A Streetcar Named Desire
In A Streetcar Named Desire Blanche is driven by her desire for sexual passion. This desire consequently leads to Blanche losing her mind and the inability to live in the ugly reality of her life. In this play, Tennessee Williams implies that a life driven by desire is self destructive and Blanches early demise is the outcome of this desire. In A Streetcar Named Desire beauty is represented by desire and fantasy, while ugliness is represented by death and reality. These are symbolised many times in the play by the use of dramatic conventions such as lighting, sound, stage directions and dialogue and by the use of motifs and themes. The consequences of Blanches beautiful life of desire have caught up with her and have resulted in her losing her mind. Blanches ability to live in her fantasy world of desire has come to an end and she must accept the ugly reality of her life. Williams uses symbols to focus attention on these themes.
The streetcar image in the play symbolises the inexorability of fate. Blanches life, driven by passion and lust will lead to her death. They told me to take a streetcar named desire, and transfer to one called cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at- Elysian Fields!, Blanche; scene 1 pg. 117. This quote is foreshadowing her fate. Her fate is foreordained and Williams stresses this in the image of a streetcar bound for its destination on tracks, unable to take another path. Blanches beautiful life of desire and fantasy will lead to the ugly reality of death. The end of her journey is Elysian Fields. In classical mythology Elysian Fields are the equivalent of paradise or heaven. There is obvious irony in this choice of name for a rundown street, but Elysian Fields were also the dwelling-place of the dead. Blanches ultimate fate will be the living death of the asylum. When Blanche gets off the streetcar she walks into a mysterious world that both mesmerizes and destroys her fragile inner life.
Beauty is represented by Blanches reference to desire in the play and the fantasy she lives in. The opposite of death is desire, Blanche; scene 9 pg. 206. Blanche is referring to love and security as well as sexual desire. Blanche, like Tennessee Williams seemed incapable of committing herself to a permanent relationship; although this was her desire; to have a relationship full of love and passion. Blanche, unable to gain this from reality lives in a fantasy world in her mind, dreaming of a beautiful life full of passion and love. The force of desire drives Stella too, who has abandoned herself- and her integrity- for her passion for Stanley. Blanches difficulty with relationships can be traced to the narrow roles open to women during this time. Although she is an educated woman who has worked as a teacher, Blanche is nonetheless constrained by the expectations of the southern society. She knows she needs a man to lean on and protect her, and she continues to depend on them throughout the play. Blanche has clearly had sexual encounters in the past, but understands that these do not fit the pattern of respectable behaviour to which a Southern woman would be expected to conform. Blanche believes that magic, rather than reality, represents life as it ought to be. Desire and fantasy are highlighted in the play by the use of dramatic conventions.
The use of dramatic conventions enhance and develop the themes in the play. Lighting and sound are used throughout to highlight the themes of desire and fantasy. Blanche avoids appearing in direct, bright light and refuses to reveal her age. It is clear she avoids light in order to protect her fantasy world where her beauty is not fading. It was like you suddenly turned a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow, thats how it struck the world for me, Blanche; scene 6 pg 182. Blanche is saying that being in love with her husband was like having the world revealed in bright, vivid light. Since the death of her husband, the bright light has been missing. Through all of Blanches sexual affairs, she has only experienced dim light. Therefore, bright light represents Blanches youthful passion and love, while dim light represents her sexual promiscuity. The Varsouviana Polka tune is used to depict Blanches emotional state, as Blanche is the only one who can hear this sound. This is the tune Blanche and her husband were dancing to just before his suicide. The polka music plays at various points in the play, when Blanche is feeling remorse for her husbands death. The polka plays increasingly often as the play develops. The polka and the moment it describes represent Blanches loss of purity and her mental decline. Blanche hears the Varsouviana whenever she panics and loses her grip on reality. Its Only a Paper Moon, Blanche; scene 7 pg 186, she sings this popular ballad when she bathes. This songs lyrics describe the way love turns the world into a false fantasy. The artist says that if both lovers believe in their imagined reality, then its no longer make believe. These lyrics sum up Blanches approach to life. She believes that her lying is her only means of enjoying a better way of life and is therefore harmless. The lighting and sound in A Streetcar Named Desire brings forward the fantasy and desire in Blanches life and enhances our awareness of it.
