuit of desire affected her life?
Students will answer that the title alludes to Blanche's journey of heartbreak--from losing the family plantation to losing her husband. It culminates when she takes "Desire" ironically to visit her sister. It is desire that also leads to the "death" of her illusions with Stanley and Mitch.
If time allows, students may play a game of Streetcar jeopardy as a review for the test. Additionally, we will begin to review for the final assessment on the play.