Teaching characterization in Tennessee William's A Streetcar Named Desire delights the thousands of students who read it in high school English each year. My A Streetcar Named Desire lesson plans contain this gem.
Why Teach this Play?
A Streetcar Named Desire is a wonderful play for teaching characterization and engaging high school students. William's play about the clash between the values of the Old South and the emerging New South, present in post-World War II New Orleans, makes for fascinating reading and analysis. The themes and motifs of the play as well as the specific stage directions of the playwright, provide an effective vehicle for students to understand the different literary devices that can be used in drama.
Stanley Kowalski and Blanche Dubois evoke strong reactions decades after Williams write it--you either love them or hate them. The play, therefore, makes for engaging analysis, lively debate, and an excellent opportunity for teaching characterization to an otherwise uninterested glob of teenagers. In short, if you're going to teach characterization, you might as well use a master as your model.
By giving a presentation on a character in the play, students will carefully examine how characterization works. They will, in addition, develop critical thinking and analytical skills for understanding dramatic texts.
Instructions for Students
The presentations can be done by individuals, groups, or pairs. They should focus on the following characters: Stella, Mitch, Stanley, or Blanche, and key on character development with a particular focus on:
- Stage directions
- Motifs such as light and shadow, secrets, bathing and washing and so on.
- Symbolic objects
- Contrast between past and present
- Movements and actions
- Entrances and exits
- Gestures and facial expressions
- Show of emotions
- Violent behavior
- Relationship with other characters
- Internal and external conflict
Remind students that being able to identify these dramatic elements is only half the battle. The presentation should analyze author's purpose and the effect on the play's theme.
Teaching Characterization: Structure of Oral Presentation
- General comments and overview on the character in relation to the play as a whole
- Close analysis of dramatic techniques used and important key scenes for the character.
- Relevant examples as to how the playwright develops the characters.