Comparison Of Importance Of Being Earnest And Streetcar Named Desire

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Both A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams and The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde manipulate dramatic conventions in order to present differing genres to their respective audience. These stylistic choices work to build upon the playwright’s ideological intentions. A Streetcar Named Desire is a tragic play centred around the Disturbed Blanche DuBois who moves in with her sister Stella in New Orleans. Throughout the play Blanche is tormented by her brutish brother-in-law while her reality crumbles around her. On the other side of the spectrum, there is The Importance of Being Earnest, a comedy of manners that follows the story of two bachelors, John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, who both create alter egos named Ernest in order to escape their tiresome lives. They attempt to win the hearts of two women who, conveniently, claim to only love men called Ernest. A streetcar named desire utilises symbolism, stage directions and sounds in order to portray a play of tragedy whilst The importance of being earnest utilises irony and satire in order to portray a comedy of manners.

Williams utilises symbolism, stage directions and sounds in order to portray a play of tragedy throughout A Streetcar Named Desire. In scene 1 the stage directions describe Blanche as “a moth”. Instantly, a scene of tragedy is set as a moth is fragile however essentially a creature of self-destruction, in its quest towards light it often ends up destroying itself. William’s uses stage directions as a crucial dramatic device, making them highly detailed so when performed on stage it could be exactly as described; this enhances the audience’s perception of the play, in order for Williams to portray a play of tragedy as he intended. The symbol of “light” is among the most significant aspects of the play. Streetcar can subtly use lighting and effects in order to portray themes or key messages. In Scene 1 Blanche says “Turn that over-light off… I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare”. This idea of shying away from the light is carried on, with Blanche covering a naked bulb with a paper lantern in Scene 3 stating “I can’t stand a naked light bulb any more than I can a rude remark or vulgar action”. This action of covering the light so she is in part darkness suggests that she is hiding implying that Blanche would rather hide behind polite phrases and false pretences, rather than accept truth and reality. Throughout the rest of the play and until the final scene the lantern darkening the room is used to symbolise blanches’ avoidance of reality and the layer of “magic” she coats it with. in scene six she says “I don’t want realism…I want magic”. She doesn’t want to face the truth; she’d rather stay in her world of fantasy, in the dark. In a more literal way, Blanche’s avoidance of the light is due to her fear of people seeing her clearly, in terms of age. The paper lantern is a flimsy thing which cannot last; merely cast a romantic glow temporarily while keeping the truth in shadow, however eventually it will be removed. This symbol is used as foreshadowing for the ultimate tragedy of the play. The lantern protects her from the harsh realities of her life and when Stanley rips it off in the final scene she “cries out” as Stanley has stripped her metaphorically and she is forced into the light, into destruction. Though Williams opted to not portray a literal death, this is used as a way of showing a tragic death of the mind. The Varsouviana Polka was the song Blanche was dancing to with her husband just before he committed suicide, and it is heard- by Blanche only – at points in the play when she is feeling remorse for his death. It is first heard in scene one after Stanley asks about her husband “the polka music rises up, faint in the distance.”, then in scene six it is heard when Blanche tells the story of her ill-fated marriage to Mitch “polka music sounds, in a minor key faint in the distance.”. Later on in the play she says “the shot! [The music] always stops after that.” As Blanche descends into madness the polka plays more and more frequently in order to symbolise her tragic descent. The polka and the moment it represents are a symbol of Blanche’s loss of innocence, Allan Greys suicide was what prompted her mental decline and since then she hears the tune whenever she begins to slip into illusion and lose grip on reality, hence it playing more often towards the end of the play. Contrastingly, Stanley is represented by the music of New Orleans; Jazz. These different types of music are representative of the respective characters, also of the social and historical situation at the time in that Blanche represents a fading Southern belle, and fading morals whereas, Stanley the ‘American Dream’. Blanche is symbolic of illusions whereas Stanley of the truth and realism, these differences causes constant conflict between the two characters as they vie for Stella’s affections, the two cultures can be seen as the metaphor for the play and the battle between the old South and the new industrialising America. The play finishes with “the swelling music of the blue piano” rather than Blanche’s polka; showing how this new America is the future. The same message is embodied in the rape. Together these devices make a truly moving and tragic play in which a descent into madness is the ‘death’ required in tragedy as a genre. Music emphasises important moments in the play and allows the audience insight into the mind of Blanche and provides extensive meaning. Williams use of symbols, stage directions, lighting and music is significant in stressing the tragedy of the play as they foreshadow the unpleasant ending and Blanche’s downfall.

