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Symbolism in A Streetcar Named Desire

Tennessee Williams’ characters in his play, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” are divided into symbolic opposites that serve to illustrate the conflicting aspects of desire. Blanche is the civilized or feminine desire for love, Stanley is the primitive or masculine desire for sex, and Stella and Mitch are conflicted in their desires. A research paper on the symbolism in A Streetcar Named Desire will explore the ways that civilized and feminine vs. primitive and masculine aspects of desire are portrayed.

Symbolism in a Streetcar Named Desire

Civilized desire is equated with the feminine in Williams’ work, and is represented by the attachment of the symbolic color white to the play’s tragic heroine, Blanche DuBois. In the Western tradition, white traditionally signals purity, or even innocence. Blanche’s French ancestry is also symbolic of civilization; France is thought to be a cultured, civilized country, and her French first name translates as “White”. She wears all white clothing throughout the play, her manners are those of a genteel, vanished Old South, her speech is cultivated and bedecked with literary references; her clothing is elegant and old-fashioned enough to include a hat, and her feminine psychic and physical fragility is symbolically reinforced through her “moth-like” nervous movements, chattering conversations, and association with the delicate paper lantern that she uses to keep away the harsh light of reality. Her ancestral home, Beautiful Dream, (Belle Rive) has white columns on its facade, and just in case the point is missed, Blanche tells Stanley that her astrological sign is Virgo, the Virgin. On and off throughout the play Blanche bathes for long periods of time in a symbolic effort to remain “clean,” or pure. When she is revealed to be sexually active instead of virginal, her white dress gets spotted by a spilled drink, symbolizing her impurity.

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