Not only is stage lighting used in the play to express different
dramatic moods, light is also used as a metaphor for truth,
as opposed to illusion. This can be seen when Blanche asks Mitch
to put the paper lantern over the bare light bulb. Covering
the light, making it less harsh, is literally a way for Blanche
to conceal the signs of her age; symbolically it expresses her
desire for illusion over reality.
Blanche uses light
as a metaphor in a different context when she describes her
feelings when she first fell in love with the man who was to
become her husband. It made her see everything in life in a
new context, as if a blinding light had been turned on what
before had been in shadow. Blanche is not the first person in
literature or life to describe love in terms of light. After
her husband’s death, the light went out, so the world
Blanche lives in is deprived, as if existing only in shadow.
She uses the same metaphor of light and darkness when she refers
to art and music bringing light into the darkness of a world
that is characterized by people like Stanley.
The play is permeated by different musical backgrounds. The
music of the “blue piano,” coming from the Four
Deuces bar, expresses the spirit of life in that part of the
city. It responds to the moods depicted in the play, and is
also heard in conjunction with brass, drums and clarinet at
appropriate times. The opposite of the “blue piano”
music, which represents life, is the polka music, also called
the Varsouviana music, which represents death. It is first heard
in scene 1, and is repeated whenever Blanche remembers her dead
husband. It is heard most prominently in scene 6, when Blanche
tells the story to Mitch.
There are some other symbolic elements in the play. The names
of the two streetcars Blanche takes to reach Stella’s
house, Desire and Cemeteries, symbolize the themes of sex and
death that permeate the play. The name of the area where Blanche
and Stanley live is called Elysian Fields. The Elysian Fields
are the blissful abode where ancient Greek heroes dwell in the
afterlife. The term suggests that Blanche and Stanley live in
a kind of paradise (a paradise that of course is hard for Blanche
to understand). A clue to this paradise of sexual fulfilment
is given in Stanley’s first action in the play, which
is to toss a package of raw meat to Stella, which she catches.
The sexual innuendo is the reason behind the laughter of the
black woman who observes this. The locomotive that is heard
in scene 10, just before the rape, can be seen as an expression
of aggressive male desire. Finally, Blanche’s seemingly
constant desire to bathe symbolizes her longing for purity,
her desire to wash off the sins of her past.