Summary: An analysis of some of the many symbols found in “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams, with the help of psychoanalytical theory. Williams’ expert use of these symbols helped him to convey the meaning of many characteristics of the protagonists in the play. It is very debatable nowadays how much psychology can influence an author or how much the author’s psychological features can influence his work.
The creation of a character demands different kinds of information and the most important part of this process happens when the psychological aspects of the character are put together to meet his life history up to that moment when the story is happening. When A Streetcar Named Desire is read by someone who knows something about Williams’ life, it becomes quite an easy task to find similarities between his life and the characters in the play. Some of these similarities are: Tennessee Williams had a sister who collapsed psychologically and had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and this fact made him feel guilty about having abandoned her. Stella, in the play, also feels guilty about abandoning her sister, Blanche, when a doctor is called at the end of the play, and he takes her to a psychiatric hospital. •Williams’ grandparents came from a declining aristocratic background. Again, in the play, it is associated with Stella and Blanche’s declining aristocratic family too. •Blanche is always on the verge of collapsing psychologically, and so is Williams in real life. Williams had to leave his parents’ house and move to another city in order to “get out of the closet” and try to live a happier life. Blanche also had to move to another city, and she also did it looking for a better life after her eviction from Belle Reve and her ostracism from Laurel due to her immoral past. Symbols in A Streetcar Named Desire But, what are symbols? What does symbolism represent in psychoanalysis? Symbols are all around us. We use symbols to represent numbers in maths and there are symbols to depict feelings – a heart shape is the symbol of love – for instance.
Symbolism is probably the most important means of communication used by the unconscious, since it has to hide some sinful thoughts, such as the killing of a parent. It was the use of symbols that Williams did so well in his A Streetcar Named Desire to help him convey the meaning of a great many characteristics of the protagonists in the play. Symbols in this novel Light Blanche hates light. The only type of light she can bear is candlelight. This feeling of hatred started soon after her husband killed himself. Before that, being in love with him meant to have the world revealed in bright, vivid light.
After his death everything became dark and gloomy for her. Her love to that man had been like a blinding light to her. She also avoids direct light because she is afraid to show people that she is “no spring chicken anymore. ” She refuses to reveal her age, and she does not want other people to see her ageing face. Right at the beginning of the play (pages 132 and 133), Blanche does not allow her sister to take a close look at her and she orders Stella to turn off the over-light. She even covers the light bulb with a Chinese lantern, so as to make the light dimmer.
When Mitch manages to turn on the light and looks at Blanche attentively for the first time, Blanche feels as if she were naked and she begins to tell him all about her past in Belle Reve and in Laurel. Zodiac signs Stanley was born under Capricorn the Goat. It is a very strong star sign, and here it refers to the fact that Stanley is not more than an animal for Blanche. Blanche was born under Virgo, the virgin. Deep in Blanche’s heart and thoughts she is a virgin. Her fibs help her hide her cruel and immoral past from herself, but she means no harm when she lies. Water
Blanche uses water to bathe herself in a hot tub every time things get difficult for her. She tells Stella that she needs to quiet her nerves because she has been under a lot of stress lately. According to psychoanalysis, a hot bath in a bathtub represents the return to one’s mother’s womb. The warm water reminds us of the warmth we felt in our mother’s womb and this feeling gives everyone a sense of protection, tenderness and comfort. Also according to the psychoanalytical theory, people who are always bathing themselves are trying to clean something which is difficult to be cleaned. Something psychological rather than physical. Colours
Blanche means white in French. White is the symbol of purity. She wears white at the beginning of the play when she arrives at her sister’s house. She thinks that by wearing this colour she will be able to hide her impure behaviour. Blanche also prefers muted and muffled tones because she doesn’t want to call too much attention on herself. Blue is the colour Blanche chooses to wear on her last day at Stanley and Stella’s house. She mentions that she wants to die on the sea, and be buried at sea sewn up in a clean white sack. (… ) into an ocean as blue as my first lover’s eyes Stanley wears vivid colours to prove his physical manhood.
His green and scarlet bowling shirt and his red honeymoon pyjamas are examples of it. Raw meat In the first scene of the play Stanley calls Stella to the front door of their apartment and throws at her a package of raw meat for her to catch and keep in the icebox. Stanley and Stella share a very sexual relationship and Stanley is depicted as being a primitive man. This scene tells us what kind of relationship Stanley and Stella have: they are both sexually driven and when he brings raw meat home, he is only doing his share of the deal to support the family. Streetcars
When Blanche arrives at Stella’s place, she had been through her rite of purification. She took the streetcar named Desire and then another one called Cemeteries and stopped at Elysian Fields. All this means that her desire for sex and luxury killed her and she is now in paradise – but dead! A corner, a river and a railway The building where Stella lives stands on a corner. Corners represent doubts and questionings. Oedipus met his destiny on a corner and the same will happen with Blanche. For the Greek, rivers were sacred. They were the Ocean’s sons and the Nymphs’ fathers.
The train represents prosperity, social life and destiny taking us all around. At the end of the XIX century, trains were becoming faster and more popular, serving a lot of people. So, we assume that Williams located their apartment on a corner between a river and a railway to emphasise that the building was in the centre of the world, and that it was a turning point in Blanche’s life: her passage from this world to another. Bowling Stanley’s favourite sport is bowling. This sport symbolically suggests the masculine phallic element of Stanley. Music Music plays the role of another character in the play.
It is the musical reference that shows the audience what kind of feeling was permeating the characters at different parts of the story. The blues represents depression, anxiety, sadness or frightening situations. On page 207 scene nine finishes with the sound of a distant piano playing the blues. This is the end of the scene in which Blanche reveals her whole truth to Mitch and he leaves her telling her he does not want to marry her anymore. On page 215 we hear the blue piano again as the rape scene moves on. The Polka tune is always on Blanche’s mind, especially when she feels remorse for her husband’s suicide.
It is also played every time she remembers him or when someone asks her about him, like in scene one. In this part of the scene it is the first time Blanche talks about her husband in the play, and this memory makes her sick to her stomach. “It’s only a Paper Moon” is the song Blanche sings while she bathes. The song lyrics describes the way love turns the world into a “phoney” fantasy. The persona in the song says that if both lovers believe in their imagined reality, then it is no longer a “make-believe” love. This shows Blanche’s approach to life and her lies.
She believes that her fibbing does not cause any harm and that it helps smoothen her harsh life. Cigarettes Blanche is constantly smoking cigarettes during the play. They represent another of her weaknesses and give her something to hold on to. According to psychoanalysis a woman smoking cigarettes means that she is looking for a substitute for the phallus she does not have. Names Blanche and Stella Dubois are foreign names. This means that their family was French, and possibly Italian (Stella) descendant. This is another way to tells the audience that they did not belong to the Kowalski’s world.
Stella understood more easily that her family was decadent and left home to fight for her own life. Whereas Blanche could not handle this situation so well and waited until she was not able to hold on to her house anymore. Conclusion : This is definitely a very interesting and complex story which deserves to be more deeply studied. Every time we read it again we are able to find new symbols and understand why they were used by this brilliant author. It is quite clear for me that Williams was indeed involved with psychoanalysis, and its use in literature too.