The Napleonic Code: A Streetcar Named Desire, Act I, Scene Two
Lesson 3 of 15
Objective: SWBAT analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama through an examination of stage directions to set the scene.
This lesson begins scene two in the play. My goal is to introduce students to some of the elements of drama: in this case, setting and scene design. This lesson is also a great opportunity for students to use their knowledge of imagery to give life to the scene in their imaginations and bring the words to life. I have included an activity that allows students a chance to look at the language of the scene design and the descriptions of the actors' actions. This lesson is Common Core aligned because it requires students to look closely at text to extract meaning in order to visualize the physical aspects of the play.
To review for the vocabulary test at the end of the week, I quickly flip through the flashcards that students prepared for homework. We discuss the connotations, definitions, and how to use them in a sentence. I also refer to page 10 in Scene One, what does it mean when Blanche is described talking with "feverish vivacity?" What does this description reveal about her character?
After roles have been assigned, we read through Act 1, scene two of the play. I will stop intermittently to make key points or to check for understanding. The key to this scene is to ensure that students understand the legal basis of the Napoleonic Code. We cover this in the notes at the beginning of the unit. To reinforce this concept, I ask students, "What code is Stanley referring to? What does it mean?" Stanley's concern for the loss of Belle Reve is not rooted in his feelings for Stella. It is more of a concern for his own well-being. In this scene, Stanley demonstrates his true selfish nature. He in a sense is emulating his hero--Huey Long. We will visit Huey Long more in depth in a later lesson. Stanley also demonstrates a bit of naivety in believing that Blanche's belongings are extravagant. As the scene progresses, Stella's response to Stanley's accusations that Blanche has used the money from Belle Reve to purchase "expensive" jewels and furs leads us to believe that they are not worth anything. I question students with regard to her reactions. Why isn't Stella upset? What does this say about the true value of Blanche's belongings? Students usually have no problem drawing the appropriate conclusion.
In this section, I want to focus on the imagery of the scene. A Streetcar Named Desire is a very sensual play. I want to focus on how Tennessee Williams attempts to involve all of his audience's senses in taking in the scene. I will ask students to find a quote from the scene that appeals to sound, taste, touch, sight, and smell. The quote may be from the dialogue or stage directions.
For example, Stanley lights a cigarette which will appeal to smell. Touch may be Blanche's hot bath in a steamy New Orleans night.
For sight, I want students to use the stage directions in scene one and two to sketch out the layout of the Kowalski apartment. I have including a video that gives a brief explanation of how a set works and includes the necessary terminology. Students will pay special attention to the close quarters between where Blanche sleeps and Stanley and Stella's bedroom.
After we finish reading scene two, I want to make sure students have grasped important concepts. I have them work on these discussion questions. Usually, I separate students into small groups and assign one or two questions 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 this scene.
Students may have to finish for homework. The most important question is how Stanley and Stella represent the new and the old South respectively. I want students to see that Blanche is an anachronism, desperately trying to hold on to the old ways of the South. Stanley represents a new breed of southern "gentleman;" he is crass, blue collar, ethnic, and devoid of any manners. He is the practical side of the South that has been infused with a new, non-chivalric element who bucks traditional ways. Blanche on the other hand is the old South: genteel on the outside, but perverse and disturbing on the inside.