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A Streetcar Named Desire

by Tennessee Williams

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What does light symbolize in A Streetcar Named Desire?

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Light represents reality, the very thing Blanche Dubois dreads most. She says to Mitch right up front, "I don't want realism. I want magic!" Blanche is a romantic who detests ugliness and brutality. She also detests how the beautiful society world she grew up in is fast vanishing, and she detests how she is no longer a beautiful, young southern belle. When Mitch tosses aside the paper lanterns and forces Blanche into the light, he is seeing her for the first time, stripped of her illusions about who she is.

To disguise her aging, Blanche puts paper lanterns on the bare light bulbs in her room and she avoids being seen in direct light. She wants to retain the illusion that she is a southern belle and not a sad, desperate woman determined to forget she's no longer sixteen and virginal with the hopes of a dashing gentleman as a husband.

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Light, in Tennessee Williams' play, "A Streetcar Named Desire," represents a few different things.

First, light, for Blanche, symbolizes her inability to face the truth in life. Blanche is aging. (Although she would like to make others, like Mitch, believe that she is younger than Stella, she is in fact older (about five years)). For Blanche, the light represents the truth behind her aging. In order to hide from the truth, Blanche uses colored paper to cover the lights in the room. These lanterns allow Blanche to hide from the truth by shading her physical appearance. Later, when confronted by Mitch, the lantern is ripped from the light so Mitch can really see her.

Second, light symbolizes the lack of reality in the play overall. Stanley's abuse of Stella, Balnche's rape, and the fantasy world both Stella and Blanche live in are all shown as not being as bad as it really is by keeping things hidden (represented by the covering of the light and lack of light in the flat).


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