Symbolism in a Streetcar Named Desire

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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...
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