Blue Piano - Sample Essay
Williams, in his play, “A Streetcar Named Desire”, uses sound effects, lights and music to create a very involved atmosphere. The intersection of past and present in the lives of the characters, especially the protagonist, Blanche, is the most intriguing point of the drama. The music constantly being played throughout the play is the “Blue Piano”, which sets the mood for life in the Quarter. This is naturalistic, and so contributes to the cosmopolitan feel of the Quarter.
This music was considered to be low-class, since it was the music of the black slaves, while the Varsouviana, a waltz, was considered higher-class, since it was the music used in ball-rooms, luxuries that a slave couldn’t afford. The three different types of music are each different, in that the “Blue Piano” and the “Hot Trumpet” are naturalistic, i. e. they exist and are heard by everybody, while the Varsouviana reflects the inner feelings of Blanche, rather than the realistic representation of appearances.
The “Blue Piano” symbolises the very slow, sad pace of the inhabitants of the Quarter, but also promises excitement in the form of the Four Deuces club, from which spews “Hot Trumpet” music, very fast-paced and symbolises sensuality and the promise of excitement. This is used in the scene where Blanche is raped by Stanley, her sister’s husband, and is used along with the Varsouviana, which is “filtered into weird distortion”. The “Hot Trumpet” music is also naturalistic, but only coming into focus in this scene, otherwise is played only in the background.
This can be compared to the Varsouviana, as both are played at certain times in the play, or during certain events, to heighten the action portrayed in the play. The Varsouviana is linked to memory, and is used, for example, when Blanche remembers her old marriage, or when her husband shot himself. Only Blanche hears the music, and is also rendered ill by its tune, as the memory she associates with it (the ‘boy’s’ death) is nauseating: “I’m afraid I’m-going to be sick! ” So Williams successfully combines three different styles of music to dramatise the past.
The Varsouviana is also linked to Blanche’s European background. This is referred to in the play as higher-class than, for example, Stanley’s Polish background. Blanche sees him as a “grease monkey”, and a “Polack”, while Stanley sees himself as a “pure-bred American”, since he was involved in World War 2 on the American side, so thinks that he has earned his American status, and not a “Polack”. The play almost immediately establishes Stanley and Blanche as polar opposites, and this is the start of the conflict between them, ultimately leading to her rape in Scene 10.
Williams wants us to see Blanche as a moth, as he states early in the play. The audience would have probably perceived this through, as Williams states, “(Blanche’s) uncertain manner”, and her fragile white clothing, as if they were wings of a moth. A moth’s attraction to light is further reflected in her pure white clothes, but a moth is not a suitable description, since Blanche is almost afraid of light, believing that it will damage her in some way. Her white clothes further reinforce the impression that her name gives us, since Blanche means white in French.
This also brings her French background into close focus, also relating to Belle Reve, the plantation home of the Du Bois family, and to the French colonisation of Louisiana. Both the names ‘Blanche’ and ‘Belle Reve’ lead to you imagine something pure and unsullied, while the truth is far from this, since Blanche turns towards promiscuity, and thus impurity, when the ‘Beautiful Dream’ begins to fall apart for her. While she’s waiting for her sister to return from the bowling alley, we can see that Blanche has had a very high-class upbringing.