Main Themes in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

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In modern literature it is common for characters to be used to depict key themes and display the concerns of the author. Within A Streetcar Named Desire the themes of truth and deception are placed firmly onto characters, such as Stanley (seemingly) presenting the truth and Blanche embodying deception. Furthermore, we see the perversion of the themes of truth and deception when the audience is made to consider the reasons for Stanley telling the ‘truth’, or more accurately, exposing Blanche. It is made apparent to us that characters such as Blanche cannot merely be reduced to being one of deception when there are elements of truth to what she says throughout the play. The importance of the themes is tied to the characters’ acceptance (or failure to accept) what is around them, especially at a time of great cultural shift in the aftermath of the war of which the play was written. There is a clear divide between the characters that embrace the new America (truth) or attempt to live in the past (deception).

Williams focuses the audience’s attention on his presentation of the themes of deception through using characters such as Stanley. Stanley throughout A Streetcar Named Desire proves to be a character of great importance in the play. Stanley is important as he is the character within the play that takes his ambition to reveal the truth to the greatest degree. From the beginning of the play the audience sees his obsession with Blanche and exposing her ‘lies’ take a firm grasp of him. Stanley can be viewed as a key depiction of the theme of truth as he seeks this throughout his life. Stanley himself appears to be an honest character, when he states ‘I’d get ideas about you’ when referring to the fact if Blanche was not his wife’s sister it is indicative of the extent of his judgement. Williams makes it apparent that if Blanche was not his sister’s wife he would see through her façade significantly more than he already does now. Stanley makes exposing Blanche such a priority to him because he sees her presence within his life as a threat to his masculinity and dominance. He views Blanche’s loss of Belle Reve as him being ‘swindled’ and he remarks ‘I don’t like to be swindled’ which would suggest that his main intentions for seeking to expose Blanche is due to his own insecurities which is not aided by her seemingly blatant acts of deception. Stanley continues his acts aggression towards Blanche which are fuelled by his deeply-rooted dislike for her and what she represents in the final scene, when he questions Blanche by saying ‘unless it’s the paper lantern you want to take with you. You want a lantern?’ When Stanley tears the lantern off the lamp, it symbolises the illusion that was shielding Blanche being shattered and fittingly so by Stanley. This moment in the play emphasises the presence that Stanley has within Blanche’s life and how it is Stanley who ultimately wanted to see the demise of Blanche.

Williams allows the audience to understand the importance of the theme of truth and deception most notably through his presentation of Blanche. I would disagree with the view often presented that Blanche is a character that can be merely be reduced to one of deception. Williams presents Blanche has having an element of truth to her from the beginning of the play, when she states, ‘You’re all I’ve got in the world, and you’re not glad to see me!’ This statement is in fact true, Williams clouds many of Blanche’s true statements within his semantic field usage and makes them appear exaggerated, thus, Blanche is established from the outset of the play to the audience as a superficial character with little substance. It shows Blanche’s true character to the audience and her fixation with the past and her youthful looks emphasises how she is trapped in the past. There is a distinction to be made between Blanche’s actions being of dishonesty or extensions of the truth. Williams is keen to show this when Blanche says regarding the deaths back home, that it was as if the ‘Grim Reaper put up his tent on our doorstep!’ This is not necessarily deception, but dramatisation of the facts at hand, which is not helped by the fact that the only reason she is dramatising the events is for her own personal gain. Blanche’s behaviour moves towards deception when Williams explains that she ‘has got to keep a firm hold on her emotions or she’ll be lost.’ This phrase can be viewed to be ironic considering that to a large extent she has already been lost and is lost, she has to hold on to the only thing that she has which is her honour – much like other women in literature, such as Desdemona in Othello. Williams makes it clear that a significant amount of the deception within the play comes from Blanche herself, ‘I guess it is just that I have – old fashioned ideals [She rolls her eyes…].’ Her body language suggests that she is insincere and plays up to the façade that she has created for herself whilst being trapped in the past. Her inability to move into the present is what poses her the most significant issue.

Williams is keen to present to the audience the importance of Stella in displaying the themes of truth and deception. Even Stella has evidently not told the truth, when it is described how she ‘tried to gloss over things in my little letters’, she shared similar intentions to Blanche in terms of not meaning for what she was doing to be harmful to anyone. Throughout the play, Stella also delivers many statements of objective truth, she states ‘don’t be such an idiot Stanley’, which is truthful as he is ill educated. Stella can be seen to be asserting her superiority over Stanley in any circumstance where she can do so. Furthermore, Williams presents Stella’s awareness at her surroundings and reinforces the suggestion that Stella knows exactly what she is doing. She says ‘I’m not in anything I want to get out of’, which is evidence that she is comfortable with her living situation and likes the security that Stanley provides for her.

Overall, truth and deception are themes of great importance within the play and I would argue that all the characters work together to form perception of each character within the play. Williams provides the audience with a clear affirmation of what they had previously assumed about Blanche, that she is a deceptive character, on the surface. However, as the audience delve further into the characteristics of Blanche it becomes clearer that she is not just the character of deception that she may have first perceived to have been. Instead, her ‘lies’ are extensions of the truth for the purpose of survival. In modern literature, such as in A Streetcar Named Desire, it is apparent that Williams wises to highlight as one of his main concerns the role of women within society and the extent that they are made to make difficult choices that leave them to decide between their safety and security, or their own personal liberation and freedom. We see how, ultimately, characters and especially female characters use deception within the play to no avail.

Cite this paper

Main Themes in “A Streetcar Named Desire”. (2022, Apr 26). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/main-themes-in-a-streetcar-named-desire/

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