A Streetcar Named Desire
Williams also reinforces his implied themes with many motifs and symbols, such as music, drunkenness, and bathing. Towards the end of scene three, Blanche turns on the radio and “waltzes to the music with romantic gestures [while Mitch imitates] like a dancing bear” (57). Because Blanche is accustomed to her insanity, which is represented by the Varsouviana Polka, she is able to move along with the music fine while Mitch, who is accustomed to reality (and has primitive traits), is unable to gracefully match Blanche’s movements and grace.
Not only does the Polka music represent Blanche’s descent into insanity, but also tends to appear at moments when she is in a state of panic. Secondly, drunkenness is a major symbol throughout the play. Stanley states that “[one thing that] belongs on a poker table [is] whiskey” while Blanche lies and says “[she isn’t] accustomed to having more than one drink” (54). Stanley and the men seem to drink for social reasons, and they sometimes end up becoming violent or barbaric.
Blanche, however, seems to drink in an almost anti-social manner while keeping it a secret, and the results of her drunkenness usually end up causing her to deceive herself. Although the author never states the illness that Blanche is eventually diagnosed with, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a guide used by modern day psychologists to classify types of mental disorders, would classify her as a paranoid schizophrenic. In addition to music and drunkenness, bathing also is an important symbol that is implanted into the play, which is evident when Stanley becomes violent and his friends bath him with “the water . . on full tilt [and later] comes out of the bathroom [and] breaks into sobs” (59). Because he was violent (and drunk), Stanley’s friends cleanse him of his bad actions with water. He then comes out of the bathroom afterwards and feels regretful, calling out to his love and wanting to be forgiven. Throughout the history of the world and its culture, men and women have had gender-based roles in society which usually portrays men as being primitive and lacking emotion while portraying women as being more delicate and fragile.
Such depictions can be seen in a work of Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire, which is based on a woman’s false beliefs that slowly lead her into a descent of insanity. Throughout scene three, many subtle cues embedded into Tennessee’s work, which include lighting, stage directions, colors and more are used to help portray the traits of certain characters and especially Blanche Du Bois’ inability to overcome reality. In conclusion, Tennessee Williams uses many motifs and symbols in his works of literature, with A Streetcar Named Desire being a very prime example.
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Primitiveness and fantasy’s inability to overcome reality are represented in many things including lighting, music, colors, drinking, and even bathing. Tennessee Williams uses setting, lighting, and costumes to reinforce theme by describing the setting and events in the rawest and most articulate manner, which gives readers a detailed and symbolic image of the content in scene three including the primitiveness of men and fantasy’s inability to overcome reality.
When the author first describes the setting, he states that the men are “at the peak of their physical manhood, as coarse and direct and powerful as the primary colors” (45). Because the men are very up-front and “coarse,” Tennessee reinforces the theme of the primitive and the primal by describing the physique and status of the men at the poker table. He also compares them to the primary colors, which helps back up the description of their rawness and vigor.
Secondly, Tennessee Williams uses lighting to help give the readers more insight on the novel. For example, when Mitch and Blanche are together in the room, she tells him to “put [the new lamp shade she just bought] over [a] light bulb” (55). Although Blanche lets many people see her in daylight, she only allows Mitch to see her in dimly-lit areas and even lies to him about many things including her age because she likes him and doesn’t want him to discover her slowly fading beauty.
The theme being inferred here, fantasy’s inability to overcome reality, is also represented by Blanche’s past haunting her due to the death of her husband, the loss of her Old Southern family estate, and her dismissal from work due to an improper affair with a student. Lastly, the themes of both the primitive/primal and Blanches inability to overcome reality are represented in the author’s choice of costume assignment, which is evident when Blanche is dressing and “stands in her pink silk brassiere and white skirt in the light through the portieres” (51).
Unlike the men in the novel, who are portrayed in colors that are raw and primary, the absence of primitiveness is shown in the many descriptions of Blanche’s pastel-colored clothing. The silhouette that also appears as Blanche stands in the light of the portieres also helps create the foundation of Blanche’s fantasy world (the darkness of the silhouette) that is enclosed and trapped by reality (the light around her).