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“Symbols are nothing but the natural speech of drama? the purest language of plays. ” Once, quoted as having said this, Tennessee Williams has certainly used symbolism and colour extremely effectively in his play, ? A Streetcar Named Desire’. A moving story about fading Southern belle Blanche DuBois and her lapse into insanity, ? A Streetcar Named Desire’ contains much symbolism and clever use of colour. This helps the audience to link certain scenes and events to the themes and issues that Williams presents within the play, such as desire and death, and the conflict between the old America and the new.
Scene Three is one of the pivotal scenes of the play. That Williams thought of it in this way is indicated by his choice of the title ? The Poker Party’ for the third version of the play. The scene begins with extremely explicit stage directions, and one will note that Williams intends the stage to be full of bright, vivid colours – to signify the coarseness and directness of the poker players and their surroundings.
The yellow linoleum, the bright green glass shade, the blue red and green of the men’s shirts – all are colourful and contrasting, and this is indicative that they are impervious to subtlety and ambiguity, two of Blanche’s key characteristics. She is usually seen wearing whites and pinks, and looking very soft and feminine. This will, on stage, contrast oddly with the colour and brightness around her. Williams uses this technique of colour to signify Blanche’s inability to fit in with her surroundings. However, she is also seen in different colours, symbolic of what she is doing at that moment.
She is usually seen in white, indicative of the purity she claims to possess. At other instances, she is dressed in a scarlet silk robe, when she is flirting with Stanley and Mitch. This is suggestive of a ? scarlet woman’, and draws the audience’s attention to Blanche’s fatal flaw. When on stage together, Blanche’s frilly, dainty clothes are in sharp contrast with Stanley’s greasy seersucker pants, or his vivid green bowling shirt. Blanche herself is symbolic of the old, genteel South, while Stanley epitomises the new generation of working-class Americans; this clash is cleverly brought out by their contrasting costumes.
It is also interesting to note that in Scene Eleven, Blanche is dressed in a jacket of della Robbia blue – the blue used by the artist della Robbia when painting the robes of the Madonna, who is the virgin that Blanche always pretended to be. Williams has made good use of simple visual aids, such as colour, to help the audience retain certain things of importance within the play. Tennessee Williams has also made use of symbols – and his consistency in using them is very helpful to the audience to grasp the ideas he is putting across.
The very names of the characters and places are symbolic. The famous streetcar that brings Blanche to her sister’s house is called ? Desire’ – desire being one of the main themes in the play. Interestingly, it is the superintendent of the school in Laurel – Mr. Graves – who is one of the main causes for Blanche having to make this journey, from a streetcar named ? Desire’ to one called ? Cemeteries’ and finally to her sister’s house, situated in Elysian Fields – the Elysian Fields being the dwelling place of virtuous people after death (in Greek mythology).
Blanche DuBois itself means ? white woods’ as she tells Mitch – which implies something virginal and unsullied – both of which she is not. Stella means star: “Stella, oh Stella, Stella! Stella for Star! ” as Blanche cries wildly, yet Stella burns not with the intensity of Blanche. Her passions are different, and she is extremely unlike her namesake. Even the home of the DuBois – Belle Reve – means ? beautiful dream’, symbolic of the past that has gone forever, and Blanche’s inability to rouse herself from her dreamworld of illusions and magic.
This use of irony is extremely effective dramatically, because the audience receives insight into the nature of each character, and other pointers, even before the play begins. It is very difficult to give the audience insight into the characters of each person , merely by the words they speak, so Williams uses animal symbols to help shape the characters in the mind of the audience. Blanche is often pictured as a moth, delicate and frail. The audience may also remember that a light bulb has often caused the destruction of the moth in everyday life.
Blanche must avid a strong light to keep up her pretence of being young, and it his her exposure to the light (both literally, when Mitch pulls off the paper lantern from the bulb, and metaphorically, when Stanley exposes her in her true colours to the world) that is her downfall. Stanley remarks about her drinking, “lapping it up like a wildcat”, and just before the climax in Scene Ten her controls her, saying “Tiger-tiger” just like a tamer in a circus. Stanley himself is described as an ape by Blanche, and Stella rebukes him for eating like a pig.