Ugliness in the play refers to death and the reality of Blanches life. Our lives are consumed by the past. Our past is what we once were able to do, what we have accomplished and what we used to call our own. When we look back on our past memories we rarely realize and take notice of the impact these have on our present lives. The loss of a past love can harm our future relationships and the loss of family influences the choices we make today. These losses or deaths require healing in order for you to recover. The effects of not grieving and healing can severely damage your life, as apparent in Blanches life. Blanches choices on leaving Belle Reve lead to her subsequent downfall. Blanche had engaged in many sexual affairs, following her desire for protection and longing for passion. Blanches journey ends in Elysian Fields, the dwelling-place of the dead. From desire, Blanche journeyed to her ultimate fate, that of the living death of the asylum. Blanche attempts to remake her own existence and rejuvenate her life by telling lies because she refuses to accept the hand fate has dealt her. Funerals are pretty compared to death. Funerals are quiet, but deaths not always, Blanche scene 1 pg 127. Blanche wants to escape her past and the death that follows her around. All her life she has been struck by the horrid reality of death; her husband, her family and Belle Reve. Blanche lies to herself and others to allow her fantasy life to appear as she believes it should be rather than it being realistic. Blanche retreats into her own private fantasy to shield herself from the harsh reality of life. Blanche leaves the objective world behind in order to avoid accepting reality and this helps Blanches insanity emerge. Reality does triumph over fantasy and this inevitably causes Blanche to lose all grips on reality and depart this life. Although she still exists, she has lost her freedom, sanity and will to live on independently.
The ugly reality of death is an important theme in A Streetcar Named Desire and Williams uses many diverse dramatic conventions to demonstrate this. A symbol used to emphasis the ugliness of death and Blanches need to rid her life of this brutality is her long baths. Her endless baths are an obvious symbol of her unspoken desire to be cleansed of her guilt and her promiscuous past. Took water and washed his hands, Matthew 26:24. This symbol is a biblical reference to Pontius Pilates need to cleanse himself after condemning Jesus. Blanche is possessed by a desire for love and understanding, but in the background always lurks the fear of death and destruction. Death and reality are made very real by the dramatic conventions Williams uses. Throughout the play there is a continual reference to light. Light is used many ways in the form of shadows and bright searchlights, but most importantly it is used as a foil for Blanche. Blanche is prepared to protect herself from the harsh light of reality with the use of a paper lantern. The paper lantern becomes a symbol for Blanches longing for what she calls magic, the dressing up of reality. I can't stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action, Blanche; scene 3 pg 150. Blanche covers every bare light bulb because of the fear that her life of fantasy and illusion will be discovered. Mitch uncovers the real Blanche when he tears off the lantern in scene nine and destroys Blanches beautiful fantasy and replaces it with ugly reality. Also in scene nine we hear the vendors cries from the Mexican woman, Flores, flores para los muertos. This translates to flowers, flowers for the dead. It follows the moment Mitch tells Blanche she is a liar and refuses to marry such an unclean woman. The vendors cry becomes a symbol of Blanches failure to remain among the living and subsequently her death. The use of jungle cries and noises in scene ten and eleven symbolise the cruelty of mankind. The grotesque menacing shapes on the walls of the apartment symbolise the danger Blanche is in, her terror and the ugly reality of what is about to occur.
Williams uses dramatic conventions to highlight the themes of beauty and ugliness in A Streetcar Named desire. Beauty is represented by Blanches immense lack of reality and her desire for passion, love and security. Blanche lives in her own world of fantasy where she does not have to acknowledge the harsh reality of life. Although sound and lighting are used to illustrate both of these themes; they are used differently for each. The Varsouviana Polka conveys the depth of Blanches fantasy as she is the only one who can hear this sound. Blanche always appears in dim light to hide her fading beauty. However, reality triumphs over fantasy by the conclusion of the play. Blanches fantasy world is crushed by the harsh light Mitch uncovers during scene nine. Another important symbol Williams uses is the streetcar image as a way of foreshadowing Blanches fate. Following her life of desire, Blanche is destined for the living death of the asylum. Williams uses a range of dramatic effects to emphasize beauty and ugliness in the play and to great effect demonstrates how one persons life can be shattered by their past and a few mistakes.