Irony In A Streetcar Named Desire

Topics: Plays

This sample essay on Irony In A Streetcar Named Desire provides important aspects of the issue and arguments for and against as well as the needed facts. Read on this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.

Williams uses many dramatic devices to develop the play as a tragedy including: symbolism, stage directions and sounds. A Streetcar Named Desire can be seen as a modern domestic tragedy as the characters are not of noble birth and the play has specific focus on a female protagonist and anti-heroine, in this case Blanche.

Blanche is often difficult to have an affinity with as she can come across as snobbish and over dramatising however, her fragility leads her to be a truly tragic figure much like that of Ophelia in Hamlet.

Both characters are destroyed by the death of their loved ones and both suffer deaths themselves; albeit, in different ways. Williams uses symbolism to great effect within the play. In scene 1 the stage directions describe Blanche as “a moth”.

William’s uses stage directions as a crucial dramatic device, making them highly detailed so when performed on stage it could be exactly as described; they became a signature of his. Instantly, a scene of tragedy is set as a moth is fragile however essentially a creature of self destruction, in its quest towards light it often ends up destroying itself.

This sense of foreshadowing intensifies the tragedy from the very beginning, suggesting no matter what Blanche does, or how hopeful things are the outcome will not be pleasant.

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Blanches journey on the streetcar is an important metaphor. ‘They told me to take a street- car named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at – Elysian Fields’ This journey represents her life, used therefore is a type of foreshadowing, highlighting the inevitability of her descent into madness.

The ‘street-car name Desire’ signifies her life at Belle Reve, her desire led her to her advances on the seventeen year old student and prostitution which forced her out, her “desire” being her hamartia. ‘Cemeteries’ has obvious connotations of death, of which Blanche has witnessed many: ‘The long parade of the graveyard! Father, mother’, it could perhaps represent the death of her old self. Elysian Fields is a reference to Greek Mythology; the place where worthy mortals rested after death.

What Year Does A Streetcar Named Desire Set

Because Blanches ‘old’ self died in Laurel she travels here to find her Elysium, however it is not found. Fate is also shown in this journey when Stanley says “her future is mapped out for her” suggests that she can’t change paths. This is backed up by Stella “In the first place, Blanche wouldn’t go on a bus” it is implied that whereas a bus is free to go wherever, a Streetcar has one destination. Blanche takes the Streetcar to Elysian Fields and so cements her downfall.

This idea of inevitability links directly to Aristotle and Hegel’s theories of tragedy in which Aristotle talks about its necessity and Hegel too for the drama to attain tragic status and ‘arouse pity or fear in the spectators’ and by doing so ‘purge those emotions’ at the end, otherwise known as catharsis. The symbol of “light” is among the most significant aspects of the play. In Scene 1 Blanche says “Turn that over-light off… I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare”.

This idea of shying away from the light is carried on, with Blanche covering a naked bulb with a paper lantern in Scene 3 stating “I can’t stand a naked light bulb any more than I can a rude remark or vulgar action”. This action of covering the light so she is in part darkness suggests that she is hiding implying that Blanche would rather hide behind polite phrases and false pretences, rather than accept truth and reality. Blanche lives in a world of delusions.

In scene six she says “I don’t want realism…I want magic”. She doesn’t want to face the truth; she’d rather stay in her world of fantasy, in the dark. In a more literal way, Blanche’s avoidance of the light is due to her fear of people seeing her clearly, in terms of age. The paper lantern is a flimsy thing which cannot last; merely cast a romantic glow temporarily while keeping the truth in shadow, however eventually it will be removed. This symbol is used as foreshadowing.

The lantern protects her from the harsh realities of her life and when Stanley rips it off in the final scene she “cries out” as Stanley has stripped her metaphorically and she is forced into the light, into destruction. Though it is not a literal death it is a death of a sort, perhaps more tragic than that of a literal one. Williams knew personally about death of the mind, as his sister Rose suffered severe mental issues and was later given a full frontal lobotomy.

