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A Streetcar Named Desire

by Tennessee Williams

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What quotes in A Streetcar Named Desire support the themes of illusion versus reality and desire and death?

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  • Desire and Death

They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at --Elysian Fields!

These words in the opening of Tennessee Williams A Streetcar Named Desire introduce the connection of sex with death as metaphorically Desire meets Elysian Fields, the name of the temporary place of the souls' journeys back to life in Virgil's Aeneid.

Shortly after Blanche arrives, she speaks with her sister, telling her of the death of their beloved home, Belle Reve. Further, she speaks of the death of their parents in ways that mirror the trolley ride on Desire and Cemeteries:


I, I, I took the blows in my face and my body! All of those deaths! The long parade to the graveyard....Funerals are quiet, but deaths --not always....they even cry out to you, "Don't let me go!"...all that sickness and dying...Death is expensive....(Scene One)

In order to escape this loss of the family plantation and the family and her young husband, whom she had taunted about his impotence, committed suicide--Desire meets Death. She has "Poems a dead boy wrote." 

Blanche becomes promiscuous, seducing even younger men than she in an effort to forget her pain and the haunting death of her husband. Her downward spiral of desire leads to Blanche's death because living the truth is deadly for her; she must create illusions to survive. But, she sees her future as in Scene Six she observes of Stanley, 

The first time I laid eyes on him I thought to myself, that man is my executioner.

Blanche's hostilities with the crude and virile Stanley, who breaks down her illusions are charged with sexual overtones. While Blanche finds him crude, she is driven by her attraction to his raw maleness to engage in a deadly repartee with him while Stella is in the hospital giving birth to hers and Stanley's baby. With Stanley, Blanche "acts out her final rebellion" against her Southern belle image in a perverse effort to degrade and punish herself for her violating her integrity. Thus, Stanley's rape of Blanche results in a death of her soul as she loses her sanity. Earlier, in Scene Six, she remarks of the streetcar named Desire:

It brought me here.--Where I'm not wanted and where I'm ashamed to be....

Then, in Scene Nine, she notes,

Death--I used to sit here and she used to sit over there and death as close as you are...We didn't dare admit we'd every heart of it!....The opposite of it is desire. So do you wonder?....Not far from Belle Reve...was a camp where they trained young soldiers. On Saturday night they would go in town to get drunk--and on the way back they would stagger onto my lawn and call--"Blanche! Blanche!"

  • Illusion vs. Reality

Williams himself writes of Blanche,

.. when I think about her, Blanche seems like the youth of our hearts which has to be put away for worldly considerations: poetry, music, the early soft feelings that we can't afford to live with under a naked light bulb which is now.

And, so people create illusions as does Blanche. After she arrives, she sneaks some of Stanley's liquor, but she pretends that she does not drink--"one's my limit"--when Stella comes in. Further, she hides the fact that she has been fired from her teaching position, telling Stella 

BLANCHE: So Mr. Graves....he suggested I take a leave of absence.

Later, she covers the naked bulbs in Stella's house, describing them as having a "merciless glare:

And turn that over-light off! Turn that off! I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare!

Belle Reve represents the past as well as a part of the present of Blanche; for, it is connotative of the illusionary life of Blanche, who continues to act as though she is central to everyone's attentions. She tells Stanley, 

In my youth I excited some admiration.

In Scene Seven she is confronted with her past because Stanley has talked to Mitch, but in Scene Nine, Blanche rejects the truth and wants the lights dimmed,

I don't want realism. I want magic.... Don't turn the light on!....

Not only does Blanche wish to soften the light upon her aging face, but she uses the red shade to disguise her lies and deception. When Mitch wishes to expose her for what she is in reality, he significantly rips this red shade off, destroying her illusions.

In Scene Ten, Blanche pretends that she is going on a cruise to the Caribbean with Mr. Shep Huntleigh.

Just when I thought my luck had begun to fail me--

Into the picture pops this Miami millionaire.

This man is not from Miami. This man is from Dallas.

Further in Scene Ten, Blanche tells Stanley that Mitch has come to see her in his work-clothes, repeating "slander to me, vicious stories that he gotten from you." But, he returned. "He implored my forgiveness." But, she gave him his "walking papers." Of course Stanley knows this is not true; Mitch stormed out, leaving Blanche. He accuses her by saying,

And lies and conceit and tricks!....I've been on to you from the start! ...You come in here and sprinkle the place with powder and spray perfume and cover the light bulb with a paper lantern, and lo and behold the place has turned into Egypt and are the Queen of the Nile!

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