What is the significance of light in A Streetcar Named Desire?

Light is significant in A Streetcar Named Desire because it symbolizes truth and reality, which Blanche is unable to see and unwilling to accept.

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In A Streetcar Named Desire , light is truth—something that Blanche repeatedly runs from. She is unable to face the truth about herself and her life, so she cloaks herself in shade and darkness. However, truth has a way of finding Blanche, despite her best efforts to stay in the...

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In A Streetcar Named Desire, light is truth—something that Blanche repeatedly runs from. She is unable to face the truth about herself and her life, so she cloaks herself in shade and darkness. However, truth has a way of finding Blanche, despite her best efforts to stay in the dark.

Blanche attempts to keep her demons hidden, but they come to light. For instance, she is tortured by the memory of her young husband Allan. He committed suicide as a result of a confrontation with Blanche. She has buried the memory, but she still feels guilty for telling him he disgusted her. Blanche feels responsible for his death and wishes the truth to remain hidden in the past.

Allan’s death is not the only truth that haunts Blanche. She is upset that Stella moved away from their home at Belle Reve and left Blanche to deal with all responsibility. One by one, their family members died. About the pain, she says:

I took the blows in my face and my body! All of those deaths! The long parade to the graveyard!

Her sister was spared the pain but Blanche had to deal with deaths of loved ones, and ultimately the loss of Belle Reve.

Additionally, Blanche would like to keep the truth hidden about her inappropriate actions when she worked as a teacher. Her involvement in scandals with young men cause her to lose her job and her reputation. She seeks solace with her sister but does not talk about what happened; instead, she buries it in the darkness of her mind and pushes away any light that tries to shine.

Fearful of aging, Blanche also avoids light to keep up the vision of herself as a young woman. She prefers to go out at dusk so that no one can see her true face, because it might indicate her age. She takes great care to dress herself well and surround herself in as little light as possible to keep up this façade of youth.

Blanche’s physical covering of lampshades signifies her emotional covering of truth. Unable to face the tragedies she has endured or the actions she has taken, Blanche prefers to surround herself in shade. She naively hopes that the darkness can keep the past hidden. However, the emotional toll on Blanche is great, and she slowly begins to lose her mind.

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In A Streetcar Named Desire, light is an important symbol.

In a literal sense, Blanche is very concerned with light, particularly the strength of the light shining on her. She dislikes the bare lightbulb that illuminates Stella and Stanley's apartment. "I can't stand a naked light bulb," she says, "any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action."

When she and Mitch are together, Blanche prefers using candles to light the apartment, and she asks Mitch to place a paper lantern over the bare bulb. Since Blanche has lied to Mitch about her age, claiming to be younger than Stella, it makes sense that she does not want him to see her in harsh light that may reveal the truth. She opts for candlelight because it is much softer and more forgiving.

Symbolically, Blanche's distaste for harsh or strong light represents her relationship with the truth. Throughout the play, Blanche shows a preference for illusion over the truth. She runs from reality, refusing to confront it, whether it's her sordid past, her relationship with Mitch, or the real reason she has come to stay with her sister. As she explains to Stanley, "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 the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth. And it that's sinful, then let me be damned for it!"

Both symbolically and literally, Blanche is desperate to avoid the kind of light that will make the truth plain.

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Williams often makes use of symbolism in his plays, and light is a central symbol in A Streetcar Named Desire, used primarily in relation to the main character, Blanche. It takes two major forms, candles and electric lighting –  particularly the electric bulb in the main room of the Kowalski apartment – and these two forms are deliberately contrasted with one another.

 

 

The candles appear most prominently at Blanche’s failed birthday party and earlier when she entertains Mitch alone. Blanche remarks to Mitch that since her disastrous marriage there’s never been any light 'stronger' for her than ‘this kitchen candle’ (scene 6). Life for her has become emotionally dimmed. But candles also signify romance and tenderness and beauty, the kind of exquisite qualities that Blanche professes to attach so much importance to. The electric bulb, on the other hand, stands for the more unpleasant side of life; it is  the harsh glare of reality, which strips away all pretensions and pretence, exposing ugly truths.

 

It is not surprising that Blanche, who so often attempts to weave illusions, wants the light bulb covered up:

 

I can’t stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or vulgar action.(Scene 3)

 

 It is even more significant that Mitch is the one she asks to cover the bulb, with a paper lantern she has brought. Mitch is the man she hopes to marry, to bring true romance into her life and also at last to provide her with some security. However, this does not happen; Mitch ends up disenchanted with her when he finds out about her sordid past and symbolically tears off the lantern to expose her to the glare of reality.

 

In fact, the lantern is explicitly compared to Blanche herself, at the very end;  when Stanley roughly thrusts it at her, asking if she wants to take it away with her, it is said that ‘she cries out as if the lantern was herself’ (Scene 11).

 

Blanche’s placing of the lantern over the bulb signifies how she tries to dress up reality, which for her is altogether too grim, with beauty and art and romance. It is true that she is a liar and hypocrite but we can also understand and pity her, and see her efforts to change reality as springing not just from willful deception but a kind of pathetic idealism.

 

I’ll tell you what I want. Magic! …. Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth. I tell what ought to be the truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it!  (Scene 9)

 

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