Williams was in fact first going to end the play with Blanche throwing herself under a train, so perhaps he thought that her descent into total madness was more relevant tragedy for a modern age. Blanche is symbolic of illusions whereas Stanley of the truth and realism, these differences causes constant conflict between the two characters as they vie for Stella’s affections, the two cultures can be seen as the metaphor for the play and the battle between the old South and the new industrialising America.

Blanche’s desperation for people to believe her lies causes the audience to feel distinct pity towards her whereas before it might have been annoyance at her snobbish attitudes. She seems entirely deluded at this point and almost a pathetic and tragic figure. Williams also uses dramatic irony in scene seven where Blanche sings Paper Moons in the bath suggesting her hope in a future with Mitch rests on him believing in her illusions however, the audience are then allowed revelations about her past from Stanley.

He reveals her past and then divulges that he has also informed Mitch of the information; which Blanche does not know, creating a scene of dramatic irony as the audience listen to Blanche fantasise about a future that will never become reality. Blanche has lost any hope of a secure future. The fact that the audience are able to witness more than Blanche herself causes a dramatic tension within the audience. Blanche recedes into complete madness and illusion. As she can no longer deal with reality, she is sent to a mental asylum.

Stella is essentially doing the same thing, she cannot believe Blanche’s story so ignores it. The audience have seen Blanche lie and even admit to it, and it is tragic that at the point she tells the truth and acknowledged reality no one believes her. Blanche’s decent into madness could be linked to Hamlet perceived madness as initially it was caused by the death of those around her at Belle Reve and Hamlets due to the death of his father, following this Blanche then had to battle for her sisters affections like Hamlet had to battle for his mothers.

Both characters were damaged by the ones they loved in some way or another. Finally, Tennyson uses much music in the play, one of the most obvious examples of this being Blanches song in scene 7. She sings “It’s only a paper moon, Just as phony as it can be. But it wouldn’t be make-believe If you believe in me. ” Blanche is almost admitting to her lies in a way, acknowledging her stories and herself as “phony” however, suggests that if enough people believe it and in her they can become true. The lyrics of the actual song explain how love turns the world into a fictitious fantasy.

The speaker sings of how if both lovers believe in their fantasy then it will no longer be ‘make-believe’; reflecting how Blanche leads her life, she sees her lie as merely a means of living a more enjoyable life and as harmless ”I don’t tell the truth. I tell what ought to be the truth”. Ophelia’s madness in Hamlet is similar to this as it is represented through songs and a close association with flowers, this is similar to Blanche’s repetition of the polka and the song of the Spanish woman selling “flowers for the dead”.

The Varsouviana Polka was the song Blanche was dancing to with her husband just before he committed suicide, and it is heard- by Blanche only – at points in the play when she is feeling remorse for his death. It is first heard in scene one after Stanley asks about her husband, then in scene two it is heard when Blanche tells the story of her ill-fated marriage to Mitch. Later on in the play she says that the music only stops after she hears the gunshot. As Blanche descends into madness the polka plays more and more frequently to symbolise this tragic descent.

The polka and the moment it represents are a symbol of Blanche’s loss of innocence, Greys suicide was what prompted her mental decline and since then she hears the tune whenever she begins to slip into illusion and lose grip on reality, hence it playing more often towards the end of the play. Contrastingly, Stanley is represented by the music of New Orleans; Jazz. These different types of music are representative of the respective characters, also of the social and historical situation at the time in that Blanche represents a fading Southern belle, and fading morals whereas, Stanley the ‘American Dream’.

The play finishes with ‘the swelling music of the blue piano’ rather than Blanche’s polka; showing how this new America is the future. The same message is embodied in the rape. Together these devices make a truly moving and tragic play in which a descent into madness is the “death” required in tragedy as a genre. Music emphasises important moments in the play and allows the audience insight into the mind of Blanche. Williams use of symbols is also significant in stressing the tragedy of the play as they foreshadow the unpleasant ending and Blanche’s downfall.

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Irony In A Streetcar Named Desire. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Irony In A Streetcar Named Desire
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