Symbolism in A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

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Symbolism in A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams “Symbols are nothing but the natural speech of drama…the purest language of plays.” Once, quoted as having said this, Tennessee Williams has certainly used symbolism and colour extremely effectively in his play, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. A moving story about fading Southern belle Blanche DuBois and her lapse into insanity, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ contains much symbolism and clever use of colour. This helps the audience to link certain scenes and events to the themes and issues that Williams presents within the play, such as desire and death, and the conflict between the old America and the new. Scene Three is one of the pivotal scenes of the play. That Williams thought of it in this way is indicated by his choice of the title ‘The Poker Party’ for the third version of the play. The scene begins with extremely explicit stage directions, and one will note that Williams intends the stage to be full of bright, vivid colours - to signify the coarseness and directness of the poker players and their surroundings. The yellow linoleum, the bright green glass shade, the blue red and green of the men’s shirts - all are colourful and contrasting, and this is indicative that they are impervious to subtlety and ambiguity, two of Blanche’s key characteristics. She is usually seen wearing whites and pinks, and looking very soft and feminine. This will, on stage, contrast oddly with the colour and brightness around her. Williams uses this technique of colour to signify Blanche’s inability to fit in with her surroundings. However, she is also seen in different colours, symbolic of what she is doing at that moment. She is usually seen in white, indicative of the purity she claims to possess. At other instances, she is dressed in a scarlet silk robe, when she is flirting with Stanley and Mitch. This is suggestive of a ‘scarlet woman’, and draws the audience’s attention to Blanche’s fatal flaw. When on stage together, Blanche’s frilly, dainty clothes are in sharp contrast with Stanley’s greasy seersucker pants, or his vivid green bowling shirt. Blanche herself is symbolic of the old, genteel South, while Stanley epitomises the new generation of working-class Americans; this clash is cleverly brought out by their contrasting costumes. It is also interesting to note that in Scene Eleven, Blanche is dressed in ... ... middle of paper ... ... all the games. Blanche’s fear of bright light is symbolic of her fear of being exposed for who she really is, and her incessant bathing is almost like a ritual cleansing of sins that she can never really purge. Her inability to use the telephone to contact Shep Huntleigh and Mitch is also indicative of her inability to communicate with the other people in her world, which is partly the reason for her subsequent insanity. Few playwrights use symbolism as extensively as Tennessee Williams, and even fewer use it as effectively as he. Even in ‘The Glass Menagerie’ he uses Laura’s collection of glass figurines as symbols, giving insight into her multi-faceted character, and her delicate, fanciful ways. The fate of the unicorn is also a smaller-scale version of her fate at the end of the play. Williams is fully aware of the fact that plays are meant to be staged. His themes and issues are complex, so he uses symbols and colours to highlight events and important issues, thus helping his audience. Looking deeply into his play, we see that not only is ‘A Streetcar Names Desire’ full of symbolism, the play itself is symbolic of the clashes between Old and New, the Past and the Present.
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