The Importance of Light in A Streetcar Named Desire

The Importance of Light in A Streetcar Named Desire

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This paper will discuss the use of light in the play, "A Streetcar Named Desire", by Tennessee Williams.

Blanche’s relation to light is quite obvious because she tries to
avoid bright light of any kind. Her reaction to light can be
regarded as an attempt to hide her true nature as well as her
vanishing beauty and youth. By hiding from the light, she tries to
escape reality. She covers the naked light bulb with a Chinese paper
lantern, saying, “I can’t stand a naked light bulb, any more than I
can a rude remark or a vulgar action” (Sc.3 p. 2093). This remark
shows that Blanche would rather hide behind polite phrases than accept
truth and reality. The paper lantern is not very stable, though, and
it can easily be destroyed, just like her illusions. In scene six,
she takes Mitch home with her and says, “Let’s leave the lights off”
(Sc.6 p. 2309). Blanche thinks of Mitch as a future husband, and
therefore she does not want him to know her past or her true age, and
the best way to hide her age is to stay out of bright light where he
could possibly see her wrinkles and fading youth in her face. Later
in that scene, Blanche tells Mitch about her husband Allan: “When I
was sixteen, I made the discovery – love. All at once and much, much
too completely. It was like you suddenly turned a blinding light on
something that had always been half in shadow, that’s how it struck
the world for me” (Sc. 6 p. 2113).

In her past, light used to represent love, but now it represents
something destructive for her. Allan’s suicide erases the light or
love, and thus she now does not believe in it any longer and tries to
escape from the light and therefore escape reality.

When Mitch tears off the paper lantern in order to take a closer look
at her in the bright light, “she utters a frightened gasp” (Sc. 9 p.
2125). Then she tells him, “I don’t want realism. I want magic!
Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things
to them. I don’t tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth.

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And if
that is sinful, then let me be damned for it! - Don’t turn the light
on!” (Sc.9 p. 2125)

This is Blanche’s first statement concerning her true intention and
nature, and it is probably the only time where she ever confesses that
she builds up an illusory image of herself.

This essay points out a few of the many symbols used in A Streetcar
Named Desire. Williams introduces most of the symbols in the first
scene, to create a certain atmosphere and to give the reader a deeper
insight into the character from the beginning.
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