A Streetcar Named Desire

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Bathing Symbol Icon
Blanche takes frequent baths throughout the play to “soothe her nerves.” Bathing is an escape from the sweaty apartment: rather than confront her physical body in the light of day, Blanche retreats to the water to attempt to cleanse herself and forget reality. Blanche’s constant washing is reminiscent of Lady Macbeth’s famous hand-washing scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which the queen tries and fails to wash the blood from her guilty hands. Blanche also seeks rejuvenation, as though the bathwater were a Fountain of Youth. But although bathing may provide a temporary respite, she can never escape the past. In contrast with Blanche’s use of bathing to escape reality, the men dunk Stanley in the shower to sober him up so that he face the real world.

Bathing Quotes in A Streetcar Named Desire

The A Streetcar Named Desire quotes below all refer to the symbol of Bathing. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sexual Desire Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the New Directions edition of A Streetcar Named Desire published in 2004.
Scene 2 Quotes

I never met a woman that didn’t know if she was good-looking or not without being told, and some of them give themselves credit for more than they’ve got.

Related Characters: Stanley Kowalski (speaker)
Related Symbols: Bathing
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

Blanche attempts to flirt with Stanley by fishing for compliments about her looks, but Stanley cuts straight through her coy banter. Blanche has just come out of the bath, and she wants to believe that she has washed herself clean and made herself fresh and young again. Blanche derives her power over men through being coy and indirect: she flutters her eyelashes and acts innocent in an attempt to draw men toward her. Stanley, however, asserts his own sexual power by refusing to play Blanche’s game. Blanche always wants to cloak herself in innuendos, masks, shadows, and other disguises instead of facing reality. Stanley operates in the physical present. He declares that he isn’t charmed or distracted by glamorous trappings. Stanley’s declaration that some women give themselves credit for more than they have is also a jab at Blanche herself.

Not only does Stanley assert his dominance by cutting through Blanche’s flirtatiousness, and thus undermining her source of power, but he also makes Blanche nervous about her own beauty. Blanche’s aging is her Achilles’ heel: she believes that as she grows older, she is losing her sexual attractiveness to men, so she grows more and more frantic to maintain this power through distraction and flirtation. Stanley shifts the power dynamic to put himself at the center, rather than Blanche. 


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Scene 7 Quotes

It’s only a paper moon, Just as phony as it can be–But it wouldn’t be make-believe If you believed in me!

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker)
Related Symbols: Bathing, Paper Lantern and Paper Moon
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

“It’s Only a Paper Moon” is a jazz standard written in 1933 that became popular in the 1940s, with versions sung by Ella Fitzgerald and the Nat King Cole Trio. In the context of the play, the song becomes a symbol for the delusion that Blanche attempts to live in, rather than facing reality. Blanche sings “Paper Moon” from the bathroom offstage, while onstage, Stanley tells Stella the true story that he has discovered about why Blanche had to leave Laurel, Mississippi.

The sentimental song is used as a counterpoint to Stanley’s rant against Blanche. The lines are interwoven, as though the two are singing a duet, yet the narratives of this duet run directly in counterpoint against each other. While Blanche sings this sentimental song about living in a paper world, waiting for love, Stanley reveals to Stella the sordid realities of Blanche’s life. As Blanche sings and Stanley rants, the lyrics come to seem more and more ironic. The song presents the singer as an innocent person caught in a false world who can only be saved by being loved. Yet Blanche, Stanley’s tirade reveals, is the one who has been creating these falsehoods.

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Bathing Symbol Timeline in A Streetcar Named Desire

The timeline below shows where the symbol Bathing appears in A Streetcar Named Desire. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene 2
Sexual Desire Theme Icon
Fantasy and Delusion Theme Icon
Interior and Exterior Appearance Theme Icon
It is the next day, at six o’clock in the evening. Blanche is taking a bath offstage. Stella tells Stanley that she and Blanche are going out to the French Quarter... (full context)
Sexual Desire Theme Icon
Interior and Exterior Appearance Theme Icon
Masculinity and Physicality Theme Icon
Femininity and Dependence Theme Icon
Blanche emerges from the bath in a red satin robe and lightly closes the curtains to dress. When she asks... (full context)
Scene 3
Sexual Desire Theme Icon
Fantasy and Delusion Theme Icon
Interior and Exterior Appearance Theme Icon
Femininity and Dependence Theme Icon
Blanche is about to take a bath when Mitch emerges from the bathroom. Mitch is sheepish and awkward, and Blanche looks at... (full context)
Scene 7
Fantasy and Delusion Theme Icon
Interior and Exterior Appearance Theme Icon
...into the kitchen to find Stella decorating for Blanche’s birthday. Blanche is taking yet another bath to soothe her nerves, which Stanley mocks. Throughout the scene, Blanche’s singing of the popular... (full context)
Scene 8
Sexual Desire Theme Icon
Fantasy and Delusion Theme Icon
Interior and Exterior Appearance Theme Icon
Masculinity and Physicality Theme Icon
Femininity and Dependence Theme Icon
...begins to cry. Blanche asks her again what Stanley had said while Blanche had been bathing, but Stella refuses to tell her. (full context)
Sexual Desire Theme Icon
Fantasy and Delusion Theme Icon
Interior and Exterior Appearance Theme Icon
Masculinity and Physicality Theme Icon
...join her. Blanche reproaches herself for calling Mitch. Stanley complains about the heat from Blanche’s bath, and she retorts that a “healthy Polack” couldn’t understand about having delicate nerves. Stanley heatedly... (full context)
Scene 11
Sexual Desire Theme Icon
Fantasy and Delusion Theme Icon
Interior and Exterior Appearance Theme Icon
It is several weeks later. Stella is packing Blanche’s things. Blanche is in the bath. The men are playing poker in the kitchen, where the atmosphere is raw and lurid... (full context)