A Streetcar Named Desire


Tennessee Williams was once quoted as saying "Symbols are nothing 
but the natural speech of drama...the purest language of plays" (Adler 
30). This is clearly evident in A Streetcar Named Desire, one of 
Williams's many plays. I n analyzing the main character of the story, 
Blanche DuBois, it is crucial to use both the literal text as well as 
the symbols of the story to get a complete and thorough understanding 
of her.

 Before one can understand Blanche's character one must understand 
the reason why she moves to New Orleans and joins her sister, Stella, 
and brother-in-law, Stanley. By analyzing the symbolism in the first 
scene, one can understand what prompted Blanche to move. Her 
appearance in the first scene "suggests a moth" (Williams 96). In 
literature a moth represents the soul. So it is possible to see her 
entire voyage as the journey of her soul (Quirino 63). Later in the 
same scene she describes her voyage: "They told me to take a streetcar 
named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six 
blocks and get off at Elysian Fields" (Quirino 63). Taken literally 
this does not seam to add much to the story. However, if one 
investigate Blanche's past one can truly understand what this 
quotation symbolizes. Blanche left her home to join her sister, 
because her life was a miserable wreck in her former place of 
residence. She admits, at one point in the story, that "after the 
death of Allan (her husband) intimacies with strangers was all I 
seemed able to fill my empty heart with" (Williams, 178). She had 
sexual relations with anyone who would agree to it. This is the first 
step in her voyage-"Desire". She said that she was forced into this 
situation because death was immanent and "The opposite (of death) is 
desire" (Williams, 179). She escaped death in her use of desire.
However, she could not escape "death" for long. She was a teacher at a 
high school, and at one point she had intimacies with a seventeen year 
old student. The superintendent, "Mr. Graves", found out about this 
and she was fired from her job. Her image was totally destroyed and 
she could no longer stay there. "Mr. Graves" sent her on her next stop 
of the symbolic journey-"Cemeteries". Her final destination was 
"Elysian Fields". The inhabitants of this place are described in Book 
six of the Aenied:

""They are the souls," answered his [Aeneas'] father Anchises,
"Whose destiny it is a second time
To live in the flesh and there by the waters of Lethe
They drink the draught that sets them free from care
And blots out their memory.""
(Quirino 61) 

 This is the place of the living dead. Blanche came to Elysian 
Fields to forget her horrible past, and to have a fresh start in life
(Quirino, 63). In fact Blanche admits in the fourth scene that she 
wants to "make myself a new life" (Williams 135).

 By understanding the circumstances that brought Blanche to 
Elysian fields it is easy to understand the motives behind many of
Blanches actions. One such action is that during the play Blanche is 
constantly bathing. This represents her need to purify herself from 
her past (Corrigan 53). However, it is important to note that 
Blanche's description of her traveling came before she actually 
settles into Elysian Fields. The description therefore represents the 
new life Blanche hoped to find, not what she actually did find.

 From the begging we see that Blanche does not fit in with the 
people of her new community, nor her physical surroundings in her new 
home. We can see that she did not fit in with the people of the 
community by comparing the manner in which women in the story handle 
their social life with men. In the third scene, Stella, who is 
pregnant at the time, is beaten by her husband Stanley. She 
immediately runs upstairs to her friend's apartment, upstairs. But, 
soon Stanley runs outside and screams "Stell-lahhhhh" (Williams 133). 
She proceeds to come down, and they then spend the night together. The 
next morning Stella and Blanche discuss the horrible incident. Blanche 
asks "How could you come back in this place last night?" (Williams 
134). Stella answers "You're making much too much fuss about this" and 
later says that this is something that "people do sometimes"
(Williams 134). One sees that this is actually a common occurrence by 
the fact that the same exact thing happens to the neighbors a few 
scenes later. Later in the story Mitch, Blanche's boyfriend, yells at 
her and tries raping her, but she does not let him. Afterwards, she 
tells Stanley that she would never forgive him because "deliberate 
cruelty is unforgivable" (Williams 184). Blanche also does not fit 
into her surroundings. Tennessee Williams describes the place as 
having a "raffish charm" (Corrigan 50). But, this eludes Blanches. She 
describes it as a place that "Only Poe! Only Mr. Edgar Allen 
Poe!-could do it justice!" (Corrigan 50).

 The person whom Blanche is most directly contrasted with is 
Stanley. Blanche loves living in an idealistic world, while Stanley
strictly relies on facts. In the story Blanche makes up a good portion 
of her past for the majority of the play. When she was young she lived 
an eloquent life in a mansion, but she eventually lost it due to 
unpaid bills. She tells everyone this part of her history but neglects 
to tell them what she had done during the interim period, before she 
came to Elysian Fields. Ms. DuBois never told them about the 
promiscuous life she lived before she came. Stanley, on the other 
hand, persisted in trying to find out her true past throughout the 
story. Considering that this is Stanley's house, his domain, it is 
easy to see that this spells doom for Blanche.

