Motif Tracking: A Streetcar Named Desire – Music



In A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams uses music heavily in his stage directions. It is used by him to foreshadow events later on in the play but also to represent characters and the social class that they in turn also represent. For example the ‘blue piano’ represents Stanley and the intense vibrancy of New Orleans and the blue collar working class while with Blanche the polka music often represents her insanity. Williams does not only use music to portray certain features of his characters but also to evoke feeling and sympathy from the audience that would be watching the play.



Quotations & Analysis:





A corresponding air is evoked by the music of negro entertainers at a bar-room just around the corner....from a tinny piano being played with the infatuated fluency of brown fingers. This ‘blue piano’ expresses the spirit of life which goes on here”

This is the last couple of lines of the opening setting of the play. The music of the “negro entertainers” and “blue piano” are used by Williams to portray the vibrancy of the city of New Orleans. He also uses the music to portray the general happiness and enjoyment that surrounds the setting and the people/characters of this area of New Orleans. Fundamentally the type of music as described is to show the overall “spirit of life” in the city and that is within the characters such as Stanley.



The music of the ‘blue piano’ grows louder.”

The music grows louder just before Blanche reveals the truth to Stella about all the funerals. This is to perhaps signal to the audience of the conflict that is going to occur between the two sisters. Moreover, when performed the music will add to the intensity of the long speech from Blanche.




leaving the door open on the perpetual ‘blue piano’...” and “the ‘blue piano’ and the hot trumpet sound louder.”

In scene two, we see the sound of the blue piano growing louder and louder through the entire section. It begins when Stanley walks into the house suggesting his own personal intensity, vibrancy, and liveliness as a character. Furthermore, at the climactic end of the scene the music is at its loudest, foreshadowing the future conflict between Stanley and Blanche as it has just come after their argument about Belle Reve.



“...begins to play ‘wien, wien, nur de allein.’

This piece of music is a classical one that Blanche enjoys and knows, as she waltzes to it. In the this instance the music here is used to suggest romance between Blanceh and Mitch, but the fact that Stanley comes and destroys the radio foreshadows the fact that he destroys their relationship later on in the play. Moreover, it also shows the class that Blanche is from and that they are different as they listen to classical music and enjoy the arts, unlike the working class.



The negro entertainers around the bar ‘play ‘paper doll’ slow and blue”

Williams uses this particular stage direction to emphasise the sadness and the sorrow that Stanley feels at this moment. He comes out the bathroom and begins to sob, he also shouts Stella. The effect that the slow and blue paper doll being played in the background has on the audience is that it causes them to perhaps empathise and sympathise with Stanley. Furthermore, I think that this particular song, which is slow and blue, highlights the intensity of Stanley’s emotions.



the music of the ‘blue piano’ drums and trumpet is heard”.

Stanley has just over heard a conversation between Stella and Blanche, in which Blanche is asking Stella not to “hang back with the brutes” (page 164). However, when Stanley walks in, Stella immediately goes to him and “embraces him with both arms” which makes the music of the ‘blue piano’ more significant as the blue piano represents Stanley’s blue-collar working class and the vibrancy of that class, it foreshadows the triumph of Stanley over Stella at the end of the play, and in turn emphasises Williams social comment on 40’s America where he can see Stanley and the values of his class replacing those of Blanche and her class.


183 & 184

then the polka resumes in a major key.” and “the polka tune fades out.”

The polka music is being played when Blanche is telling Mitch about her boyfriend who shot himself. This piece of music is played whenever she is thinking about him but it is only ever her that hears it, this is to perhaps show that she is beginning to lose her sanity. Furthermore, the fact that it stops when Mitch enters suggests that Blanche sees Mitch as some sort of escape from the past that is haunting her.



but it wouldn’t be make believe, if you believed in me!”

