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Reports & Essays: Literature - Plays

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A Streetcar Named Desire
by Tenessee Williams 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 Blanche's 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 beginning 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 this after an incident occurs between her sister, Stella, and Stanley, Stella's husband. 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, but soon thereafter, 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). Another place in the play where Blanche indicates that she does not fit into these surroundings is when 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 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). Stanley then goes on a quest for the truth and 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 the cards to their 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.

"For complete summary and analysis of literary works, please visit NovelGuide.com

 



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