 The difference between Blanche and Stanley would not be so bad if 
it were not for one of Blanche's flaws. This harmful trait is 
Blanche's inability to adapt to her surroundings. This is seen by 
noting a play on words used by Williams. In the first scene Blanche is 
described as "daintily dressed" and mentions that she is "incongruous 
to her setting" (Williams 96). Blanche cannot adapt to her 
surroundings, but instead tries to change them. Later in the story she 
says "You saw it before I came. Well, look at it now! This room is 
almost-dainty!" (Williams 176). By using the word dainty in both 
places Williams shows us how Blanche tries to change her surrounding 
to match her, instead of adapting to them. This will not work with 

 Blanche deceives everyone for a good portion of the play. 
However, Stanley is continually trying to find her true history. 
Blanche says "I don't want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, Magic! I 
try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don't 
tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth." (Williams 177). 
Stanley does not enjoy "magic", he says that "Some men are took in by 
this Hollywood glamour stuff and some men are not" (Williams 114). 
Stanley never believes Stella's act (i.e. her "Hollywood glamour") he 
only likes the truth. This difference of philosophy creates much 
tension between the two. The climax of the tension between them is in 
the seventh scene. While Stanley is revealing to Stella Blanche's 
promiscuous life, Blanche is singing the following song:

"Say it's only a paper moon. Sailing over the cardboard sea-
But it wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me!
It's a Barnum and Bailey world. Just as phony as it could be-But it 
wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me!"
(Corrigan 53) 

 The louder Stanley gets on insisting on the undeniable facts 
about Blanche, the louder Blanche sings (Corrigan 53). This is a
symbolic collision of their two philosophies. Stella, the link between 
the two, must listen to the facts given to her by Stanley, and the 
virtues of idealism given to her by Blanche.

 Light plays a crucial part in the struggle between Blanche and 
Stanley. From the beginning Blanche insists "I cannot stand a naked 
light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark" (Corrigan 54). She then 
puts an artificial lantern on the light bulb. Light represents truth, 
and Blanche wants to cloak the truth by covering it up. Later in the 
play Stanley "brings to light" the true facts of Blanche's life 
(Corrigan 54). When Mitch, Blanche's boyfriend, is "enlightened" by 
Stanley about her history he proceeds to rip off the paper lantern 
from the light bulb, and demands to take a good look at her face 
(Corrigan 54).

 The scene when Stanley rapes Blanche is the beginning of the end 
for Blanche. Sex is her most obvious weakness. That is the reason why 
she ran to New Orleans in the first place. Since she had come to New 
Orleans she had tried to avoid it. But, once again, Stanley is in 
direct contrast to this. Williams describes him:

"Since earliest manhood the center of his life has been pleasure with
women, . . . He sizes them up at a glance, with sexual 
classifications, crude images flashing into his mind and determining 
the way he smiles at them."
(Corrigan 57) 

 It is only fitting that he destroys her with sex because sex "has 
always been her Achilles heel. It has always been his sword and
shield" (Corrigan 57). After he has sex with her, she is taken to 
another asylum, a psychiatric hospital (Quirino 63). The cycle is
started again. "Desire" has once again sent her off to "Cemeteries".

 Throughout the book it is possible to describe the confrontation 
between Blanche and Stanley as a poker game. The importance of the 
poker game in the play is proven by the fact that Tennessee Williams 
was thinking of calling the play "The Poker Night". In the first four 
scenes of the play, Blanche plays a good bluff. She tricks everyone 
into believing that she is a woman of country-girl manners and high 
moral integrity (Quirino 62). Stanley asks her to "lay her cards on 
the table", but she continues her bluff (Adler 54). However, Stanley 
then goes on a quest for the truth. He then discovers and reveals 
Blanche's true past. Once he knows her true "cards" he then has the 
upper hand. Stanley caps his win by raping her. It is interesting to
note that in the last scene of the play, when Blanche is being taken 
away, Stanley is winning every hand in a poker game he is playing with 
friends. This symbolizes his victory over Blanche. The card game can 
be viewed as fate, in which skillful players can manipulate his cards 
to his advantage (Quirino 62).

 The music in the background, plays a key part in the play, in 
describing Blanche's emotions. In fact at one point it says of
Blanche that "The music is in her mind" (Corrigan 52). The Blue Piano 
represents Blanche's need to find a home. She is always extremely 
lonely and needs companionship. This music is apparent during scene 
one when she is recounting the deaths of her family at Belle Reeve, 
and when she kisses the newsboy in scene five. The music is the 
loudest during the scene when Blanche is being taken away to the 
asylum. The Varsouviana Polka represents death, and to Blanche 
immanent disaster. This music is heard as she explains the suicide of 
her husband in scene six. It is also in the background when Stanley 
gives her a Greyhound ticket to go home (i.e. back to cemeteries) in 
scene eight. It also fades in and out of the scene where Mitch 
confronts Blanche about her true past (Corrigan 52).

 In studying the main character of A Streetcar Named Desire, 
Blanche DuBois, it is necessary to use both a literal translation of
the text as well as interspersed symbolism to have a complete 
understanding of her. Tennessee Williams the author of the play wrote 
it this way on purpose. In fact he once said that "Art is made out of 
symbols the way the body is made out of vital tissue" (Quirino 61). 
This is a wonderful quotation to show just how necessary it is to 
incorporate symbolism in an interpretation of a story.

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