Exploring A Streetcar Named Desire

A study of setting, plot, character development


Key Staff

Primary instructor

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique


Students study setting, plot, and character development in Tennessee Williams' play, A Streetcar Named Desire and discuss its impact on American theater. Students will participate in a group reading and analysis of the play and share their collective findings with the class.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Explicate and appreciate the power of visual and auditory expressionistic elements to help shape set design, narrative, characterization, and theme in the building of dramatic scripts.
  • Exercise skills of explication.
  • Craft essays of critical analysis.
  • Recognize elements that build artistic tension in dramatic scripts.
  • Experience growth in the writing process, oral skills, skills of research, and contextual analysis.

Teaching Approach

  • Thematic
  • Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Research
  • Reflection

Assessment Type



What You'll Need

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Prior Student Knowledge

Before beginning the lesson, students should read the Tennessee Williams: Themes and Forms handout, which introduces characteristics of Williams' works as well as those of American playwrights in the mid 20th century. Distribute to students as appropriate or use as background material in planning your lesson. Be sure that the students have read and discussed the Biographical Information of Tennessee Williams handout.

Physical Space



Small Group Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with visual impairments or disabilities may need modified handouts or texts.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.



1. Tell students that they will be studying the Tennessee Williams play, A Streetcar Named Desire. Note that Williams' work is often reflective of the "Southern Gothic" aesthetic, which presents a lurid, decadent, and macabre vision of the American South. The setting of the play, New Orleans, is an essential element of Williams' play.

2. Ask if any students have lived in or visited New Orleans, which is the setting of A Streetcar Named Desire. If so, have them share their impressions of the city. Expand this discussion by asking other students to share any perceptions they have of New Orleans.

3. To provide further background for the study of the play, consider assigning students, either in collaborative groups or independently, to research the following references related to New Orleans. Advise them to take notes as preparation for brief class presentations of the information they have gathered. A display map of New Orleans would be a useful backup for the presentations.

  • The French Quarter
  • Elysian Fields
  • Bourbon Street
  • Preservation Hall
  • Lake Pontchartrain
  • Location of the New Orleans street Desire

ther ideas for student projects:

  • An overview of the antebellum South in comparison to the pre-Civil War "plantation" life
  • French Hugenots (note that Blanche makes reference to her French Hugenot background)
  • The implication of the Napoleonic Code

Note: Because the Blues and polka music are such important elements in the development of the play, consider allowing time for special background work on the following references:

  • Ask one or more volunteers to prepare a special presentation on the "birth" of the Blues
  • Encourage students talented in instrumental music to give a "live" demonstration of the Blues; if possible, add a student vocal accompaniment
  • As an option, a vocal rendition could be performed separately
  • As a backup for the above suggestion, play a student selected tape or CD of Blues music
  • Initiate a discussion concerning the tone quality of the Blues, the type of themes in the lyrics, and the connotative implications associated with Blues music
  • Encourage an instrumental presentation of polka music or play a vignette of a tape or CD; ask a student interested in dance to give a brief demonstration of polka dance steps

Build Knowledge

1. Initiate the reading of A Streetcar Named Desire in a large group format. Consider assigning one student to read all of the long italicized passages. Select a starting position in the room; ask each student to pick up the reading of a line of Scene I in sequence (circling the room) through to where Eunice exits and Stella enters. (The brevity of the lines in the opening dialogue lends itself to this pattern of oral reading; such an approach seems to help draw students quickly into the "magic" of the play.)

2. Raise the question: What "two worlds" are juxtaposed in the opening of Scene I? Ask for detailed descriptions of each “world” based on the context clues of the italicized descriptions and the dialogue.

In his italicized account of the setting of the first scene, Williams calls attention to the music coming from a “tinny piano” being played at a barroom around the corner. He comments that "This 'Blue Piano' expresses the spirit of the life which goes on here." Ask students to draw from other remarks Williams makes in the italics, and from events and characterizations in the opening of the play, to define specifically their perception of this spirit.

Excerpts from Tennessee William’s plays. Ideas for sources for A Streetcar Named Desire can be found here.


1. Divide students into small oral play reading groups. Suggest that a director be named in the group to parcel out and rotate the reading of roles and the italicized passages. Assign the groups to read through to the end of Scene Two and prepare to discuss the Discussion Questions for Scenes 1 and 2 Handout.

2. Realign the oral play reading groups for the reading of Scenes Three and Four. Ideally, if time allows, these scenes would be read in class. If time is a factor, however, consider assigning these scenes as homework to be discussed in class before reading proceeds. Distribute the Discussion Questions for Scenes 3 and 4 Handout.

3. Scene Five lends itself well to large group in-class reading. The end of the scene, where the Young Man enters, offers a good opportunity for experimentation in how the scene should be acted out. You may wish to enlist the help of your school's drama coach to run this classroom experiment. Divide the students into at least three groups and have them stage the scene as they believe it should be played. Have the class evaluate the success of each interpretation.

4. Assign Scenes Six and Ten as outside reading assignments, covering Scenes Seven, Eight, and Nine in play reading groups, and reading Scene Eleven in the large group (perhaps staging it).

In preparation for the large group reading of Scene Eleven:


1. Analyze the play’s impact with students. Divide the class into small collaborative groups. Assign the groups to negotiate and record conclusions about the Study Questions handout. Advise students that the conclusions will be shared in class. Dissenting opinions, if the group cannot reach a consensus, also can be shared.


Assess the students based upon the following criteria:

  • Level of serious and cooperative participation in research and collaborative assignments
  • Level of discernment in contributions from research and to collaborative work - substantive contributions to class discussion and special projects
  • Range and depth in analysis
  • Evidence of creative thinking
  • Organization, meaningful substance, rhetorical skill, and poise in formal oral presentation
  • Thoughtful response in pre-writing, pre-discussion "brainstorming" activities - seriousness of purpose in following through on creative and expository writing assignments
  • Solid preparation for performance activities
  • Alignment of written performance with good practices of the writing process
  • General level of engagement in all activities and assignments

Key Vocabulary

  • Character
  • Actors
  • Puritanism
  • Drama
  • Style
  • Narrative
  • Theme

Extending the Learning: Suggestion for a Special Project

Students interested in drama and the history of dramatic theater could be encouraged to trace the background of some of the famous actors and actresses who have played the lead roles in performances of Williams’ plays.

Particularly interesting is the array of famous actors and actresses who played key roles in The Glass Menagerie, Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The list includes such luminaries as Tallulah Bankhead, Barbara Bel Geddes, Burl Ives, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden, Marlon Brandon and others. Williams’ response to different "star" performances—especially that of Tallulah Bankhead as Blanche Du Bois—could be an added topic to pursue.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade 9-12 Theater Standard 2: Acting by developing, communicating, and sustaining characters in improvisations and informal or formal productions

National Standards in Other Subjects
Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 2: Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing

Language Arts Standard 6: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts



Jayne Karsten
Original Writer

Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

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