A Streetcar Named Desire

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Shadows Symbol Icon
Shadows represent the dream-world and the escape from the light of day. Initially, Blanche seeks the refuge of shadows and half-light to hide from the harsh facts of the real world. When Blanche first sees Stella, she insists that Stella turn the overhead light off: “I don’t want to be looked at in this merciless glare!” But at the end of the play, shadows become menacing to Blanche. When Stanley approaches Blanche to rape her, his shadows overtake hers on the wall before he physically overpowers her. In the play’s final scene, when the Doctor and Matron come to escort Blanche to the asylum, shadows contribute to the jungle-like, mad atmosphere. Rather than representing a longed-for escape from reality, shadows become a threatening element.

Shadows Quotes in A Streetcar Named Desire

The A Streetcar Named Desire quotes below all refer to the symbol of Shadows. 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 3 Quotes

The kitchen now suggests that sort of lurid nocturnal brilliance, the raw colors of childhood’s spectrum.

Related Symbols: Shadows
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

On the one hand, the kitchen shows the vibrant nature of New Orleans life, which glitters in the dark with fun and games. On the other hand, the harsh lights also seem hellish, presentinf no opportunity for escape. The description of the kitchen as childish and too brightly colored shows the contrast between vivid New Orleans and decaying Belle Reve. From Blanche’s perspective, the kitchen appears to be garish, in contrast with her own aristocratic upbringing. The bright lights and vivid colors do not allow Blanche to conceal herself in shadows, or to pretend that anything unpleasant isn’t there. Stanley turns the night into day by forcing the kitchen into the brilliant artificial light.

Color is a very important symbolic element throughout the play. Blanche’s name means ‘white,’ and she wears all white to suggest her purity and innocence. However, Blanche’s white attire is a mask, hiding her sordid past and her inner lust, which is anything but innocent. The loudly colored kitchen represents Stanley’s domain. Stanley puts all his cards on the table at all times, and he does not cultivate many nuances in his personality. Rather, like a child’s drawing in simple, primary colors, Stanley operates on a primarily physical level.

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I can’t stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action.

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker)
Related Symbols: Paper Lantern and Paper Moon, Shadows
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

Blanche puts up a paper lantern to cover the harsh light of the naked light bulb, both because she wants to soften the physical light so that she appears more beautiful, and also because she wants to take symbolic control over the setting so that she can have control over her flirtation with Mitch. Blanche uses the paper lantern to make herself appear to be an innocent young woman in front of Mitch. By declaring that she has no stomach for rudeness or incivility, Blanche paints a picture of herself as an aristocratic woman with high standards who lives an impeccable, well-mannered life.

However, Blanche does not just dislike the uncovered light bulb because she finds it to be cheap or in bad taste. Rather, her fear of the naked light symbolically represents her fear of truth. Blanche never wants to face the harsh light of day, but instead would rather make everything look more beautiful and more appealing, and to live in the world of fantasy and beauty rather than the crude world of facts. By putting a paper lantern over the naked light bulb, Blanche also symbolically replaces reality with illusion.

Scene 4 Quotes

There are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark–that sort of make everything else seem–unimportant.

Related Characters: Stella Kowalski (speaker), Stanley Kowalski
Related Symbols: Shadows
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

After Stanley hits Stella, Blanche insists that Stanley is too dangerous, especially because Stella is pregnant, and that Stella must leave Stanley. However, even though Stella recognizes that Stanley’s aggression is wrong, she is also thrilled and aroused by his bestial nature. Stanley’s power does sometimes come out in a violent way, but other times, his passion emerges through tenderness and through sexual energy. Blanche claims that she wants to shield Stella from the world, but Stella is much more experienced and pragmatic than Blanche is. Blanche wants to cast herself in the role of savior by swooping in to save Stella, but Stella asserts her own power by declaring that she doesn’t need saving.

Stella’s demureness and roundabout way of discussing sexual relations (couching it in the language of shadows and euphemism) around Blanche is ironic in the context of what is later revealed about Blanche’s history. Although Blanche pretends to be very prim and proper, she was expelled from Laurel, Mississippi for her promiscuity. Blanche may pretend to be innocent and naïve about carnal desire, but she is no stranger to sexuality. 

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Shadows Symbol Timeline in A Streetcar Named Desire

The timeline below shows where the symbol Shadows appears in A Streetcar Named Desire. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene 10
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
...her from the start: powders and perfumes and paper lanterns couldn’t fool him. Lurid, grotesque shadows and reflections on the wall surround Blanche. (full context)
Scene 11
Fantasy and Delusion Theme Icon
Interior and Exterior Appearance Theme Icon
Masculinity and Physicality Theme Icon
Femininity and Dependence Theme Icon
...her way. She rushes past him, claiming that she has forgotten something. Lurid reflections and shadows appear on the walls again, and the polka music plays distortedly, accompanied by noises of... (full context)