Themes, Motifs and Contrasts in “A Streetcar Named Desire”: Light

A Streetcar Named Desire
Tennessee Williams
Characters in Streetcar contrasted
with Sweet bird.
What corrupts/ unites / divides characters?
 What flaws, strengths, endearing
characteristics, neuroses, influences
[external/internal] are significant to the
Characters in Streetcar contrasted
with Sweet bird.
Exile / outcast?
 Society: [backdrops, ghosts, gender
roles/expectations, morality, corruption.]
American Dream
American Dream: get-rich-quick, succeed,
Nothing Succeeds like success, owed
something from society?
Setting and society
What events shape the character’s
psyche, personality, motivation?
Reality and illusion
How do we create three dimensional
characters from stereotypes and stock
Plots centred on a moralist conflict in
which the main characters were
archetypes of good versus evil
In melodrama emotions, actions and
scenarios are simplified and exaggerated,
contrived and 'wild and woolly' as well as
implausible. The characters lack depth
and are often stock characters, such as
the 'damsel in distress' rescued from the
clutches of an unspeakably evil tyrant by a
dashing young man.
Melodrama or Tragedy?
melodrama, in Western theatre, sentimental drama with
an improbable plot that concerns the vicissitudes
suffered by the virtuous at the hands of the villainous but
ends happily with virtue triumphant. Featuring stock
characters such as the noble hero, the long-suffering
heroine, and the cold-blooded villain, the melodrama
focuses not on character development but on
sensational incidents and spectacular staging. In music,
melodrama signifies lines spoken to a musical
The melodramatic stage play is generally regarded as
having developed in France as a result of the impact of
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Pygmalion
Contrasting voices: Finding
examples from text
Sophistication – words used to confuse and
Eloquence – poetry, music, arts
Deception – past, present future
Intelligence Harshness
“A Streetcar Named Desire” is a captivating play by Tennessee
Williams, which tells the story of a delicate, romantic and emotional
woman named Blanche Du Bois. Blanche comes to stay with her
sister Stella and her husband Stanley, after she loses the ancestral
home, Belle Reve. Blanche’s fragile state of mind and loss of grip on
reality becomes gradually apparent throughout the play, which runs
alongside the animalistic nature of the love between Stella and
Stanley. The relationship between Stanley and Blanche deteriorates
as quickly as Blanche’s emotional state, and results in Stanley
taking full physical control of her and raping her.
There are many motifs, themes and contrasts, which recur
frequently throughout “A Streetcar Named Desire,” by Tennessee
Williams, which help to craft the play’s structure. These things are
important in emphasizing the character’s conflicting personalities
and emotional states, as well as presenting the true motives behind
the actions of the characters.
Themes, Motifs and Contrasts in “A Streetcar Named
Desire”: The Relationship between Exterior and Interior
The relationship between exterior and interior in “A
Streetcar Named Desire” is important in suggesting the
boundaries of reality and fantasy.
The set consists of two rooms in the apartment of
Stanley and Stella, but the street and outside world are
always visible. The apartment is not a secure, selfcontained unit, which allows Blanche’s fantasies to
flourish, but a place that is unable to stop the blunt reality
from entering in. This idea is clearly apparent just before
Stanley rapes Blanche, as the back wall becomes
transparent; the act itself is juxtaposed with the struggles
on the street, emphasizing the harsh reality and
Themes, Motifs and Contrasts in “A Streetcar Named
Desire”: The Relationship between Sex and Death
In “A Streetcar Named Desire”, the character Blanche often
associates sex with death.
At the very beginning of the play, Blanche says that she begins her
journey to the apartment by taking a streetcar named Desire, and
then takes a streetcar named Cemeteries before finally arriving at a
street called Elysian Fields (which is the land of the dead in Greek
mythology). This journey she takes represents her life; her pursuit of
her sexual desires lead to her demise and ultimately the death of her
reality, as she is rejected completely from society.
In Blanche’s experience, sex inevitably leads to death not only for
herself, but also for others. She is repeatedly haunted with
memories of her ancestor’s deaths, which she puts down to their
“epic fornications”. Her husband’s suicide was the result of
Blanche’s disapproval of his homosexuality. The idea presented in
the play could be that desire, in the form of unrestricted promiscuity,
leads to unwanted departures and fatal conclusions.
Themes, Motifs and Contrasts in “A Streetcar Named
Desire”: Light and Dark Motifs
The motifs of light and dark in “A Streetcar Named Desire” are used
to reveal depth and motive in the play. In the sixth scene of the play,
Blanche reveals to Mitch that loving her husband was like having the
world revealed in “bright, vivid light”. Since his death, she wants
darkness and has only experienced dim light during her sexual
affairs with other men.
Whenever she can, Blanche avoids light. She refuses to go on dates
with Mitch in the day or in well-lit places because she is afraid he will
see her fading beauty. She also covers the exposed light bulb in the
apartment with a paper lantern to make it dimmer. Her intolerance to
light and craving for dim light and darkness could represent the
deterioration of her emotional state, and also suggests her loss of
control of reality.
Themes, Motifs and Contrasts in “A Streetcar Named
Desire”: The Use of Music and Sound
The use of music and sound in “A Streetcar Named Desire” helps to create
atmosphere and give the audience a deeper understanding of the characters.
Whenever a roaring train is heard in the play, Stanley is not far behind. The motif of a
train could represent the destructive, powerful nature of Stanley, which the audience
is always aware of before Blanche. Blanche is associated with the motif of a moth,
which when contrasted with the motif of a train creates a devastating image.
The Varsouviana Polka tune which is heard in Blanche’s head at various moments of
the play takes her back to the memory of her husband’s suicide. This piece of music
was playing at the dance she and her husband went to, and was still playing when
her husband ran outside and shot himself. Blanche tells Mitch that the music does
not stop in her head until she hears the sound of a gunshot. The Varsouviana polka
could represent the loss of Blanche’s innocence, and contributes to the decline of her
mental state and her losing her grip on reality.
Themes, motifs and contrasts add depth and interest to “A Streetcar Named Desire”,
and are vital to the structure of the play. Analysis can only stretch so far, and it is well
worth reading the play or watching it to experience the story yourself.