Tennessee Williams’ uses many literary techniques in A Streetcar Named Desire but the most valuable in constructing the plot and evoking understanding into the audience would be the technique of symbolism. The use of symbolism is effective in the due to the fact that it generates thoughts in the readers mind through a non-verbal narrative. The thoughts produced make it easier for the interpreter to form imagery and relate to the story. Williams use of symbolism help the audience to comprehend the themes and characters.
One way in which symbolism is used is through the medium of light. In the beginning of the play when we learn more about the protagonist, Blanche DeBois, we find that she is not keen on the glare of a “naked light”. Some may interpret this as Blanches’ vain nature present as she fears people will see her faded looks. Her faded looks suggest that she is growing old and maybe the fear is less based on her vanity and in fact that she fears of being forgotten, like her ancestors and Belle Reeve which are both lost.
This is further supported by her grasping for attention throughout the play and through conversations, for example when Blanche speaks to Stella she explains that men “… don’t even admit your existence unless they are making love to you. ” This also leads to the formation of questions form in the mind of the audience or the reader such as. Is that why Blanche had many encounters with strangers? So she wouldn’t be forgotten? Was it so she felt like somebody, like she wasn’t fading herself? In this aspect light is representative of presence.
Blanche aims to cover her fading looks by covering the bulb with a paper lantern. This could be suggestive of trying to cover the truth. Blanche says that she still has a sense of vanity over her looks even though she is aware that her “looks are slipping” suggesting that she’s insecure which would be relatable to the audience. This is significant as Blanche often lies about her age in the play and is portrayed as a compulsive liar. It presents the idea that Blanche lies to achieve the sense of security that she’s missing.
But when the audience learn that “the dark is comforting”, this implies the idea of keeping people in the dark so that she may carry on her fai?? ade. This all would lead the reader into perhaps forming a conclusion that you would form in fai?? ade in a situation where you feel like you don’t comfortable in terms of the way you are, so generally construct a fai?? ade to fit in. However you could argue that Blanche does the opposite and this is demonstrated through the way in which she acts to be superior to others around her.
Her acts of superiority are shown through small gestures and when through stage directions the audience become aware that she’s “Fanning herself with a palm leaf” and wearing tiaras. The fact that Blanche has many different attributes makes her conceivably more real in my point of view. Through the concept and idea of vanity that Blanche shows could represent every woman, which applies even more in the 21st century where it is clear that vanity and appearance are everyday important issues.
Through the way she acts by “Fanning herself with a palm leaf” in that scene indicates that she feels important, which is what everyone initially wants and causes the interpreter to sympathise. When she suggests that she hasn’t put “on one ounce in 10 years” as being a huge accomplishment it evokes the interpreter to reference to magazines articles, especially women’s magazines as they are obsessed with weight and their magazine strongly focuses on looking good, but for whom? Another highlighted theme in the play is male dependency.
His is shown through the fact that both the main female characters in the play require a male presence to achieve happiness. It is possible that Blanche may be trying to become her sister in terms of settling down and that the relationship between Stella and Stanley makes Blanche feel pity upon herself for not having someone of her own. This could also suggest why Blanche is so intent on looking good so that she may attract male suitors. Referring to Stella also being dependant on men is made obvious by Williams because in many scenes Stanley is portrayed as physically abusive, but Stella still goes back to him.
Blanche even tries to convince her that she can do better “You’re not old! ” You can get out. ” But Stella still decided to stay with Stanley. From this the audience receive the impression of Stella has chosen Stanley over Blanche or Blanches’ idea and it could be to do with the fact that the future that Stanley represents is more secure than the one promised by Blanche. Blanche views marriage to Mitch as a means of escaping destitution. The many encounters with men, “Strangers” have left Blanche emotionally scared but also with a poor reputation.
