Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Fantasy’s Inability to Overcome Reality
Although Williams’s protagonist in A Streetcar Named Desire is the romantic Blanche DuBois, the play is a work of social realism. Blanche explains to Mitch that she fibs because she refuses to accept the hand fate has dealt her. Lying to herself and to others allows her to make life appear as it should be rather than as it is. Stanley, a practical man firmly grounded in the physical world, disdains Blanche’s fabrications and does everything he can to unravel them. The antagonistic relationship between Blanche and Stanley is a struggle between appearances and reality. It propels the play’s plot and creates an overarching tension. Ultimately, Blanche’s attempts to remake her own and Stella’s existences—to rejuvenate her life and to save Stella from a life with Stanley—fail.
One of the main ways Williams dramatizes fantasy’s inability to overcome reality is through an exploration of the boundary between exterior and interior. The set of the play consists of the two-room Kowalski apartment and the surrounding street. Williams’s use of a flexible set that allows the street to be seen at the same time as the interior of the home expresses the notion that the home is not a domestic sanctuary. The Kowalskis’ apartment cannot be a self-defined world that is impermeable to greater reality. The characters leave and enter the apartment throughout the play, often bringing with them the problems they encounter in the larger environment. For example, Blanche refuses to leave her prejudices against the working class behind her at the door. The most notable instance of this effect occurs just before Stanley rapes Blanche, when the back wall of the apartment becomes transparent to show the struggles occurring on the street, foreshadowing the violation that is about to take place in the Kowalskis’ home.
Though reality triumphs over fantasy in A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams suggests that fantasy is an important and useful tool. At the end of the play, Blanche’s retreat into her own private fantasies enables her to partially shield herself from reality’s harsh blows. Blanche’s insanity emerges as she retreats fully into herself, leaving the objective world behind in order to avoid accepting reality. In order to escape fully, however, Blanche must come to perceive the exterior world as that which she imagines in her head. Thus, objective reality is not an antidote to Blanche’s fantasy world; rather, Blanche adapts the exterior world to fit her delusions. In both the physical and the psychological realms, the boundary between fantasy and reality is permeable. Blanche’s final, deluded happiness suggests that, to some extent, fantasy is a vital force at play in every individual’s experience, despite reality’s inevitable triumph.
The Relationship between Sex and Death
Blanche’s fear of death manifests itself in her fears of aging and of lost beauty. She refuses to tell anyone her true age or to appear in harsh light that will reveal her faded looks. She seems to believe that by continually asserting her sexuality, especially toward men younger than herself, she will be able to avoid death and return to the world of teenage bliss she experienced before her husband’s suicide.
However, beginning in Scene One, Williams suggests that Blanche’s sexual history is in fact a cause of her downfall. When she first arrives at the Kowalskis’, Blanche says she rode a streetcar named Desire, then transferred to a streetcar named Cemeteries, which brought her to a street named Elysian Fields. This journey, the precursor to the play, allegorically represents the trajectory of Blanche’s life. The Elysian Fields are the land of the dead in Greek mythology. Blanche’s lifelong pursuit of her sexual desires has led to her eviction from Belle Reve, her ostracism from Laurel, and, at the end of the play, her expulsion from society at large.
Sex leads to death for others Blanche knows as well. Throughout the play, Blanche is haunted by the deaths of her ancestors, which she attributes to their “epic fornications.” Her husband’s suicide results from her disapproval of his homosexuality. The message is that indulging one’s desire in the form of unrestrained promiscuity leads to forced departures and unwanted ends. In Scene Nine, when the Mexican woman appears selling “flowers for the dead,” Blanche reacts with horror because the woman announces Blanche’s fate. Her fall into madness can be read as the ending brought about by her dual flaws—her inability to act appropriately on her desire and her desperate fear of human mortality. Sex and death are intricately and fatally linked in Blanche’s experience.
More main ideas from A Streetcar Named Desire
English 10 C
Date: 1/ 2/ 2013
A Streetcar Named Desire
Through the use of a light motif, Williams demonstrates how Blanche’s aversion to light conveys the theme of illusion and reality. Light is a symbol of reality and as Blanche runs away from it, she stays in the darkness to hide not only her true self and but from reality. Blanche describes her first love as “a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow” [pg. 114] and therefore, light is used to represent love, but her first husband’s suicide, has erased love and light from her life. So metaphorically, she is hiding from reality but on a physical level, Blanche avoids light to prevent others from seeing the reality of her beauty that is now being “put out” like light. From the start, Blanche is portrayed as a “moth” [pg. 5] , a creature of darkness, often mistaken for a butterfly, a creature of light, thus building up on the theme of illusion. As a moth cocoons itself to avoid bright light, the colored paper lantern Blanche bought represents her creating a beautiful dream to gloss over the ugly reality (light bulb) that she cannot confront. She is able to manipulate facts and reality, hide the truth and be in control of whom she is. However, it is not very stable, and can easily be destroyed, just as easily as Blanche’s illusions. Stanley, the antithesis of Blanche, “[smashes] light bulbs” [pg. 72] for pleasure. He loves light and is not afraid of confrontation. This signifies Stanley’s ability to destroy Blanche, her past and future altogether, catalyzing Blanche’s descent to madness. Blanche is attracted to light but her intolerance to light means that her grasp on reality is nearing its end, and craving for dim light and darkness could represent the deterioration of her emotional state, and also suggests her loss of control of reality just as moths are attracted to light, which is their cause of death. Stanley “crosses to dressing table and seizes the paper...