The Sweet Sounds of Motifs: A Streetcar Named Desire, Act I, Scene Seven
Lesson 8 of 15
Objective: SWBAT analyze the impact of the author’s choices in using motifs to relate the elements of a drama.
The focus of this lesson is to introduce students to the concept of motifs. Tennessee William's use of motifs is prevalent in A Streetcar Named Desire. The primary motifs are the use of musical melodies to create mood and to indicate an emotional strife experienced by a character, in this case Blanche. Additionally, Williams continues his use of other genres to present themes. We will examine the lyrics to the song "Paper Moon" and identify ways the lyrics and the events in the scene run parallel.
To begin this lesson, students will take a vocabulary test on the first set of words. This test has been designed to be Common Core aligned where students must ascertain meaning from context.
In this section, I want to introduce the concept of a literary motif. Tennessee Williams uses two musical motifs throughout the play to present atmosphere or relate an experience or feeling to a character. The blue piano motif, introduced in the first scene, occurs throughout the play and helps to set the sensual atmosphere that pervades through every scene, especially those scenes involving Stanley and Stella and finally Stanley and Blanche. The Varsouviana Polka (Warsaw Polka) plays whenever Blanche recalls any information about her husband. As the blue piano presents a sensual sound, the polka is a contrasting sound with its innocent and light melody. The polka is a stark contrast to the events that Blanche recalls whenever the audience hears the melody.
To begin my lesson, I play both pieces of music and ask students to think of adjectives that describe each selection. I then ask them to recall any plot events or predict plot events that would happen when this music was played. Finally, students search the stage directions in the first six scenes and complete a worksheet where they will identify lines that follow the music. Students will explain the lines and what role the music plays in the scene.
Finally, on the back of the worksheet, students will explain why Williams uses motifs to create atmosphere or relate the emotions of a character.
As we read scene seven, I ask students to write down the realities of Blanche's life as relayed by Stanley. We will begin to see a pack of lies that Blanche has been spinning since she arrived in Elysian Fields. I also ask students to consider why Blanche always takes a bath. What does a bath do for her? When students assemble a list of inaccuracies and elaborations that Blanche has been feeding to the other characters, they realize that she is not always telling the truth. I want to draw them closer to realizing that water and the bath are a way for Blanche to cleanse herself of the indiscretions of her past in Laurel and her attempt to have a fresh start in New Orleans. More often than not, students are able to make that connection. They see the literal and figurative connection between Blanche and water. If need be, I bring up the topic of Baptism and what it means. This example is usually a great prompt for struggling students. Blanche needs to renew herself in order to continue on as she tries to forget her past indiscretions. Or course, Stanley will prevent any fresh start on Blanche's behalf. I will also ask students to speculate why Stanley will not allow Blanche to start anew and build a life with Mitch. Common student responses are that Stanley is too controlling and doesn't like Blanche because she called him common and wanted Stella to leave him. His sabotage of Blanche and Mitch's relationship is his revenge.
In lieu of discussion questions, students will write a reflection in which they will look at the lyrics to "Papermoon," the song Blanche is singing in the bath tub. (See attached). Again, Tennessee Williams is using another genre to convey a theme. In this case, we see Blacnhe's illusion running parallel to the reality of Stanley's information. The scene will culminate in Blanche's imaginary world crashing down at the hands of Stanley's words.