A Streetcar Named
by Tennessee Williams
New Orleans in the
The French Quarter
(also known as the
Vieux Carre) is the
downtown area of
It is known for its
rowdy nightlife: bars,
jazz music, brothels,
Mardi Gras, etc.
Blanche DuBois, an old maid on the verge
of a nervous breakdown, pays an
extended visit to her sister, Stella, in New
Orleans. At the end of her rope and in
need of some comfort and kindness,
Blanche instead finds herself in conflict
with Stanley Kowalski, her attractive but
An old maid high school
English teacher from
Her not-so-ex-gay husband
On the verge of a nervous
Lives in a world of “illusion”
Round character: Very
proper and prudish, yet
Blanche DuBois translates
in French to white woods
White symbolizes purity,
and woods symbolizes sin.
Blanche’s younger sister
“Stella for star!”; the star that
leads Blanche to New
Torn between her
aristocratic past and her new
working-class life with
Pregnant during the course
of the play.
Round character: pragmatic,
yet easily blinded by lust
After WW2, sells auto parts
Of Polish descent
Continually referred to as a
caveman, a barbarian, a,
Round character: macho,
yet emotionally infantile
Harold “Mitch” Mitchell
One of Stanley’s
coworkers and poker
Lives with and takes care
of his sick mother
Dates Blanche throughout
the summer—until he finds
out the truth about her
Falls short as the Knight in
Shining Armor who will
Round character: clumsy
and unrefined, yet gentle
Though the play is largely in the style of realism,
Tennessee Williams incorporates some subtle
uses of expressionism:
The audience hears the Varsouviana Polka and
the gunshot that Blanche hears only in her head
as a recollection of her husband’s suicide. She
hears this more and more frequently as she
slowly loses her grip on reality.
The set of the apartment gets incrementally
smaller and smaller as the play progresses,
mimicking the growing sense of claustrophobia
felt by all three main characters
The Kindness of Strangers
Famous last line of the play: “I’ve always
depended on the kindness of strangers.”
TW described the play as “a plea for the gentle
kind”—those of us who are fragile or broken.
Blanche’s dramatic need throughout the play is
for kindness and comfort—something that the
world of reality, masculinity, and blinding light
does not provide.
“The only thing that is unforgivable is deliberate
Throughout the play, note how Stella “waits on”
her sister. This is the nurturing she needs.
Illusion vs. Reality
The play thematically embraces the notion that
reality is cruel and that we must forgive people’s
dependence on lies or illusions.
Stanley is the chief representative of Reality; he
shines the light on Blanche’s secret past.
The Kowalski home isn’t exactly a haven from
reality; from it, we can see and hear the life of the
real world outside: fights, vendors, flashing lights.
Blanche tells many lies over the course of the play
to protect her own fragile ego.
“A woman’s charm is 50% illusion.”
Illusions: her age, her appearance, her purity,
rhinestones, fake furs, perfume, Chinese lantern,
the telegram from Shep Huntleigh
“It’s Only A Paper Moon”
Blanche sings this song about illusion and
The lyrics suggest that perception and
belief—no matter how phony—are the true
creators of reality.
Blanche believes the illusions and lies that
she desperately clings to are harmless in
that they create a gentler, superior world
than that of the cruel reality of her actual
Light and the Chinese Lantern
A motif supporting the theme of illusion vs.
Light exposes truth; light is harsh and critical.
Blanche, like a spider (resident of the Tarantula
Arms), prefers the darkness.
She places a Chinese lantern over the harsh
bright bulb in the apartment.
Her dates with Mitch are in dark locations.
The darkness hides her age, her guilt for the
sexual misconduct of her recent past, her guilt in
Allen’s death, her embarrassment at her
diminishing sanity, and, chiefly, her broken heart.
Death and Desire
Throughout the play death and desire are linked,
suggesting that unbridled sexual desire leads to
isolating darkness and eventually death.
The whole play in one line: “They told me to take
a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to
one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and
get off at—Elysian Fields!”
“Death is the opposite of desire.”
“Flores para los muertos!”
She is obsessed with youth, and she uses sex
(sometimes with youths) to escape the death that
has surrounded her, but conversely, it leads her
to death. After having many sordid affairs, she
retreats into the shadows—literally and
One of the play’s motifs is Blanche’s
It symbolically serves as an attempt to
purify herself from her lascivious past.
She also claims it soothes her nerves.
Stanley is likewise cleansed after the
famed scene of his drunken violence. (Is
there something in Stanley that is like
The Fall of the South
The loss of Belle Reve and the demise of
the aristocratic DuBois family is
representative of the entropy of the South
after the Civil War.
The name of the estate “Belle Reve”
means “beautiful dream.” This likewise
links to the illusion vs. reality theme.
Stanley Kowalski represents the New
South—harsh, feral, and violent.
Changes From Stage to Screen
The film begins in medias res with the arrival of
Blanche; whereas, the play starts with a glimpse
at the home life of Stella and Stanley before
Blanche’s intrusion. “Meat!”
Location shifts: the bowling alley, the tavern
The biggest change is the backstory of Blanche:
in the play, Blanche had caught her husband
Allen Grey in bed with another man. Shortly after,
while they were attending a dance, Blanche
called him weak—not being able to control his
homosexual “inclinations.” He ran outside the
hall and shot himself. The version of this story in
the film is “cleaned up” for Hollywood.