A Streetcar Named Desire is a play written by Tennessee Williams and is about the two basic humans drives; which are death and desire. The two main drives could be representative of the state of America after WW1 a country wavering between a dying past and the adolescent new world. The reader/viewer of the play will experience these two basic drives through the characters culture, background, imagery, music and symbols. For the characters to have the direct effect of representing the texts underlying values and attitudes the main characters of the play are constructed in a particular way.
This is a play of Culture Vs Brutality, Illusion Vs Reality, Civilization, Culture and Tradition Vs Natural, Passionate and Primitive.
The culture of the characters is an integral part of identifying the issues that the playwright is trying to Address, For example in two of Williams plays he has a southern gentile woman as the main character (the Glass menagerie and a streetcar named desire) who's world is shattered by the harsh treatment of the changed modern world, where as with the stronger character of Stanley is a new world, working class, animalistic brute is more adapted to the harsh world. Williams shows this is one of the issues of the play through the various scenes of disaster and dislike between the refined and cultured past and the uncouth, working class, untraditional future.
Other issues or themes of the play is the nationality association; It is assumed the Du Bois is an aristocratic surname and this is proven later on in the play, It can also be assumed the Kowalski is a foreign name (which is turns out to be) and the foreign people in those times were highly likely to be those of working class. This is represented through the speech of the two characters e.g.; Stanley speaks loudly and speech to Stanley is getting across what he wants, likes, dislikes and so on where as Blanche speaks more flittingly, on a higher level. Speech to Blanche is a searching for values and her speech reflects her education.
Another issue that comes into play in A Streetcar named Desire is Williams exposure of the inadequacies and hypocrisies of American mythologies, by this I am referring to the myth of an unfallen Eden (Blanche) whom is a representative of chivalrous and civilized men and gentile sensitive women, For example a very similar character to Blanche is that of Daisy from "Schindlers list". It has also been stated that a theme prevalent in A Streetcar named Desire is that of homosexuality, it is said that Williams is representing a suppressed interest or attraction with homosexuals through the characterization of Blanches young husband, whose death drove her to insanity.
Background is also an important part of the characters representing the issues and values that Williams created them to convey, for example the first setting is New Orleans a rough tough new world city filled with liquor, card games and adultery.
The new world is presented as a sexually laden and sensual world.
This is represented by the characters living in the area, there interaction with the area and mainly blanches unsavory reaction to the setting. Elysian fields is an ironic and amusing name for the sector in which Stanley and Stella live, This is because in mythology Elysian fields was the name of the so-called heaven for the gods but elysian fields is the complete opposite for blanche as it is the setting in which she is eventually driven mad by herself.
Imagery is another factor that is used through the characterization of the main characters to represent themes and issues, For example there is the imagery of Stanley whom is always in bright colors e.g.; silk pajamas, bowling shirt, watermelon, cards and the meat Stanley brings from the butcher are all bright noticeable colors, which are like Stanley in a way because they cannot be ignored.
Blanche is represented by pastel shades and whites like a moth she is delicate and frail so the pastel colors of a gentile woman or creature are used to represent her and create more characterization. There is also imagery that connects Stanley and Stella to animalistic, modern, flesh over love and desire over love ideals.
For example the movements and brutality of Stanley have an animalistic feeling as does his behavior towards Stella in scene three. Stanley could be easily identified with an ape or another similar animal because of his primitive behaviors, his feelings of territory invasion and the way Blanche finds fault with his behaviors and manners.
The varsouviana and the jungle music (which are all parts of blanches characterization) can only be heard in her head and represent imagery of her young husbands affair, the torment it has caused blanche and her descent into insanity.
Music and sound is an important part of brining character linked issues and themes to the surface, for example whenever the varsouviana is heard it is heard only in blanches head and is usually linked to some feeling that blanche is having for the time. The music represents her frailty towards her husband's death and towards the new world that she sees as alien. The jungle music is important in developing the animalistic tendencies of Stanley and when the jungle music is heard it is usually at the time Stanley is being most uncouth. The cries of streetwalkers, the Mexican woman and the street vendors are all part of the cultural fabric in the experience of Elysian Fields, New Orleans.
There is much use of symbols in juxtaposition of the new and old worlds and the representatives of each world, e.g.; Stanley and Blanche. The most prevalent use of symbolism is that of the title, and its reference to the two streetcars; desire and cemeteries Blanche takes to Elysian fields e.g.; Heaven. This is representing Blanches journey to New Orleans and her journey through desire to insanity to death and eventually heaven. This is also made obvious by the character change of Blanche who starts out as someone looking for love and understanding but there is always the fear of death and destruction nearing her. "Death- I used to sit here and she used to sit over there and death was as close as you are"- Blanche.
Elysian fields have a strong symbolic significance in A Streetcar named Desire, This is the place in which the main characters live and is a reference to Greek mythology and it means "Paradise".
Paradise was originally created for two and the intrusion of the new world territory by an old world gentile female has caused sin and despair, Elysian fields is Stanley and Stella's paradise but Blanches Hell.
Shep Huntleigh is the representation of the perfect generous, chivalrous southern gentleman (Blanches perfect man) and also a representation of Blanches impending insanity.
There is also a lot of reference to light, as it is used as a symbol. For example blanche is always in flattering light such as candlelight and she puts lanterns over the naked light bulbs, which could be a comparison to the saying "pulling the wool over someone's eyes". The references to light are representative of Blanches illusionary tactics and how she doesn't break the truth she merely distorts it to be more favorable.
The characters in A Streetcar named Desire are representative of themes and issued related to the change of American society during that time, the issues of homosexuality and the issues of the new modern, fleshy and animalistic world and the old charming, gentile and traditional world of the past and it's one of it's decaying last remnants of a southern gentile woman and her descent into insanity caused by the death of her husband, the harshness of the new world, the forced changes in her character and the way she has been made redundant for the new world. For if the society in Blanche was once accepted decays and she doesn't change with the times she becomes unimportant to those whom have changed.