Sanity & Madness in A Streetcar Named Desire & Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Students engage in comparative textual analysis, exploring the concepts of sanity, truth, and power, through their reading of two iconic plays by Tennessee Williams and August Wilson.

icon/ela/white

ELA

Unit 5

10th Grade

Unit Summary


In Unit 5, students will examine the concept of madness and sanity and their relationship to reality and fantasy while also exploring the price of conformity and nonconformity. During this unit, students will dissect Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, engaging in a comparative analysis of the two plays and how they approach the concept of madness and sanity and use conflict and plot to develop themes and characters in their plays.

This unit starts with a close reading/watching  of Catron’s TED Talk "A better way to talk about love" and provides students the opportunity to begin to unpack the idea of madness while also examining how an author uses evidence and claims to develop an argument. In the remainder of the first arc of the unit, students read a variety of supplemental texts to further explore madness and its relation to sanity. Texts include "Much Madness is divinest Sense" by Emily Dickinson, "Landlady" by P.K. Page, and "Gaslight Stories: The Madwoman in the Attic" by Sarah Wise. At the end of Arc 1, students will engage in a Socratic seminar and write an insight piece, putting various authors and texts into conversation with each other and reaching a new conclusion.

The second and third arcs of the unit contain a study of A Streetcar Named Desire, a play about the experiences of Blanche DuBois, a former Southern belle who leaves her privileged background to move into a shabby apartment in New Orleans rented by her younger sister Stella and brother-in-law, Stanley, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a play about blues singer Ma Rainey and her experiences recording in a music studio in Chicago in 1927. While reading these plays, students will track each character’s desires including how they pursue them and ultimately how their desires impact their overall development. Additionally, both texts are ripe with tension, and thus students will analyze the conflicts in each and how both playwrights use conflict to deliberately propel the action in a play and convey complex ideas. 

In the fourth and final arc of the unit, students will prepare for the unit performance task which asks students to craft a review of either the 2020 film adaptation of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom or the 1951 film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire

Fishtank Plus for ELA

Unlock features to optimize your prep time, plan engaging lessons, and monitor student progress.

Unit Syllabus

Build student independence and support their planning and self management by sharing the Unit Syllabus, which outlines the objectives and assignments for each lesson, as well as the assessments for the unit.

Texts and Materials


Some of the links below are Amazon affiliate links. This means that if you click and make a purchase, we receive a small portion of the proceeds, which supports our non-profit mission.

Core Materials

Supporting Materials

Assessment


This assessment accompanies Unit 5 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Key Knowledge


Essential Questions

Thematic

  • What does it mean to be sane? What does it mean to be mad? 
  • To what extent is sanity synonymous with reality? To what extent is madness synonymous with fantasy? 
  • What is the price of conformity? What is the price of rebelling and pursuing one’s desires and needs? How does one’s decision to conform or rebel impact the way they are perceived by others?

Skills

  • How do authors use conflict and tension to develop plot, characters, and overall meaning in plays? OR What impact does tension and conflict have on the development of plot, characters, and overall meaning in plays?

Vocabulary

Text-based

callous destitute divested effeminate gallantry highbrow imagery incongruous prodigiously raffish reverberated reproving sinister spectral transitory vivacity

Literary Term

ambiguity archetype diction motif monologue setting syntax symbolism

To see all the vocabulary for Unit 5, view our 10th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Themes

In order to successfully teach this unit, you must be intellectually prepared at the highest level, which means reading and analyzing all unit texts before launching the unit and understanding the major themes the authors communicate through their texts. By the time your students finish reading this text, they should be able to articulate and explain the major themes the authors communicate through their texts related to the following thematic topics as they uncover them organically through reading, writing, and discourse. While there is no one correct thematic statement for each major topic discussed in the unit texts, there are accurate (evidence-based) and inaccurate (non-evidence-based) interpretations of what the authors are arguing. Below are some exemplar thematic statements.

  • Reality and Fantasy
    • We hide from reality because it is often easier to live in a fantasy world than to confront the truth of the present. While fantasy helps people trying to cope with reality by often giving them something more positive to look forward to, it harms people trying to cope with reality by taking their focus completely away from what is real. In other words, fantasy masks reality. Some people have the ability to break down the masks while others become unable to separate what is real from what is fantasy. 
  • Consequences of Pursuing Desire
    •  Some consequences of pursuing overwhelming desire include a loss of self-respect as well as respect from others. Pursuing overwhelming desire (our wants and needs) can be powerful and even destructive forces in life’s journey.

Lesson Map


Common Core Standards


Core Standards

RI.9-10.1
RI.9-10.3
RL.9-10.1
RL.9-10.2
RL.9-10.3
RL.9-10.4
RL.9-10.5
SL.9-10.1
W.9-10.2
W.9-10.3
W.9-10.4
W.9-10.9

Supporting Standards

RI.9-10.1
RI.9-10.2
RL.9-10.1
RL.9-10.2
RL.9-10.3
RL.9-10.4
SL.9-10.1
W.9-10.1
W.9-10.2
W.9-10.10

Pre-AP English Standards


Core Standards

LO 1.2A
LO 1.3A
LO 1.3B
LO 1.4B
LO 2.2A
LO 2.2B
LO 2.2C
LO 2.2E
LO 2.3A
LO 2.3B
LO 2.3C
LO 2.3D
LO 2.4A
LO 2.4B
LO 2.4C
LO 3.3A
LO 4.1B
LO 5.1A
LO 5.1B

Supporting Standards

LO 1.3A
LO 1.3B
LO 2.2A
LO 2.3A
LO 2.3B
LO 2.3C
LO 2.3D
LO 5.1A
LO 5.1B
icon/arrow/right/large copy

Unit 4

Home, Grief, and Storytelling in Men We Reaped