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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 h usband)
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 didfind.

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 lat er. 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 Stanley.

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 pleasurewith
women, . . . He sizes them up at a glance, with sexualclassifications,
crude images flashing into his mind and determining the way hesmiles
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 manipula te 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.