Examine the ways in which Tennessee Williams creates tension in the first few scenes of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ Throughout the first five scenes of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ Williams uses various techniques to create tension. The first way is through the use of colour. ‘The houses are mostly white frame, weathered grey’ Not only is Williams’s use of colour descriptive but also it is symbolic. ‘She dressed in a white suit with… white gloves and hat’ White reflects how Blanche views herself: Pure, innocent and almost angelic. This is symbolic as we later discover Blanche to be practically the opposite of these.
Williams also describes Stanley and his pack through colour. ‘The poker players… wear coloured shirts, solid blue, a purple, a red-and-white check, a alight green… ‘ All these colours are bright and vibrant, symbolizing anger, violence and the strength the men hold over the women. Another way in which Williams creates tension is through sounds and noises. ‘A cat screeches near the window. Blanche springs up’ This is the most classic and prominent example of this technique. Williams also uses music, on numerous occasions, to create tension.
Throughout the play music accompanies the characters and the situations they endure. ‘Blanche waltzes to the music with romantic gestures. ‘ Jazz music is heard at the most crucial moments in the play and it often comes hand-in-hand with tension. ‘Blanche’s desperate laughter [is] ringing out once more… then the “blue piano” and the hot trumpet sound louder. ‘ Another way Williams creates tension is through his detailed, descriptive and revealing stage directions. ‘There is something about her uncertain manner, as well as her white clothes, that suggest a moth.
‘ Williams’s uses of stage directions are so clever as they help create a tension otherwise none existent. ‘For a moment there is absorbed silence as a hand is dealt’ All these techniques add to the effect of one thing: the tension that is created within Blanche and Stanley and all that surrounds them. Williams introduces the reader to tension immediately at the beginning of the play when Blanche arrives. She is one of the last characters he introduces us to and it is clear from her entrance that tension is something Blanche is used to creating. ‘She looks…
at the building… her expression is one of shocked disbelief’ It is obvious that Blanche disapproves of her sister’s environment and knows she is ‘out of place’. This is not a feeling Blanche is used to and it effectively makes her justifiably nervous. This nervousness is evident in her body language. ‘Blanche sits in a chair very stiffly… shoulders slightly hunched… legs pressed close together… hands tightly clutching… ‘ After being introduced to Blanche, Williams then introduces us to her relationship with her sister Stella. ‘For a moment they stare at each other’
This pause creates immense tension and Williams is almost hinting to us that there could be more tension between the two sisters as the play progresses. At the beginning of the play we establish Blanche likes to drink. ‘She pours a half tumbler of whiskey and tosses it down’ When discovering this we simply assume that Blanche is just trying to stay calm but we soon realise this is not entirely correct. ‘She carefully replaces the bottle and washes out the tumbler at the sink’ Blanche feels as though she has to lie about her drinking habits and continues to do so on various occasions through the play.
Blanche’s habits of concealing things and her blatant deceitfulness are just some of the aspects of her character that cause us to distrust her, effectively creating tension. Another character in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ whom we are cautious of is Stanley. He too has aspects of his character that make suspicious of him. ‘He sizes women up at a glance, with sexual classifications’ Stanley has no respect for women and this disrespect mixed with his short temper, is a bad cocktail. ‘There is a sound of a blow. Stella cries out’ Stanley is dangerous and Blanche is constantly testing his patience.
She is oblivious to his power and authority despite his attempts to make it known. ‘He stops short at sight of Blanche… she returns his look without flinching’ Stanley compared to an animal in the play and it seems as though this beast is just waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting, defenceless creature: Blanche, who is constantly aggravating the beast more and more. The way in which Blanche does this is through her flirting. At first she draws her attentions to Stanley. ‘You men with your big clumsy fingers! May I have a drag on your cig? ‘
After her efforts with Stanley fail, Blanche’s interest moves towards one of the members of his ‘pack’: Mitch. Blanche and Mitch seem to have many things in common but it is clear when you look closely that the only thing they share is desperation. This desperation has different levels within the characters. Mitch wants a companion, someone to introduce his mother to. Blanche wants someone to love, adore and most importantly desire her. The only way she sees this happening is if she flaunts herself. ‘She takes off her blouse and stands in her pink silk brassii??
re and white skirt in the light through the portii?? res. While still attempting to ‘work her magic’ on Mitch, she sees a new opportunity to pounce on yet another unsuspecting victim. ‘A young man appears through the portii?? res. She regards him with interest’ Blanche enjoys playing games with men and she likes to feel as tough she is in control. ‘Come here! Come on over here like I told you! I want to kiss you! ‘ Blanche’s flirtatious nature creates tension as we are given the impression it will eventually cause her more harm than good. Stanley’s short temper…
‘With a shouted oath, he tosses the instrument out of the window’ and Blanche’s lust for men… ‘You make my mouth water’ are bound to clash, thus creating tension. Williams wants us to be on our guard and prepared for something drastic to happen between these two characters. There is an example of Williams doing this when Stanley over hears a private conversation with the sisters. ‘There’s even something-sub human [about him]… something ape-like’ Blanche’s insults threaten Stanley’s patience. ‘[He] overhears their… conversation… [he] hesitates licking his lips’
We know that this means Blanche has crossed the line and Stanley’s tolerance with Blanche is none existent. From this point onwards we are just waiting for the incredible tension between Stanley and Blanche to reach the ultimate level. Williams uses many techniques to create tension in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ the most prominent being the clash between Stanley and Blanche. They are so immensely different from the reader’s point of view we can so no means of reconciliation. The only thing visible is conflict and we all know conflict ends in war.