Written in 1947, A Streetcar Named Desire has always been considered one of Tennessee Williams’s most successful plays. One reason for this may be found in the way Williams makes extensive use of symbols as a dramatic technique. This happens in all of his plays, but in this instance Williams integrates symbols very effectively with ideas and thematic content. He once explained that symbolism is a way to “say a thing more directly and simply and beautifully than it could be said in words … sometimes it would take page after tedious page of exposition to put across an idea that can be said with an object or a gesture on the lighted page” . Thus Williams emphasises the theatre dimension of the symbols he uses, as well as symbolic meanings in dramatic language.
In this essay, a selection of the symbolic devices used by Williams will be analysed. Owing to the pervasive use of symbolism in this play, only major symbols can be dealt with, but it should be added that the distinction between major or minor importance is open to interpretation and depends on the symbols' thematic importance. The order of the symbols discussed in this essay is not identical with their order of appearance in the play, but is governed by a systematic approach.
In literature, symbols are widely used by authors as a means of emphasising certain atmospheres and characteristic features of people and places. A symbol is an object or image that stands for itself and also for something else. All language is symbolic considering that letters form words which indicate particular and objective realities. In a literary sense, a symbol combines a literal and sensuous quality with an abstract or suggestive aspect. A symbol can be thought of as an image that evokes an objective, concrete reality and prompts that reality to suggest another level of meaning.
3. The names’ symbolic meaning
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