Blanche tries to hide this reputation as it makes her unattractive which is when Mitch finds out he rejects Blanche by saying “I don’t think I want to marry you no more” saying that she’s not “Clean enough to bring home” to his mother. After this failed attempt Blanche thinks of Shep Huntliegh who might rescue her. Blanche is so dependant on men that she hasn’t realised the rational aspect where she is independent and learns to rescue herself. It is apparent that through the course of the play Blanches’ dependency on “the kindness of a stranger” leads to her downfall rather then salvation as it puts her fate into the hands of others.
Williams could be intending to put through a moral teaching through the character of Blanche in the play; don’t be too reliant. Both Blanche and Stella are symbolic of reliant/ dependant women. This could have caused strong emotional issues to be raised by feminist and women today, as there is more freedom. But historically makes sense since the feminist act didn’t come around till the 1960s, so women would’ve been reliant for a male breadwinner. Williams highlights the concept of new versus the old in the play and Blanche herself is symbolic of old values and the feudalist epoch.
She represents a system where there is hierarchical structure based on status that is achieved through family reputation. Blanche is a relic of the old south, the America that was beginning to fad away. This is revealed through Blanches’ expectation for her sister when she asks “You have a maid, don’t you? ” implying that in Belle Reeve the DeBois would’ve been familiar to a life where privileges like maids, would be common. This concept is important in the play as it shows the constant struggle between the Old South trying to remain alive and become a part of New Orleans which is at most a part of the new Industrialised era.
Her struggle to keep this part of her alive is made apparent when she states on her birthday that Stanley’s “commonness isn’t necessary” when Stanley throws food, showing that she is still trying to uphold manners and common curtsy which is lacking. If Blanche is representative of the old America, then Stanley’s representative of the new line of industrial labourers. In this sense Stanley is symbolic of the new. He believes that he is equal to Blanche in terms of status, perhaps even greater due to the fact that he is referred to as the “new heterogeneous” worker, who work to achieve everything they possesses.
He states that he is “one hundred per cent American … And proud of it”. His suggests that his behaviour is due to the fact that he believes that he is representative of the real America whereas Blanches’ representation offends him as it disregards meritocracy, which leads him into saying “everyman is a king”. This could be to further elaborate the difference between him and Blanche as she views herself as royalty but Stanley is actually the king of the house. Williams’ presented the theme of fantasy versus reality into the play.
This is hugely significant as we see Blanche going mental and drowning herself in her lies and fantasies to a point where she’s lost control of her mind. It is obvious that Blanche prefers her fantasies and lies as she mentions “I don’t want realism, I want magic”, which could be her pursuit of chivalric hero, which she can’t seem to find. It could also be the fact that she is better staying tangled within her fantasies since her past may be viewed as traumatizing; witnessing deaths, losing her love, losing Belle Reeve etc… his trauma suggests that she seeks to be protected from which is even more obvious when Blanche mentions that Mitch is a “cleft in the rock of the world that I can hide in”. The connotations associated with rocks are that they a hard and tough which is symbolic in terms of how life is. If Blanche is symbolic of fantasy than Stella is symbolic of reality. Due to this fact there could be a possible consensus formed that Stella is more sensible than her sister. She realises immediately that Blanche and Stanley do not see eye to eye, and are both stubborn which leaves her to be the voice of reason.
Immediately when things start going wrong she mentions that “people have got to tolerate each others habits”, she indirectly suggests that Blanche also has to get used to Stanley’s habits in order for their household to be sustained. Williams has portrayed Stella as the normalising force in the play and shows and highlights her as a nurturing being especially towards Blanche. Stella symbolically is a mother figure for Blanche as she aims to protect her. Although Blanches’ elder than Stella, Stella still makes attempts to protect her sister since she is fully aware of her loss when younger.
This could be the reason that she looks at Blanche with a “Pitying look” which Blanche has also noticed. She is aware of Blanches likes and dislikes and therefore stops “at twenty five” candles, knowing that she is insecure about her age and growing old. Although Blanche also tries to baby her little sister, through Stella’s eyes it is evident that she is in the need of support, like she explains to Stanley she was “tender and trusting as she was… and people like you abused her. Forced her to change”.
