“A Streetcar Named Desire”: A Light and Dark Perception

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The words light and darkness have multiple meanings, but in general, people view light as positive and darkness as negative. In A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, the theme of light and darkness is utilized to emphasize important elements and characters. Williams incorporates light and darkness in both tangible aspects within the setting of the play and through conversations between the characters.

The theme of light and darkness in the play focuses primarily on truth and illusion. This is exemplified through Blanche’s use of a Chinese paper lantern to conceal a naked light bulb, symbolizing both her own nature and her tendency to create illusions. Additionally, the lantern also subtly reflects Stella’s perspective on Blanche’s flaws. While light and darkness are typically seen as opposite forces, they surprisingly share common elements in this context.

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In A Streetcar Named Desire, the use of brightness and darkness effectively conveys the intensity of Blanche’s love life and the romantic relationship between Stanley and Stella. Throughout the play, the contrast between light and darkness plays a vital role in highlighting the themes of truth and illusion. Shortly after Blanche arrives at Stella and Stanley’s home in Elysian Fields, she conceals a bare light bulb with an attractive Chinese paper lantern. This decorative lantern enhances the visual appeal of the room by masking the dreariness and scarcity with vibrant hues.

Blanche’s spiritual life parallels her personal life as she fabricates stories to hide unpleasant aspects of her past. She falsely claims to have left her job as an English teacher voluntarily when, in reality, she was fired for engaging in an immoral sexual relationship with a student. Whenever Blanche and Mitch go on outings, they opt for dimly lit places which signifies Mitch’s ongoing ignorance towards Blanche’s declining physical appearance and troubled past. The motif of light also serves as a symbol for the moment when Mitch eventually discovers the truth about Blanche.

In scene 9, Mitch takes off the paper lantern from the light bulb, revealing the true nature of Blanche. This symbolizes how the light of truth exposes her. Another instance of light representing truth occurs in scene 6 when Blanche recounts how she discovered Allan’s homosexuality. Just then, a locomotive passes by and its headlight shines into the room. The intense brightness of the light represents the shocking truth about Allan. Just as one would instinctively avoid a strong beam of light, people tend to avoid uncovering things that are better off remaining unknown.

Blanche experiences overwhelming noise and dazzling light to the point where she covers her ears and crouches down. This intense sensory experience highlights Stella’s negative mindset. When Stanley insinuates that he knows about Blanche’s past by mentioning a man named Shaw, Blanche immediately tries to explain to Stella what happened after she left Belle Reve. However, Stella seemingly disregards her sister and does not listen as Blanche begins to provide specific details. When Blanche asks for an explanation for Stella’s refusal to listen, Stella responds, “I don’t listen to you when you are being morbid!” (Scene 5, Page 79).

This clearly demonstrates Stella’s inclination to remain oblivious to anything unfavorable. Interestingly, while Blanche attempts to divulge her past to Stella, she illuminates the room with the paper lantern, symbolizing Stella’s preference for Blanche’s narratives over the truth. Additionally, Stella even offers her older sister a coke to distract her from her confession, enabling Stella to avoid confronting the unpleasant reality. Unfortunately, Stanley promptly shocks Stella by ruthlessly tearing the paper lantern away, shattering her illusion of truth.

Blanche’s love life undergoes moments of brilliance and darkness. After a date with Mitch, Blanche opens up about her feelings of guilt and loneliness since the death of her husband, Allan. She shares that she saw Allan and love itself as a radiant, blinding light. “At age sixteen, I discovered love. It happened all at once, overwhelmingly so. It was as if a powerful beam of light suddenly illuminated something that had always remained partially concealed in darkness – that’s how it appeared to me.” (scene 6, page 95)

Blanche’s first love affair with Allan was intense and filled with passion, basking in the brightness of their love. Blanche fell deeply in love with Allan and became infatuated with their relationship. Unfortunately, her unwavering devotion shattered when Allan decided to end his life. Blanche reminisces about this moment, recalling how she confronted Allan on the dance floor, leading to the extinguishing of the metaphorical searchlight and leaving her in darkness, with only a kitchen candle to guide her. (Scene 6 page 96)

Blanche discovers the truth about Allan and remains silent for a period of time. However, she eventually reveals the distressing truth to her husband during a dance party. Unable to bear the pressure, humiliation, and despair, Allan chooses to escape by taking his own life. Blanche is profoundly devastated as she realizes that what she believed to be genuine love was actually a deception.

Following the incident, she refrained from trying to establish genuine connections with other men, except for Mitch, due to her fear that they would also turn out to be insincere. As a consequence, the intense searchlight within her gradually diminished into a flickering candle flame. Devoid of this illuminating presence in her life, Blanche has existed without clarity or a genuine comprehension of herself and the surrounding world. Consequently, she starts to indulge in a realm of dreams and deception. Her subsequent involvements with young soldiers from the army are all characterized by darkness and absence of passion, driven solely by lust.

Blanche is searching for something to replace the emptiness caused by the missing searchlight. Her relationship with Mitch is not purely driven by desire, as indicated by the use of light. When Stella introduces Mitch to Blanche, she is immediately captivated by him. Blanche unintentionally stands in the light, exposed to the poker party, while not appropriately dressed. This act suggests that she is trying to attract Mitch’s attention. It can be said that it is a motive he possesses.

Blanche is told, “You’re standing in the light, Blanche!” (scene3 page50), as she tries to increase the candlelight inside as if it were a searchlight. Mitch is the person who can rescue Blanche from her metaphorical darkness. Their frequenting of shadowy places not only represents Blanche’s veil of deception but also symbolizes romance. Darkness is a universal symbol for romance, as seen in high-class restaurants with dark settings that aim to create an elegant and sexually stimulating atmosphere.

Both darkness and light symbolize Stanley and Stella’s love for each other. On the wedding night, Stanley breaks light bulbs to create a dark atmosphere that enhances the romance. Stella is initially thrilled by this action because she enjoys the passionate darkness it creates. However, light is also significant in defining their relationship. Stella recalls how she pulled Stanley down from the columns and they enjoyed the colored lights together, indicating their happiness. Ultimately, their relationship is challenged when Blanche arrives and disrupts their harmony.

In a similar way to Blanche, the lights symbolize the intensity of their sexual relationship. The “lights” continued to shine brightly until Blanche introduced her falsehoods, deceit, and paper lantern, which dimmed the brilliance. Although it may not be immediately apparent, the theme of light and darkness adds substantial complexity to the play.

The themes of fantasy and truth are further expressed through the contrast of light and darkness. The play shows Stella’s desire to avoid negativity by lighting up a paper lantern during her conversation with Blanche. By using the symbolism of light and darkness, Williams adds depth and meaning to Blanche’s relationships and the bond between Stanley and Stella. Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire effectively uses these subtle techniques to craft a Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

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“A Streetcar Named Desire”: A Light and Dark Perception. (2018, Feb 28). Retrieved from


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