In Tennessee Williams drama A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois goes to New Orleans to settle with her sister Stella Dubois. Blanche devises this fantasy image of herself in order to protect a fairly shady past. She’s dealing with guilt and regret from her husband committing suicide, which happened after she unearthed him in bed with another man. Then, she ended up sleeping with one of her students, inducing her to lose her job. Ultimately, Blanche’s past succumbs to exposure and the full persona she spawned for herself shatters. Symbols are commonly adopted by authors as a means of reiterating certain characteristic features of people and places in literature. A symbol can be an object or image which stands for itself and also for something else. In Tennessee Williams drama A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams effectively utilizes symbolism to communicate that reality overpowers illusion because one cannot escape one’s past. The symbols of dim light and bathing contribute to the universal theme of the play.
Williams exploits the symbol of light to represent that reality overpowers illusion because one’s past is inescapable. Dim light exemplifies Blanche’s world of illusion because it maintains to disguise the truth regarding herself. For example, she asks Mitch to plant a paper lantern over a bulb to tarnish the glaring light in order to hide her true age from him. Later on, Mitch references to Blanche that she refuses to be seen in the harsh glare of the sun. Blanche foresees if Mitch knows her real age, or the matters of her life in Laurel, he will not love or eventually marry her. Blanche seizes all of her insecurities and entombs them beneath her cheap fashion and fictions so she can seem more acceptable to others. She blockades the glare of the world so she does not have to confront its realities. She can pretend she is young and beautiful and gratifying, not the person she really is. Blanche blinding the truth, or impelling it in a more favorable shade, represents the act of placing a paper lantern over the light. Blanche submerges her insecurities in disinformation so that she may surface more charmy to others. In this sense, the paper lantern being a key theatre device, grants readers to depict Blanche’s manic forbearance of the truth that causes her inevitable insanity. The paper lantern is a relevant symbol of Blanche because it simplifies all of her imperfections. The symbolism reveals how Blanche shields from her reality. Blanche is anxious about her inner and outer self so she decides to hide behind her lies and remain in the dark. Williams proves that reality will always dominate over an illusion because one cannot escape one’s past. Blanche considers she will constantly have the opportunity for a delusion. Despite her efforts to cover up her adulterous past, Mitch finds out Blanche’s accurate self. Someone can build up a whole new world for themselves to get rid of their past guilt, but in reality, their past always catches up to them. When Mitch finally tears the paper lantern off the light bulb, Blanche utters a frightened gasp. She is mortified and expresses “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 truth” (117). Blanche belatedly admits that she does in fact lie in order to have a sense of “magic” in her life. She relinquishes she does not want realism but instead, a deceptive life. Blanche’s true self lingers a mystery to everyone since she continually reinvents herself to satisfy an audience. She acknowledges that she does like to “misrepresent things.” She constantly falsifies herself to become what she thinks other people wish for. Williams exposes Blanche’s legitimacy in the novel to express that no matter what she does to create an unrealistic persona of herself, she cannot elude her past. The symbol of bathing also contributes to the theme of reality overpowering illusion.
Williams displays the symbolism of Blanche’s baths to show the universal theme of reality overpowering illusion because one can not liberate one’s past. Blanche often bathes herself throughout the play. She itches to take a bath to figuratively scrub and eliminate herself of her past so she can have a fresh start in her sister’s town. In Scene Two, as Blanche leaves the bathroom, she seeks to attract Stanley’s attention. She shouts to him, “Hello, Stanley! Here I am, all freshly bathed and scented, and feeling like a brand new human being” (36). Blanche discovers a mystify sense of comfort in her bathing ritual. Although Blanche defends she bathes to mitigate her nerves, the evident reason behind her excessive bathing is to purge herself from her past. Bathing symbolizes purity. Water suggests life and growth and primarily appears as a rebirth symbol. In light of her efforts to obliterate and shed her illicit past in her new company, her baths represent her efforts to purify herself completely. She departs to bathing to attempt to wash away her guilty conscience in order to reach full purity. While living in Laurel, Mississippi, Blanche made a few excessive mistakes that she prefers to forget. Mistakes constantly make anyone feel guilty and dirty, which explains why she feels the need to bathe so periodically. A physical bath cannot clean a person’s conscience or mental state, so Blanche continuously bathes herself with hopes of becoming clean and guilt-free once again. Blanche’s reality eventually overpowers her fantasy life because she cannot escape her past. Stanley uncovers Blanche’s past in Laurel, which leads to her depressing downfall. While Blanche repeatedly bathes, Stanley creates a conversation with Stella about Blanche’s lies. Everyone around Blanche begins to detect her questionable tendency to mask her true self. Stanley claims he receives “proof from the most reliable sources”. Stanley says, “Lie Number One: All this squeamishness she puts on! You should just know the line she’s been feeding to Mitch. He thought she had never been more than kissed by a fellow! But Sister Blanche is no lily!” (99). While Blanche washes away her guilt in the bath, Stanley bares secrets of her furtive antiquity. Stanley expresses to Stella that Blanche “is no lily”. Though Blanche’s sister considers her to be innocent and genuine, Stanley acknowledges her true colors in the fact that she has been “feeding to Mitch”, for instance, expressing him lies. Regardless of Blanche’s efforts to purify herself, her past becomes unavoidable. The dim light and bathing show that reality overpowers illusion because one cannot escape one’s past.