A Streetcar Named Desire: the symbolic meaning of names, setting and colors

Seminar Paper, 2005

11 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of content

1. Introduction

2. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
2.1 The play
2.2 The playwright

3. The symbolic meaning of the protagonists
3.1 Blanche
3.1.1 Blanche DuBois: innocent and solid?
3.1.2 The color white in connection to Blanche
a. Stella
3.1.3 Stella for star
b. Stanley
3.3.1 Green and blue: strength and masculine power?

4. New Orleans: The setting as a symbol?
4.1 New Orleans culture and meaning in American history
4.2 Elysian Fields
4.3 Belle Reve
4.4 The journey to the Elysian Fields

5. Conclusion

1. Introduction

This paper deals with the symbolism in A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. In this context, I will take a closer look at the different forms of symbolism. One major part of this paper is the meaning of the different characters in the play. Blanche, Stella and Stanley are the most important characters. Therefore I will analyze their symbolic function regarding to their character in general, their names and colors.

Not only the characters carry a symbolic meaning, but also the different places mentioned in the play. The city of New Orleans is the larger setting of the action. I will analyze the meaning of the Elysian Fields, of Belle Reve and of New Orleans in general.

2. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

2.1 The play

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams was written in 1947. The play opened on Broadway on December 3rd, 1947 in New York. After the successful premier, the play was staged about 850 times and opened in 1950 also in Europe. In the same year, the play was turned into a movie showing Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando as Stella and Stanley Kowalski.

In 1948 Tennessee Williams won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for A Streetcar Named Desire.[1]

A Streetcar Named Desire describes the cultural and social differences and the arising problems between two different “worlds”. On the one hand is the former “world” of Blanche DuBois, a woman of the Old South and on the other hand is the “world” of Stella and Stanley Kowalski, who belong to the working class and live in the downtown immigrant neighborhood of New Orleans.

The play is set right after World War II, in the rather poor but charming neighborhood of the French Quarter in New Orleans; in the street Elysian Fields.

In this colorful and multicultural street Blanche DuBois; a nervous and hysterical woman from Laurel, Mississippi, arrives at the apartment of her sister, Stella Kowalski. The sisters derive from an old aristocratic plantation called Belle Reve. Stella left the family’s property to live with her husband Stanley in New Orleans. Stanley is a proud American with polish roots and belongs to the lower working class. He is brute, very masculine, brutal but smart. Although, Blanche seems to have lost a closer contact with Stella, she intends to stay in the Elysian Fields for an unspecified but long period of time. Blanche does not only carry all her belongings with her, but also sad news for Stella: Belle Reve, the old family-owned plantation has been lost. All members of the family died during the last years and now Stella is the only person left for Blanche. But that is not the only reason for Blanche to leave Laurel; she also mentions that she has lost her teaching position because of her several nervous breakdowns. Therefore, Blanche plans to live with Stella and Stanley in the Elysian Fields. This plan is the beginning of a struggle for Stella’s favour between Stanley and Blanche. It turns out into a fight about lies and desire. In the end, Blanche is raped by Stanley and sent to a mental hospital by Stella. The journey to heaven (Elysium) turns out to be the end of Blanche’s life in freedom. All her dreams of a new and quiet life and love are destroyed by her hospitalization. Although Blanche already arrived as a fallen woman in the Elysian Fields, her longing for desire ended in the figurative sense in death.

2.2 The playwright

Thomas Lanier (“Tennessee”) Williams was born on the 26TH of March in 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi and died in New York in 1983. He was one of the most successful American playwrights of the 20th century.

Tennessee Williams was one of three children of Cornelius Williams, a travelling shoe salesman and Edwina Williams, a woman with educational background from the South.

Williams had a very close relationship to his sister, Rose Williams. She was an elegant, slim beauty who struggled with nervous attacks and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Mentally ill and emotionally disturbed, she spent most of her life in mental hospitals. Her life and her character influenced Williams in his writing. Some characters in his plays are often said to be representations of his family members. One example is the character of Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, who is understood to be influenced by Rose. Also the character of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire is supposed to be based on her.

Williams started writing at the age of fourteen and published his first essay “Can a good wife be a good sport?” two years later. It took him around 15 years to establish himself as a playwright. During these years, he went to university, worked in Hollywood and lived his life with the bohemian. In 1944 he achieved his breakthrough with the drama “The Glass Menagerie”. Three years later, A Streetcar Named Desire opened on Broadway and became his most successful play. For almost 20 years, Williams was one of the most important playwrights of the United States but in the 60s, his success faded. His life was dominated by diseases, nervous breakdowns and scandals.


[1] Compare: Der Brockhaus Literatur. Leipzig u.a., p. 929

Excerpt out of 11 pages


A Streetcar Named Desire: the symbolic meaning of names, setting and colors
Technical University of Braunschweig
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ISBN (eBook)
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Streetcar, Named, Desire, Proseminar
Quote paper
Anna Borsum (Author), 2005, A Streetcar Named Desire: the symbolic meaning of names, setting and colors, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/39852


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