Symbolism in a Streetcar Named Desire

Topics: Incandescent light bulb, Blanche DuBois, Color Pages: 12 (4679 words) Published: May 2, 2012
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.  2.     Symbolism

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

3.1 Blanche DuBois
Blanche DuBois is the main character of the play and also the most thoroughly described one. The name Blanche is French and means white or fair. Her last name DuBois is of French origin as well and  translates as made of wood. Her first name a clear connection to her character becomes quite obvious. Since the colour white stands for purity, innocence and virtue, Blanche‘s name reveals these qualities, which stand in contrast to her actual character traits. The name suggests that Blanche is a very innocent and pure person, but throughout the play it becomes obvious that Blanche cannot call any of these traits her own. Only the illusory image which she tries to create for herself suggests these traits, but her true nature is not like that at all. She constantly tries to hide her embarrassing past from all of her new acquaintances, because she fears that they might not accept her anymore. In order to maintain her apparent social status among her new neighbours and friends, she builds this intertwined net of lies which creates a false image of herself. She herself believes in this imaginary world, and as soon as there is the slightest sign of its destruction, she seems to be lost, and her nervous condition worsens. Therefore all she cares about is to keep that image alive. Her first name is therefore quite ironic since it means the exact opposite of Blanche’s true nature and character. Her last name, however, stands in contrast to her first name. Made of wood suggests something solid and hard, which is the exact opposite of her fragile nature and nervous condition Wood can also be associated with forest or jungle, and regarding her past, the connection becomes clear. Blanche used to indulge in a rather excessive lifestyle. She had sex with random strangers and was known throughout her hometown Laurel for that. So her former life was more like a jungle or a forest, because it was hard to see through all this and detect the real Blanche. As in a jungle, Blanche...
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