In the play Williams explores major themes, such as fear of death, desire, loneliness and madness. He uses various techniques to convey his ideas and demonstrate them through the behaviour of the protagonists. The stage directions and music are not only used to emphasise those themes, but also provide the audience with additional insight of the characters and offer new levels of interpretation and understanding of the plot. By applying music and stage directions throughout the play, Williams also helps the audience to understand the social context at the time.
In Scenes one and three it is the most evident. One of the main musical accompaniments in the play used by Williams is the “blue piano”. It is used in various occasions to emphasise the feeling of loneliness and anxiety as well as helping the audience to understand better the background of New Orleans. In the introductory stage directions Williams describes it as “being played with the infatuated fluency of brown fingers and “express[ing] the spirit of the life which goes on here”, suggesting that New Orleans is a lively area with various cultures living there.
The stage directions help to create a relaxed and carefree feeling to the scene. The Blue piano is a central element to the play, as it often assists characters in important moments and helps the audience to associate better with them. The use of blue piano is also heard later in scene one when Blanche tells Stella about the loss of Belle Reve. To emphasise the intensity of the moment Williams describes the “music of the blue piano grow[ing] louder”. This also helps the audience to realise how significant the loss of Belle Reve is to Blanche.
It also helps the audience to gain further understanding of Blanche’s character in Scene 2 when the blue piano is intensified when Blanche finds out that Stella is going to have a baby. In this occasion it stresses Blanche’s feeling of solitude helplessness. The blue piano is used throughout the play to signalise to the audience the importance of some moments and enhance the atmosphere. Throughout the play one of the strongest themes is the fear of death and it is discussed by Williams on many levels.
Music and stage directions enhance the feeling of loss and uncertainty but it is the language of the characters which articulates the meaning of death in the most explicit manner. The protagonist that is affected by fear of death in the most poignant way and feels the passing of time physically and mentally is Blanche; her vivid memories of the ghastly deaths of her family members never leave her mind. The audience witness one of her breakdowns in Scene One when Blanche unfolds her recollections before Stella telling her about “the Grim Reaper” and “struggle for breath and bleeding”.
The language used by Williams reinforces that fear of death was predominant in Blanche’s life. Apart from the blue piano, the other predominant musical composition is the Varsouviana polka. Williams used that piece to highlight Blanche’s strong connection with the past and emphasise her distress. The “music of polka rises up” for the first time in scene one when Stanley mentions Blanche’s social status. The polka in this case reflects Blanche’s apprehension about the past and her lost husband, introducing the theme of death.
To Blanche, the polka means immanent disaster and is heard throughout the play when Blanche is feeling powerless and frightened. This is evident when Mitch confronts her about her past or when Stanley gives her a ticket to return home, both times it is accompanied by the polka. The music helps the audience to understand why the main protagonist is feeling so powerless and vulnerable, as it reflects Blanche’s memories. In these scenes the polka reinforces Williams’ theme of madness as well as loneliness. The blue piano and the Varsouviana polka are not the only significant musical compositions in the play.
Williams included others in order to emphasise the themes and provide further insight to the protagonists. In scene three, when Blanche first meets Mitch “Rhumba music comes over the radio”. In this case it creates a cheerful and lively, making the audience feel hopeful towards the relationship between Mitch and Blanche. Further in Scene three Williams wants to develop the possible romance between the two and show Blanche’s desire for Mitch. Blanche turns on the radio and “it begins to play Wien, Wien, nur du allein”, the waltz reinforces the romantic ambiance and shows that Blanche and Mitch are enjoying each others company.
Music is not the only sound in the play which helps to reinforce Williams’ themes. Other noises such as the “gun shot” and “screeching of the cat” are present in the play to provide additional understanding of the characters. One of the reoccurring sounds in the play is the “gunshot”. By including it in the stage directions, Williams not only wanted to emphasise death, which is normally associated with gunfire, but he also demonstrated to the audience that it is significant in Blanche’s life. In the play the gunshot is heard only in Blanche’s head and causes “everything to stop.
The unexplained use of the gunshot from the beginning of the play to intrigues the audience about Blanche’s past and helps to emphasise Blanche’s inability to distinguish between the present and the past. The gunshot contributes to climax when Blanche reveals how it is associated with her dead husband. The other sound which helps the audience to understand Blanche’s character is the “screeching of the cat” which causes Blanche to “spring up”. By describing that action in the stage directions, Williams showed to the audience how sensitive and unstable Blanche is, as she is distressed by such a mundane sound.
Stage directions do not only help to determine the flow of the plot but also provide insight into the motivation of certain characters. It is through stage directions that we learn more about Blanche’s frail and sensitive nature and Stanley’s crude character. Williams described her as “daintily dressed in a white suit” and having “delicate beauty”. This description contained within stage directions at the beginning of the play presents Blanche as a vulnerable and delicate, however in further scenes her character is revealed as more complex and unpredictable.
Her look changes and corresponds with her deteriorating mental condition. We also gather more information about her from comments from other characters. A character whose motivation is mainly introduced through the use of stage directions is Stanley. His “animal joy” and “love of good drink and food and games” are notified throughout the play. Williams’ description of the two central characters in stage directions is vital for the understanding of the reasons for Blanche’s and Stanley’s conflicts.
Throughout the play Williams uses a combination of music and stage directions to reinforce his themes as well as provide further insight to the characters. The stage directions develop the characters and help them to be understood by the audience. In order to create an appropriate atmosphere in his play, Williams had to use a variety of methods, like introducing the sound of the gunshot, to create an atmosphere that would reflect the feelings of the characters. Overall, Williams used additional techniques like language and costume to create a full meaning of his play, music and stage directions being the essential elements.