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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

13. Southern Renaissance

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•  Using the Video
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•  Activities
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Activities: Author Activities

Tennessee Williams - Teaching Tips

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  • Have your students choose parts and stage an impromptu performance of the first scene in A Streetcar Named Desire to give them some idea of the difficulties involved with dramatic readings and to show them how performance can change their impression of a play. This will work best if your students have time to prepare, but it can also be done "cold." Students generally enjoy dramatic readings, and Scene One sets out the major issues of the play, introduces all the main characters, and is a great way to begin a more general discussion of Streetcar.

  • Blanche and Stanley can be problematic characters, and student responses to A Streetcar Named Desire can sometimes be polarized by their reaction to either Stanley or Blanche. One way to deal with this is to ask students to focus on the characters independently. After you've polled them for initial reactions, divide your students into several groups. Ask half of the groups to describe Stanley and assess his pros and cons as a character; meanwhile, ask the other half of the groups to do the same with Blanche. You might provide your groups with some of the more common assessments of each character: Is Stanley a caged animal whose sexuality is so "natural" that his violence is somehow excusable or understandable? Or does he represent a patriarchal authority and social order that are threatened by the changing social mores of the 1950s? Is Blanche a representative of the Old South, of tradition and idealism, and as such a dying breed? Or is her struggle to come to terms with a reality that does not match her desires a more universal struggle that we all must face? Is the conflict between Stanley and Blanche one between the working class and a dying southern aristocracy? These are not, of course, the only ways to interpret Stanley and Blanche, nor are they mutually exclusive; however, they should provide a good basis for discussion and provoke your students to move beyond their "gut" reactions to these characters.

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