Symbolism in a Streetcar Named Desire

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In literature, symbolism is used to produce an impact, which it accomplishes by attaching additional meaning to an action object,or name. Symbolism takes something that is usually concrete and associates or affixes it to something else in order to give it a new and significant meaning. Symbolism can take many forms, including: A figure of speech where an object, person, or situation has another meaning other than its literal meaning. The actions of a character, word, action, or event that have a deeper meaning in the context of the whole story. In Tennessee Williams’s play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” he uses symbolism and many other elements to set the theme of illusion vs. reality. The main character Blanche Dubois is a main example of symbolism used throughout the play. Blanche refuses to face her problems, or accept her age, she is constantly placing things like lanterns over the lights in the room to hide her aging face from other people, this way she does not have to accept her fading beauty. Blanche does not want to face her problems, she wants everything to be softened and dimmed for her.

In the play Blanche is constantly taking luxurious baths, which reflect her need to cleanse herself of her awful past , to rid her body of the grit of everyday life, and the harsh, unforgiving world that surrounds her, it is Blanche’s way of liberating all those problems that made her wish to start her life over, leaving her past life at Belle Reve. Blanche leaves to stay with her sister in Elysian Fields, Elysian Fields being the dwelling place for bad people after death, according to greek mythology. Blanche believes this is the best thing for her because nobody really knows her and she believes she can truly start a new life again with no regrets, in her own way.

Blanche associates the polka with her husband’s suicide. Blanche and her husband were dancing the polka when she lashes out at him for his homosexuality, which resulted in him shooting himself later on that night. The music plays when Blanche is reminded of her late husband, or when she is reminded or disturbed by the past in general. The polka continues until something in the real world distracts her or until a gunshot goes off in her head. Although the polka plays in Blanches mind and she is the only character on stage when it happens, the audience also hears the polka when she hears it.

Both Stanley and Blanche drink frequently throughout the play. When Stanley get drunk, his masculinity becomes exaggerated, his attitude grows more physical, violent and brutal. Stanley makes a show of drinking and constantly pouring himself shots. Blanche, on the other hand, tries to hide her alcoholism, claiming she rarely drinks, but frequently secretly sneaking shots. She uses drinking for confidence and as an escape mechanism.

Tennessee Williams has also made use of symbols, and his consistency in using them is very helpful to the audience to get an understanding of the ideas he put into the play. The light bulb symbolizes realism, which reflects back to Blanche not wanting to be seen in light. When Blanche steps off the streetcar desire, she is told to get on the second one called the cemeteries which indicates death. The very names of the characters and places they go are symbolic. The famous streetcar that brings blanche to her sister’s house is being called “desire”. Desire being one of the main themes in the play.The name “Blanche DuBois” itself means “white wood”.

White symbolizes purity, which from Blanche’s past actions,is not just and very ironic. Blanche certainly is not pure anymore, due to all the actions she has committed,including losing her job as a teacher as a direct consequence of having an affair with a seventeen year old. Although the author doesn’t state the reasons of the affair, it is implied that it was a desperate attempt made by Blanche to retain her quickly fading youth. Throughout the play williams shows how blanche turns promiscuous, and why her astrological sign certainly doesn’t match with her personality. Due to her relations with other men in the past, the author makes it clear that “virgin” is not a good way to describe Blanche.

Shadows represent the dream-world and the escape from the light of day. At first Blanch relies on the shadows and half light to hided from the harsh facts of the real world. When Blanche first sees Stella, she makes her turn the overhead light off. But by the end of the play shadows become menacing to Blanche. When Stanley approaches Blanche to rape her, his shadows overtake hers on the wall before he physically overpowers her. In the play’s last scene, when the doctor and Matron come to escort Blanche to the asylum, shadows contribute to the rest of the craziness going on around them, rather than an escape, the shadows became a threat to Blanche

As stated, society is composed of people with a lot of different thoughts and styles, yet as time passes, things change and views and ideas aren’t the same. Blanche Dubois isn’t the classic hero we usually see in plays and movies, but the character expresses and shows how some people hide their true nature or beleive that there is some type of protocol for living life. Blanche represents a deep attachment to the past. Her life is a lesson in how a single tragic event can ruin your entire future: her refusal to come out of the time warp and cope with reality makes her unrealistic. Blanche convinces herself that she remained pure, because she truly believed that on the inside . She believes her soul or inner self remained uninvolved in her physical encounters. Blanche is a true example of a tragic heroine. She was capable of supreme sacrifice and that is one of the main reasons why williams wanted to show and express her character with the use of symbolism.

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Symbolism in a streetcar named desire. (2019, Sep 15). Retrieved from

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