The Physical and Metaphorical Use of Light
The Physical and Metaphorical Use of Light: Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Light is “the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible” (Merriam Webster). Just like when light is shown upon an object in the darkness, it becomes visible, if someone does not desire to be seen or observable, they will try their best to stay in the darkness. In this way darkness can be a metaphor for one to hide from the detrimental decisions they make; they stay in the dark so their sins will not be seen by all. “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Blanche DuBois, a woman who did not enjoy being visible for her fear of peoples’ judgment on her sin-filled life, tries her best to stay in the darkness. Ms. DuBois chose to act upon this darkness within her. This was truly who she was. This conclusion of mere judgments, as well as her apparent “love” for darkness and sinful things, can be made concerning this character’s past life due to the absence and presence of light throughout different scenes of this play.
To better understand “A Streetcar Named Desire,” more specifically about my analysis of the light and darkness as it relates to Blanche DuBois, it is helpful to somewhat understand the background of the writer, Tennessee Williams. One of the foremost American playwrights of the twentieth century, he “wrote about loneliness, frustration, and the desperate need for communication by people who are society’s misfits.” Mr. Williams thought of himself as a misfit. He was raised by an overprotective mother and a father who was “stingy, crude, and often drunk.” His father spent little time with his family and made no permanent home for them as they moved among various towns. The only friend he had while growing up was his sister, who was ultimately confined to a mental institution. During these younger years, his “family was marked with anger, tensions, and separateness.” After high school and short stint in college during the Great Depression, Mr. Williams went to work full-time at a shoe company, which he later described as “a living death.” After suffering a physical breakdown, he went to live with grandparents in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1938, Mr. Williams “graduated from the University of Iowa and began writing and wandering, both of which continued throughout his life, in spite of his later affluence.” (https://www.bard.org/study-guides/about-the-playwright-a-streetcar-named-desire. About the Playwright: A Streetcar Named Desire, Kelli Frost.
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Evening more interesting for the readers understanding of the writer and the impact of his upbringing is the fact that he interweaves his view of his family members into the characters of his play. For example, in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” his mother was “the scaffolding for the Southern Belle,” Blanche DuBois, and “his father the swaggering male bully who morphs into Stanley Kowalski.” With the biographic use of his family, his “writing is a mixture of his own nature and nurture translated into dramatic theatre.” (https://hekint.org/2017/01/27/the-creation-of-tennessee-williams-blanche-DuBois-a-biographical-psychotic-neurotic/The creation of Tennessee Williams’ Blanche DuBois: A Biographical Psychotic Neurotic, Ali Fizzah) It is my opinion that in using this type of approach, the characters tended to be more realistic for the audience since the powerful and real emotions he felt as a young man were vented through the characters in his play. It is with this backdrop that I will now focus on my analysis.
Light, for Blanche DuBois, is symbolic for her because it turns the spotlight on her and uncovers the hidden sins of her past. Ms. DuBois, an English school teacher, discovered the homosexuality of her husband. Thereafter, he takes his own life. She expresses her anguish and disappointment that she wasn’t enough, even sexually for her husband, through immoral sexual relations with one of her students. Consequently, she loses her job as a teacher, loses her family home, and becomes an alcoholic. So, by all means she should she be ashamed and somewhat embarrassed of her past due to how rough it merely sounds. However, being in the darkness was a way for her to escape societal judgment and remove herself from the impending secrets that would soon be unfolded. Therefore, she hides in the dark. But in the light she portrays herself as someone totally different; a woman who has never known humiliation and a quiet dignitary who demands respect and admiration. However, she is haunted by the reality that her poor decisions led to the loss of her social-elite lifestyle back in Belle Reve. Those days for her are gone forever. Her life is now in New Orleans with Stanley and Stella Kowalski, her sister and brother-in-law.
The next, and likely the most obvious symbolic connection to Ms. DuBois avoiding the light, is her fear of the reality that she is aging. Mr. Kowalski pronounces to Ms. DuBois while she is living at his residence, “I don’t think I ever seen you in the light. That’s a fact! […] You never want to go out in the afternoon. […] You never want to go out till after six and then it’s always some place that’s not lighted much. […] What it means is I’ve never had a real good look at you” (Williams 9). Even from his perception, he sees as quite peculiar her avoidance of light. Also, when watching the play, she constantly tries to cover herself up if she’s near a man that she desires. For example, when she is about to answer the door to Mitch Mitchell, she frantically began “dabbing her face with cologne and powder” (Williams 9). Or, when Stella asks her: “Why are you sensitive about your age?” and she replied that “Because of hard knocks my vanity’s been given,” or in other words, she feels that her beauty is threatened so she wants to deceitfully prove that she’s still young and beautiful. The audience can surely infer this is clearly done out of vanity to hide the imperfections that comes with age. She believes there is no actual physical beauty with age, and this exacerbates her downfall.
Finally, the most serious conclusion that can be drawn from the presence or absence of light, is how Ms. DuBois describes her state of mind when she was in love with her former husband: “a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow” (Williams 6). This should be interpreted by the audience to show that the love she had for him opened her eyes to the world of happiness, and that once he had died, the light that illuminated her life was once again shielding her from the world of reality. This is why she is compared to a paper lantern; because, not only can she not see the world of reality now, she does not even want the world to see her because then she would finally have to face reality, and that is unimaginable for Ms. DuBois.
The way that light and darkness was used in “A Streetcar Named Desire” was both physical and metaphorical. This allowed insight into the character of Blanche DuBois that the audience could see, or the reader of the play could feel. It not only gave the audience a visual sense of her unique habits while living in darkness, it also helped the reader’s understanding of why she lived that way; her fear of society’s judgment on her past, her personal fear of getting older and decreasing in beauty, but, most importantly because she is mentally shattered by her deceased-homosexual husband’s actions and just cannot bring herself to truly be happy again. In the end, this play demonstrates that how even the most socially-elite and beautiful someone is, as Blanche DuBois was, no one can truly hide in the dark from the pain and misunderstanding that live beyond the shadows.