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Symbolism in A Streetcar Named Desire

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During the late nineteen-forties, it was common for playwrights such as Tennessee Williams to use symbolism as an approach to convey personal thoughts, through the attitudes of the characters and the setting. Williams' actors have used symbolism to disguise the actuality of their thoughts and to accommodate the needs of their conservative audience. A Streetcar Named 'Desire' has a few complicated character traits and themes. Therefore, they have to be symbolised using figures or images to express abstract and mystical ideas, so that the viewers can remain clueless. Williams not only depicts a clear personality of the actors but he also includes real-life public opinions from the past (some of which are contemporary.) These opinions were likely to raise controversies on issues such as prejudice, social gender expectations and men and women's roles in society. There have been numerous occasions when symbolism has taken place in A Streetcar Named 'Desire.' Firstly, Stanley is insulted several times by Blanche (his sister-in-law) Stella (his beloved wife) and other residents of the 'Quarter'. For example, the term 'animal' has been constantly spoken of, to define Stanley's malicious and ill-natured conduct. In scene four, Blanche tries to persuade her younger sister to go elsewhere and leave her husband. On page 163, she complains: Blanche: He acts like an animal, has an animal's habits! Eats like one, talks like one! There's even something - sub-human - something not quite to the stage of humanity yet! Yes, something - ape-like about him... ...there he is - Stanley Kowalski - ...Bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle! Furthermore, when the play begins, Stanley enters the ground-floor apartment carrying 'a red stained package from a butcher's.' Stanley: Catch! Stella: What? Stanley: Meat! From these two brief extracts, the keynote is that the red meat is a symbol used to show Stanley's 'bestial' attitude, which is also in another of Blanche's dialogues: Blanche: There's something downright - bestial - about him! ...read more.


The 'hot trumpets' and the 'blue piano' are constantly heard during short periods of tension and when Blanche experiences insanity! Williams has introduced the 'blue piano' in scene one. The first page of the script tells us that it 'expresses the spirit of life which goes on here' - referring to a part of New Orleans (Elysian Fields.) On certain occasions, the polka tune was also played. For instance, at the end of scene one, Stanley raises doubts about whether or not Blanche is married. This reminds Blanche of her horrific past and how her young husband had died. It creates tension and if, as an audience, we were to view the stage drama, it would build a large amount of suspense. The reason for this is that straight after the polka music plays, Blanche claims that she is 'going to be sick!' From this, we know that Blanche is in a bad state and wants to forget. Returning to the sound of the 'polka tune', I would like to add that music in general life, can have quite an effect on its listeners. Polka music was played for a lively nineteenth-century dance. Here, it has been used to keep the viewers focused and to grab their attention on the story line. In the following fragment, Blanche and Stanley are deep in conversation. They have been discussing the loss of Belle Reve, loans, mortgages and Stanley wants all the papers that will confirm the matter. Stanley: ... - a man has to take interest in his wife's affairs - especially now that she's going to have a baby. Narrator: Blanche opens her eyes. The 'blue piano' sounds louder. Blanche: Stella? Stella going to have a baby? [Dreamily.] I didn't know she was going to have a baby! As well as Blanche, herself, we did not know that Stella was expecting! The music would make us listen carefully to what was being said and create an atmosphere of agitation. ...read more.


It has a straightforward meaning to the public. If glass cracks, it shows a sign of bad luck or a warning of some kind. The bad luck in this case, is that Blanche will soon be raped. The fact that 'Stanley appears around the corner of the building,' tells us Blanche's bad luck will involve Stanley. Williams is hinting the story line, once again. The last symbol I would like to analyse is the 'small white radio.' It has only appeared a couple of times during the early scenes of Streetcar. Stanley and his friends are having a game of poker while Stella and Blanche are relaxing. Narrator: She turns the knobs on the radio... ...Stanley stalks fiercely through the portieres. He crosses to the small white radio... ...With a shouted oath, he tosses the instrument out of the window. The 'white radio' could have been used to symbolise Blanche's purity or innocence. In fact, we discover later that she is not as innocent or pure as she seems to be. Just in the third scene of the play, Williams may be hinting that Blanche is gradually being ruined. Perhaps her 'white radio' being tossed 'out of the window' tells us that Stanley is already against Blanche and does not like the sound of her being around. I shall conclude this essay with a brief understanding of symbolism. It is a very useful concept and often needed to give the audience a few suggestions. Symbolism makes people think and broadens their mind with varieties and ideas. In A Streetcar Named 'Desire', symbolism has been significantly used to show the roles of men and women in society and how they expect each other to be treated. It has disguised many possible sexual scenes; therefore, Williams has succeeded in transmitting some of his themes or ideas. Some of these are sexuality, madness, jealousy, racism, cruelty, loyalty, gender relationships and conflict. How does Tennessee Williams use Symbolism to pass on some of his themes or ideas, in "A Streetcar Named 'Desire'"? AS Level English Literature, Mr. Ducker Parveen Nawab, 10W ...read more.

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