The simple symbols speak volumes about the kind of person Stanley is, and symbols such as these are extremely valuable to the audience, giving insight and understanding. Williams also uses the less obvious symbolism of music – the perpetual ? blue piano’, which expresses the spirit of New Orleans, the sounds and strains of the Varsouviana polka, whenever Blanche is forced to remember the gruesome death of her husband, and Blanche’s choice of songs for singing in the bathtub. In Scene Two, she sings: “From the land of the sky blue water, They brought a captive maid! “
She herself is the captive maid she so blithely warbles about. In Scne Seven, her singin that it’s a ? Barnum and Bailey world, just as phony as it can be’, is juxtaposed with Stanley’s uncovering of her phony lies, and sensitive members of the audience will recognise this subtler symbolism. Williams also uses other symbols within the play, such as the playing of poker. This is symbolic of Stanley’s and Blanche’s struggle for the upper hand, and in Scene Eleven, while Blanche is about to be taken away to the asylum, Stanley is playing poker, and he is winning all the games.
Blanche’s fear of bright light is symbolic of her fear of being exposed for who she really is, and her incessant bathing is almost like a ritual cleansing of sins that she can never really purge. Her inability to use the telephone to contact Shep Huntleigh and Mitch is also indicative of her inability to communicate with the other people in her world, which is partly the reason for her subsequent insanity. Few playwrights use symbolism as extensively as Tennessee Williams, and even fewer use it as effectively as he. Even in ?
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The Glass Menagerie’ he uses Laura’s collection of glass figurines as symbols, giving insight into her multi-faceted character, and her delicate, fanciful ways. The fate of the unicorn is also a smaller-scale version of her fate at the end of the play. Williams is fully aware of the fact that plays are meant to be staged. His themes and issues are complex, so he uses symbols and colours to highlight events and important issues, thus helping his audience. Looking deeply into his play, we see that not only is ? A Streetcar Names Desire’ full of symbolism, the play itself is symbolic of the clashes between Old and New, the Past and the Present.
Author: Brandon Johnson
Symbolism in a Streetcar Named Desire
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Symbols and Symbolism in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire
794 Words4 Pages
The most obvious symbol used in A Streetcar Named Desire is its title and the actual reference, in the play, to the streetcars named Desire and Cemeteries. They are the means by which Blanche was brought to the home of Stanley and Stella and, as the play unfolds, we realize the names of the streetcars have a greater significance. Blanche's instructions were to “take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries." When Blanche first arrives she is possessed by a desire for love and understanding, but always in the background lurks the fear of death and destruction. If the one cannot be obtained, a transfer to the other will be the inevitable alternative. Blanche indicates this in her speech to Mitch in scene…show more content…
Perhaps one can go further in suggesting that Paradise was originally created for two. The intrusion of a third member caused sin and despair. Elysian Fields will never be the same for Stanley and Stella after Blanche's departure.
During Blanche's slow and inevitable journey toward insanity she is constantly looking for a means of escape.With ‘defiant courage’ in the face of inevitable defeat, Blanche tries to survive with dignity (Adler 13). Realizing that satisfaction is impossible in the Kowalski household, she reaches out desperately to Mitch. When this means of escape becomes unattainable she creates an escape of her own, Shep Huntleigh. He is a symbol of the perfect gentleman for whom Blanche searched but never really found. She found him, however, in her world of fantasy. As Blanche's deterioration increases, Huntleigh becomes a more vital and dominant illusion for her.
In scene nine we hear the vendor's cry of the Mexican Woman, "Flores, flores para los muertos" (flowers, flowers for the dead). It follows the moment when Mitch denounces Blanche as a liar and thereupon refuses to marry her. The vendor's cry becomes symbolic of Blanche's failure to remain among the living. Blanche protests by shouting "No, no! Not now! Not now!" but the cry persists and in the following moment Blanche loses her hold on reality.
Throughout the play there is a continual reference to light. It is used in the form of bright sunlight,