This is suggestive of the fact that maybe Stella has known more than she lets on to anyone else and has made links between what she said before in the play about getting the attention of men. Baths are used as a method of cleaning and washing of dirt. Using the same aspect Williams uses baths to be symbolic of Blanche trying to rid herself of all the dirt and pain of the memories in her past. She explains that a hot bath “gives her a brand new outlook on life”. These baths help to cleanse herself of her odious past. Yet she is unable to erase her past and to “calm her nerves” and therefore her bathing is never done.
This helps the audience understand the constant struggle that Blanche has to escape her regrets. Stanley takes a shower after the first poker night to soothe his violent temper in which he strikes his wife. After the shower when his temper has been erased he longingly calls out for his wife. In this aspect the shower is a system used for personality change. Williams has also cleverly incorporated another aspect in his play which is has significance. In scene seven, Blanche sings the ballad “It’s only a paper moon” while she bathes.
The song is about the way love turns the world into “phony” fantasy and suggests that if both lovers believe in their fantasy it is no longer “make-believe”. Blanche can relate to the lyrics since they sum up her approach to life. This suggests that for Blanche lying is the only means of enjoying life and therefore is harmless. Some may argue that due to this Blanche uses fantasies and lies as a self maintenance strategy. Seeing that Blanche is singing “It’s only a paper moon” whilst bathing produces a sense of irony since Stanley and Stella and discussing Blanche’s sexually corrupt past.
The reason for the irony is that Blanche is referring to her understanding of herself in terms of fantasy, while Stanley is focusing on Blanche’s past and reality. The fact that Williams juxtaposes this fact highlights it further, producing a comparison to be drawn by the audience. Alcohol is largely included in the play. There is some form of drinking in every scene but for different reasons. For Blanche it is a tool of escapism and a method which she can withdraw from harsh reality through. She also often lies about the amount of which she consumes since it doesn’t fit the image of the fai?? ade that she’s trying to pull off.
Williams makes it clear that she does drink in front of people but says its to “calm her nerves” for example when she’s about to meet Stanley, she asks for “no coke” due to her nerves. It seems that all Blanche ever seems to do is to lie, drink or bath. Blanche drinks due to self pity but we see Stanley who also likes to drink a lot, consumer for more social reasons. He drinks with his friends, during the poker night and to celebrate the birth of his child. But for both of them their drinking leads them to destructive paths; Stanley acting abusive and Blanche deluding herself in her fantasies.
The polka music is symbolic of Blanche’s past. Polka music sounds, in a minor key, faint in the distance”. The way that Williams has written this implies that it is sad as it is in a minor key and the “distant” could resemble the past. The Polka music is symbolic of the last dance between Blanche and her husband “the young boy” or “Alan”. Blanche also mentions that the polka music ends after the gunshot which refers to the death of her husband at the end of the dance. Williams’ has used the polka music to resemble any point in the play when Blanche is affected by the death of her husband. The fact that she hears it often indicates that she is haunted by her past.
The poker game is largely significant as it takes place during the beginning of the play and at the end of the play. In the first poker game we see that Stanley is losing “when I’m losing you want to eat? ” this symbolises the arrival of Blanche and the hard times coming into the household. During the second game Stanley experiences good luck in the game but could resemble the fact that Blanche’s leaving and he’s getting what he wants. Poker is cleverly incorporated since it is a game of bluff and at the end it seems top the audience that Blanche has run out of cards – lies to tell.
The symbolism used by Williams brings more emotion into the play but also bring greater meaning to the characters’ actions and to their emotions. Over all it is safe to conclude that the characters that Williams has constructed are complex even though the audiences are given indications to the core of them. The audience are left to decide how to categories the characters in genres of good and bad which is important since everyone has good and bad qualities. There are probably more hidden uses of symbolism in the play which aren’t apparent as the ones explored in this essay.