A Streetcar Named Desire
by Tennessee Williams
Tools of Characterization
When Blanche shows up at Elysian Fields, Williams writes that "her appearance is incongruous to this setting. She is daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, white gloves and hat, looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district" (1.14). We know from this description how delicate and out of place Blanche is. That she is dressed in white is also significant, especially when you consider that Belle Reve is repeatedly describes as "the place with the big white columns." Blanche clearly belongs at Belle Reve, NOT here in this part of New Orleans.
In Scene Three, the men sitting around the poker table "wear colored shirts, solid blues, a purple, a red-and-white check, a light green." We are told this is because "they are men at the peak of their physical manhood, as coarse and direct and powerful as the primary colors" (Stage Directions, Scene Three). This certainly contrasts with the daintily-clad Blanche from Scene One.
Blanche is clearly set apart from the men she encounters in Stanley’s group of friends by her perceived social status as a member of the old Southern aristocracy. She identifies Stanley as an immigrant – a "Polack," as she says, which, in her eyes, means he is inferior to her. Stella is the most interesting character to examine in light of social status, since she comes from Blanche’s background but has chosen Stanley’s lifestyle.
When Stanley first comes on stage, he’s carrying a package of meat, which he hurls up to Stella. This gives us the immediate impression of him as a primitive hunter, returned from the kill to provide for his wife. Blanche’s most obvious prop is the paper lantern she insists on hanging from the otherwise naked bulb in the flat. The lantern, like Blanche, is delicate and ornate. It serves the purpose of shielding her from harsh reality and from hiding her true age.