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As a comedy of manners, The Importance of Being Earnest satirizes the upper class by showing them to be shallow, judgmental, and having the wrong priorities. The men’s dishonesty, the women’s fickle nature in constantly changing their minds, and Lady Bracknell’s snobbishness are all examples of such things. Oscar Wilde is able to present this through irony, satire and double meanings. the author has presented the lies and deceit of Algernon and Jack in a comic and trivial manner; however the underlying message is still present, that of a criticism of the upper class. Similarly, a scene like the one in which Algernon eats all the muffins while Jack scolds him for it can be seen as ridiculing the character for his greediness, this can also be observed as a metaphor for the greediness of the upper class as a whole.. All the situations regarding double lives are hinted at with harmless outcomes. Algernon’s remarks are notable yet funny: ‘If you ever get married… you will be very glad to know Bunbury’. In another scene of humour, Jack is adamant of his stance that ‘Cecily happens to be my aunt’ while Algernon teases him by asking why she writes ‘with fondest love for her dear uncle Jack’. He poses with clear irony and amusement that “an aunt may be small or large” but why should an aunt ‘call her own nephew her uncle’. This forces Jack to admit ‘my name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country’. The revelation of Jacks double life would typically be taken heavily and seriously yet, Wilde has created a light-hearted scene where Jack and Algernon bond about lying for personal gain. Wilde has essentially created puns on the hypocritical attitude and mannerisms of upper-class Victorian society through a playful comedy of manners. The playwright has utilised characterisation to, in turn highlight the hypocritical behaviour of the society he lived in. The characters of Lady Bracknell and Jack are perfect examples of this. Both of them are proud of their character and social esteem – they are characters much more concerned about society. Lady Bracknell is proud of her status and refuses Jack her daughter’s hand merely because he has no parents or reputable family name. She also seems to refuse the marriage between her nephew and Cecily, but when Jack reveals the estate of Cecily amount to ‘ a hundred and thirty thousand pounds’, she readily agrees to marry the two couples. The playwright has carefully carved out scenes of comedy even while discussing the grave concerns and social debate on marriage from different angles. Different characters give vent to the prevalent ideas and ideals of marriage and its relevance to one’s status and characters. And in doing so, they are exposed and negate their own statement and wisdom. Lady Bracknell does not approve of love marriages. She believes ‘an engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could hardly be allowed to arrange for herself’. But this makes the audience laugh when the inheritance money of Cecily is revealed and Lady Bracknell reverses all her stances. Algernon believes marriage is a non-serious thing, a stupidity. He says: ‘It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal’. But, in a turn of irony, he does exactly opposite after meeting Cecily in the disguise of Ernest. Ultimately, Oscar Wilde presents a comedy of manners through the utilisation of irony, satire and double meanings. This works to present a play that criticises the upper class Victorians in a subtle yet effective way.

Ultimately, A streetcar named desire was very effective in portraying themes of blanches downfall and descent into madness, and the advantage of utilising tragedy as a genre is that Williams could effectively tell blanches story of a downward spiral through her perspective. Williams use of music as a dramatic convention was able to accent this, along with lighting and symbolism. Williams use of symbolism was effective, yet one might feel the play lacks the touch of tragedy without the real death of the protagonist, merely a symbolic one. Overall Streetcar named desire utilised symbolism, stage directions and sounds in order to portray a play of tragedy and the outcome was very effective. The importance of being earnest presents a comedy of manners through the utilisation of dramatic conventions such as irony, satire and double meanings. The advantage of manipulating a comedy of manners as a genre, is that it enables the play to subtly criticizes the upper class Victorians under the guise of comedy. Overall, both A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams and The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde manipulate dramatic conventions in order to present differing genres to their respective audience. These stylistic choices work to build upon the playwright’s ideological intentions. 


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