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A Streetcar Named Desire

by Tennessee Williams

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What is the significance of the title of A Streetcar Named Desire?

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A Streetcar Named Desire's title operates on many levels. Firstly, it references the name of the streetcar Blanche mentions taking before the play begins. However, the title also works on a metaphorical level. Blanche's desires are what have brought her not just to New Orleans, but to her current lowly state in general. Later in the play, it is revealed that Blanche seduced a student at the high school where she taught English, causing her to lose her job and reputation.

The specific instructions Blanche receives regarding where to get off when riding the streetcar are also metaphorical:

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

A streetcar named Desire leads her to a streetcar named Cemeteries, suggesting Blanche's actions and wishes have lead her only to death. "Elysian Fields" refers to the ancient Greek afterlife, further cementing Blanche's impending death—not a literal death, but one related to her identity. Her sexual desires have caused her to lose her job. Her social desires, related to her position as one of the last members of the old southern gentility, are also leading her to existential annihilation. Unlike her sister Stella, who has married a working-class man and abandoned the fading way of life Belle Reve represented, Blanche clings to the old ways, making up stories about old-money suitors in order to make it seem as though she is still the southern belle she once was. She avoids facing the truth because of her desire to shape reality to her wishes, and this leads her to her tragic fate.

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The title of this play comes from a line that is uttered by Blanche herself in Scene 1 of this play just after she arrives at her sister's home. Note what she says:

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

It is important to realise that the names of these different locations have immense importance. Desire is precisely what Blanche has followed, and as a result she has experienced a kind of death, indicated in the name of Cemeteries, as she has been branded a social outcast. Now, she has arrived at Elysian Fields, which was the place where Greeks believed they went after death to contemplate their life and face their mistakes. This is precisely what happens to Blanche during the course of this play, as she is not able to run away from her mistakes and the consequences of her actions any further and has to face them. The title of the play is important therefore in indicating the "epic fornications" that Blanche has committed and the way that she allows desire to drive her life.

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The title of the play A Streetcar Named Desire is significant because it relates to the theme of the cycles of violence that is woven through the play.  When Blanche arrives in New Orleans, someone tells her to take the street-car named Desire to get to Stella's house.  This is an actual street in New Orleans that Williams uses in the play for the connotations that it provides.  The actual concept of desire is presented in warped ways throughout the play.  Blanche desires a rich lifestyle, yet she squanders her inheritance.  Stella speaks to Blanche about the sexual desire between her and Stanley that supposedly erases any negative aspects of their relationship.  Blanche and Stella argue about brutal desire, and Stella brings up the street-car.  Blanche tells her that she rode the street-car to get there, to get to a place where she is not wanted.  In trying to satisfy her desire to belong, Blanche ironically ends up coming to a place where the ultimate act of violence, being raped by Stanley, is inflicted upon her.

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The streetcar named "Desire" in the play was the one which brought Blanche to the Kowalskis' shabby apartment in New Orleans.  Blanche even makes reference to it upon her arrival (to the neighbour), even before Stella knows her sister is there.

The ambulant streetcar crisscrossing New Orleans represents Blanche's own vagrancy and her inability to settle down. Blanche reproaches Stella for having married beneath herself, but she has been unable to even do as much. Her husband Alan had killed himself after a conjugal dispute. Then as a single schoolteacher, she also lost her job for having made advances on a student. Later she loses the last vestiges of her reputation hanging around a sleazy hotel as an easy "pickup."

Blanche leaves her sister's place as abruptly as she came, only she does not leave alone nor does she take cheap public transportation.  She is escorted to an insane asylum since her stories of Stanley raping her (which are indeed true) are taken as a hysterical fabulation.  Her last statement rings a certain truth, for she can no longer count on friends, not even her sisiter Stella, and must rely on strangers for help. Her puerile whims and unrestrained sexuality (her desires) have led her to to her own ruin, but so has the incomprehension of others.

As far as changing the title, "A Streetcar Named Desire" focuses much more on internal conflict than "A Poker Night."  It is more general in scope and universal in theme; it evokes more pathos and identification with the character as well.

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