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Discussing Symbolism in Tennessee Williams’ 'A Street Car Named Desire'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1463 words Published: 21st Sep 2021

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Tennessee Williams’ play A Street Car Name Desire is a domestic drama. There is a film adaptation of play which released in 1951 by Elia Kazan. In Tennessee Williams’ play A Street Car Name Desire; there are many symbols such as, The Elysian Field, The Paper Lantern, and The Varsouviana which are used for character development. Besides them, there are also some metaphors such as, The Light and The Music.

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In this research paper, firstly I will examine the symbols in the play and how they used for character development. Especially, how Blanche’s character development is shaped by them. Then, I will examine the metaphors which are used in the play. Metaphors’ definition and their effects on character development are examined by giving example passage from the play. Lastly, I will conclude with my point of view to these symbols and metaphors’ effects on character development.

The Elysian Field is a place that people go to after death like paradise in Greek Mythology. Blanche lost herself in Laurel; she comes New Orleans to find her elysian field. When we look at Blanche’s life before coming to New Orleans, we see that she lost her all possessed. She thinks that she will be happy in a new town with her sister. The Elysian Field is a new place for her to forget her past. I think Blanche could not find the image of Elysian Field which she imagines because the houses have very poor style. They are mostly weathered grey and with rickety outside stars. When she first comes to her sister’s home, she is shocked. We can see it in the beginning of play:

Blanche comes around the corner, carrying a valise. She looks at a slip of paper, then at the building, then again at slip and again at the building. Her expression is one of the shocked disbelief. (Williams 5)

The Paper Lantern symbolizes Blanche’s destruction. Blanche is afraid of the light. She does not want anybody to see her real appearance. In naked light, she seems very old. She wants to be appears as a young lady but her past and her age do not permit it. When Mitch pulls off the paper lantern from the light, it causes Blanche’s downfall. Mitch wants to learn real story of Blanche because he heard something about Blanche from Stanley. As the paper lantern covers the light, it covers Blanche’s past as a symbol.

The Varsouviana is the polka music that played the night of Allan’s death. The music plays when Blanche remembers about Allan. It symbolizes Blanche’s loss of innocence. There is an example speech in scene six which shows this symbol:

  • We danced the Varsouviana! Suddenly in the middle of the dance the boy I had married broke away from me and ran out of the casino. A few moments later—–a shot! (Williams 115)
  • This music helps Blanche to imagine her past while she is talking about Allan with Mitch. In this mutual speech between Blanche and Mitch, music has different level according to character’s behaviors. For example:
  • The Polka stops abruptly. Blanche rises stiffly. Then, the Polka resumes in a major key. Mitch gets up awkwardly and moves toward her a little. The polka music increases. Mitch stands beside her. (Williams115)
  • Stanley throws a package of meat to Stella. It symbolizes Stanley’s barbarity. This symbol helps us to understand that Stanley is a rude man. Stanley does not give or hand it to Stanley.
  • He heaves the package at her. She cries out in protest but manages to catch it: then she laughs breathlessly. Her husband and his companion have already started back around the corner. (Williams 4)
  • The meat also symbolizes the sexual relationship between Stanley and Stella. The meat gives Stanley sexual pleasure. Stella’s catching the meat show her blind love and sexual emotions to Stanley.

The loss of Belle Reve symbolizes Blanche’s painful loneliness. There is no place for Blanche to stay except at a hotel. Blanche arrives as a broken woman in New Orleans. She sold everything. It shows us Blanche’s despair. The loss of Belle Reve causes a conflict between Blanche and Stanley. Stanley wants his wife’s share from Belle Reve. He does not believe Blanche’s lost of Belle Reve. As it is seen, this symbol affects characters’ behaviors to each other.

The young man in scene 5 can be seen as a symbol of Blanche’s own innocence at one time that was corrupted by others. “Blanche lets the young man leave the apartment finally, his innocence intact (except for a kiss), as, it could be said, she would like her own innocence left intact.” [1] The young man reminds the high school boy in Laurel who caused Blanche to lose her teacher job. Blanche’s own innocence was corrupted by others. As Stella says to Stanley, “You didn’t know Blanche as a girl. Nobody, nobody, was tender and trusting as she was. But people like you abused her, and forced her to change.” (Williams 136)

Allan Grey is a symbolic character. The memory of him symbolizes sometimes bad sometimes good memories. Blanche loves him very much. But he betrays her with a man. The death of Allan Grey causes Blanche’s mental illness. As I before mention, Allen killed himself as they are dancing.

Playing Poker shows Stanley’s power over his wife and Blanche. While Blanche is taken away, he wins the game at the same time. As Daniel Brooks mention,

Significantly, the game reflects the dynamics of the play’s four main char­acters. Like the turned-up wild card, Blanche DuBois turns up at Elysian Fields and immediately impacts the lives of Stanley, Mitch, and Stella. They each stand to gain something if things go their way, so they “play” Blanche to their best advantage, as if she were a wild card in a poker game. [2] 

Stanley loses his control when he plays poker with his friends. When women come to home, he gets angry. If we look the game from Mitch’s point of view, we can say that he comes to play for a different purpose. After he meets with Blanche, he comes to see her.

In some scenes, Blanche drinks alcohol. Alcohol helps her get rid of bad memories. When she drinks a glass of alcohol, she feels herself well.

Mexican woman can be seen as a symbol of death. She sells flowers for the dead. When Blanche hears and sees her, she is afraid of death. This woman affects Blanche by the way of reminding death.

When wee look at the metaphors in the play, they help to develop character development. The Light is used as a metaphor for truth. Blanche uses lights for expressing her feelings. She is afraid of daylight. She thinks that daylight shows her age. Light symbolizes the reality. Blanche escapes from reality. She is afraid of seeming old. She wants to live her imagination world. As Blanche says to Mitch,

I don’t want realism. I want magic. Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth. And if that is sinful, then let me damned for it! — Don’t turn the light on! (Williams 145)

Blanche sees Allan Grey her bright light. After his suicide, she thinks that she lost her vivid light. Bright light express her lovely feelings with Allan Grey. Also light express her desire to illusion over reality. Blanche is a victim of her own self-delusions. She wants to protect her ego. She lies to people as covering herself with dim light. Dim light reflects her fragile. In the beginning of the play, there is an explanation, “Her delicate beauty must avoid a strong light. There is something about her uncertain manner…” (Williams 5)

Williams uses bath as a metaphor for many conditions. For Stanley, Stella and Blanche, it has different meanings. For example; Bath is good for calm down nervous for Blanche. She also goes bath to wash away her sins. We can say that these baths show us Blanche wants to get rid of her ugly past.

Bath has also same meaning for Stanley. After he argues with Stella, he goes to bath for his nervous calm down. At the poker night, his friends take away his to bath. Stanley realizes that he beats his wife while he is under the water.

In Tennessee Williams’ play A Street Car Name Desire; there are many symbols such as, The Elysian Field, The Paper Lantern, and The Varsouviana which are used for character development. These symbols and metaphors mostly affect Blanche’s characterization. Every symbol and metaphor shows Blanche’s different desires to us.


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