Williams gives Blanche the song about the “paper moon” as it emphasises Blanche’s desire to view the world in a more beautiful light rather than the ugly reality of which it really consists. However, as the song states, to allow this view of the world to be ‘true’ then she needs other people to believe with her. Williams intentionally has Blanche singing this song in the bathroom when Stanley is telling Stella about the lies that Blanche has been telling so that the audience can realise that it only takes one person to tear these desires and dreams away in order for them to crumble, in this case that person is Stanley.



thevarsouviana’ is heard, its music rising with sinister rapidity….”

This music symbolises Blanche’s inability to escape from a past which is haunting her because she hears the varsouviana polka music when she is thinking of her husband Alan Grey who shot himself. However, at this point in the play the music shows how Blanche is becoming increasingly fragile and vulnerable. Furthermore, it shows and emphasises how she is beginning to lose her sanity.



the rapid, feverish polka tune, the ‘varsouviana’, is heard; she is drinking to escape it and the disaster closing in on her.”

This is part of the opening stage direction of scene 9 where Mitch is visiting Blanche after he did not come to her birthday dinner. The fact that this time the varsouviana is being heard by Blanche in a rapid and feverish manor shows that she has further lost her awareness of reality and is beginning to really understand ‘the disaster closing in on her’, hence she is drinking to escape it. Williams chooses to portray Blanche in this way at the start of the scene to foreshadow Mitch’s attempted rape, Stanley’s rape in scene ten and her insanity in scene ten and eleven.



The barely audible ‘blue piano’ begins to drum up louder.”

Williams, as in all other parts of the play, uses the music of the ‘blue piano’ to represent Stanley and his social class. This particular quotation foreshadows the eventual rape of Blanche where Stanley destroys any last desires or hopes that Blanche may have had and in turn symbolising the victory of the working class over Blanche’s aristocratic upper class.



The hot trumpet and drums from the four deuces sound loudly.”

The music from the four deuces is played just when Stanley has picked up Blanche and put her on the bed. We know the upstairs of the four deuces is a brothel and therefore the fact that the music from there can be heard from there implies the rape that will follow. This is the crucial moment when the complete destruction of Blanche, her beautiful values and the class which she represents becomes evident.



The ‘varsouviana’ is filtered into a weird distortion, accompanied by the cries and noises of the jungle”

Williams uses this stage direction, which is seen towards the end of scene eleven, to portray to the audience the insanity that has overcome Blanche. The fact that it is not just a simple song anymore and that it has become filtered and distorted with the integration of noises from the jungle re-emphasises strongly that Blanche has now become Insane. However, Williams uses this quote to not only portray her insanity but to also evoke sympathy for Blanche from the audience as, for Williams, Blanche represents a better set of morals compared to Stanley, as she tries to see and show the world in a more beautiful light.



The luxurious sobbing, the sensual murmur fade away under the swelling music of the ‘blue piano’ and the muted trumpet.”

This is the final stage direction of the entire play, and the fact that the blue piano is the final piece of music that the audience hears is extremely significant. As Blanche has just been taken by a doctor to the insane asylum, the the muted trumpet suggests the pathos of her situation. However the fact that the blue piano is heard reinforces the theme of the conflict between the two characters which represent the two different classes. Here the music shows the victory not only of Stanley as a character over Blanche but also the blue collar working class, which he represents over her gentile aristocratic class, thus concluding Williams social comment.




Key Moments:

There are many significant moments in this play where music is used but the most significant moment comes towards the end of the play as it helps emphasise the events that are occurring and the message that Williams is attempting to convey to the audience through the event and music. The key stage direction is the last stage direction on p.226 as it represents or concludes a major theme and social message that Williams is attempting to convey to his audiences: his social comment that the working class is the up and coming class with power is shown as Stanley has become victorious over Blanche. However, since we know that Stanley has raped Blanche, the audience greatly dislike Stanley and perhaps feel more sympathy for Blanche as Williams believes that the morals that Blanche represents are more important, as she was simply trying to view the world in a more beautiful nature.