How far would you agree that Williams relies primarily on class conflict in the play to generate dramatic tension?
Whilst Williams utilises class conflict to create dramatic tension often, I don’t believe there is a ‘primary’ way Williams builds dramatic tension, and instead he utilises various other techniques alongside class conflict.
It could be argued that from the moment Blanche arrives Elysian Fields barely able to hide her disdain for the area, Williams intends to present the conflict between the upper and lower classes of America in the late 1940s and so creates dramatic tension from the very start of the play. Upon Blanche’s arrival, her facial expression proves her discontent “her expression is one of shocked disbelief.” Clearly, Blanche didn’t imagine her sister to live somewhere so contrasting to their upbringing in Belle Reve, where she was raised in the old, traditionalist American values. As Stella left Belle Reve, Blanche maintained her Southern Belle status and characteristics.
Class conflict is also Williams’ primary focus to generate dramatic tension when Stanley ransacks Blanche’s trunk “Stanley: And diamonds! A crown for an empress!…Here’s your plantation or what was left of it, here!” Here, Stanley’s criticises Blanche for her wealth. This highlights the class difference between the DuBois and the Kowalskis. Stanley here is very much spiteful of how much wealth Blanche appears to own, and most likely didn’t earn as he has to work and provide for his family. A feminist critic would argue that Stella was made to live within the domestic sphere, and Stanley would be the one to go out and work, to then acquire food so Stella can cook.
Williams also uses dramatic irony throughout the play, allowing the audience to feel the tension, but not the characters – thus enhancing the dramatic tension as a whole. We can observe this in Scene Four, when Stanley overhears the conversation between Stella and Blanche – the exact time when Blanche confesses to Stella her true views on Stanley: “Stanley enters from outside. He stands unseen by the women…Blanche: He acts like an animal,” Up until this point in the play, Stanley has had his doubts about Blanche but it’s at this moment, he knows it all – without her knowing he does. For the audience, this generates dramatic tension as Stanley can then be seen “licking his lips,” foreshadowing later conflict within the play.
Dramatic irony is also primarily used to create dramatic tension when we learn of Blanche’s ‘double personalities’, especially during her confrontation with the young man in Scene Five. “Without waiting for him to accept, she quickly crosses to him and presses her lips to his” From the moment the audience first encounter Blanche, she attempts to uphold herself within strict Southern Belle rules. She tries to remain contained and subdued until this time. For an audience this is shocking, as it finally reveals the ‘true’ Blanche DuBois and her suppressed sexual urges, which she releases upon this young man. From a feminist critic’s perspective, one can say men have always dominated her life, as such was the normality in the 1940s in America and so, when she could, she asserted herself some feminine power over a vulnerable man. However, a psycho-analytical critic would argue that Blanche is psycho-sexually arrested in the time of her husband’s death and therefore cannot help but feels these suddenly sexual urges towards younger men, and she acknowledges she does when she states, “I have to remember to keep my hands off children!”
Sound is also utilised occasionally to generate dramatic tension, and some scenes use sound primarily to enhance the dramatic tension. For example, sometimes in scenes the sound of polka music can be heard. This polka music occurs only during specific moments that revolve around Blanche, like a monologue. The polka music is symbolic of Blanche’s inner turmoil, and can be said to reference back to a time with her and her late husband, as suggested in Scene Six where Blanche talks of her dancing with her late husband, and then “Polka music sound, in a minor key in the faint distance.” Not only does it represent Blanche’s inner conflict, but it also creates the allusion of her and her husband dancing to the music, hence enhancing the tension the audience feels during this scene.
Finally, dramatic tension is also created by Williams’ use of sexual tension in the play. Sexual tension is particularly effective in creating dramatic tension during Blanche and Mitch’s awkward encounter in Scene Three. Dramatic tension doesn’t always have to be negative, and this is a perfect example of that. “Mitch with awkward courtesy: How do you do, Miss DuBois?” During this scene, an overhanging sexual tension lurks albeit with a strong hint of awkwardness. For an audience, it makes them wonder what could come from a relationship between the two – once again foreshadowing future events. Mitch acts in the way Southern Belle’s would expect men to behave. Blanche appears to respect gentlemanly men and Mitch’s shy, respectful attitude which reflects gentlemanly values. This characteristic is completely contradicting of Stanley’s brutish attitude.
Sexual tension is the primary cause of dramatic tension when Stanley first meets Blanche. His very first action is sexually-driven “Blanche drawing involuntarily back from his stare” Stanley’s very first action when encountering a new female is to asses her sexual qualities. For the audience, this creates a sense of Stanley’s predatorial and primal nature, which can be observed throughout the play.