A Streetcar Named Desire

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The Streetcar Symbol Analysis

The Streetcar Symbol Icon
Williams called the streetcar the “ideal metaphor for the human condition.” The play’s title refers not only to a real streetcar line in New Orleans but also symbolically to the power of desire as the driving force behind the characters’ actions. Blanche’s journey on Desire through Cemeteries to Elysian Fields is both literal and allegorical. Desire is a controlling force: when it takes over, characters must submit to its power, and they are carried along to the end of the line.

The Streetcar Quotes in A Streetcar Named Desire

The A Streetcar Named Desire quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Streetcar. 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 1 Quotes

They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and transfer to one called Cemeteries, and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Streetcar
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Blanche DuBois has just arrived in New Orleans, where her sister, Stella, lives with her husband, Stan Kowalski. The neighborhood she arrives in is seedy but also exciting, with heated, sexual tension in the air. Blanche, dressed all in fancy white clothes and delicately fluttering like a moth, appears very out of place in the rough, blue-collar atmosphere. Blanche approaches Eunice and a black woman, who are sitting on the stoop of the Kowalski’s apartment, and says these lines. They are her first lines in the play, and situate her arrival both literally and metaphorically.

On the one hand, Blanche gives the literal directions through New Orleans, since these are the names of the streetcars that she would have used to travel to the actual neighborhood. Yet the directions also illustrate the allegorical journey that Blanche has taken throughout her life that has led her to this spot. In Greek mythology, the Elysian Fields are the final resting place of heroic and virtuous souls. Blanche’s pursuit of her taboo desires (which at this early stage of the play have not yet been revealed) has led her through a kind of death, that is, her expulsion from her hometown, Laurel, Mississippi. Now, Blanche has landed in a kind of afterlife, where she hopes she will be able to put aside her past and begin anew—but, of course, this is soon revealed to be a delusion.


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Scene 4 Quotes

What you are talking about is brutal desire–just–Desire!–the name of that rattle-trap street-car that bangs through the Quarter.

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker), Stella Kowalski
Related Symbols: The Streetcar
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

The streetcar named Desire that provides this play with its title is both the name of a streetcar in New Orleans and a metaphor for the powerful and often dangerous emotion that propels the characters in the play. Even though each character might choose to step onto the streetcar, he or she does not necessarily know where the streetcar will go, or how long the ride will be, or whether or not he or she will be able to get off. Desire is the engine that powers New Orleans in Williams' play. As the streetcar rumbles through the streets, everyone is reminded of its constant, inescapable presence, and of the fact that this force is what governs everyone in the city.

Blanche is scornful about desire because she fears it. Desire, to Blanche, signifies a raw, animal energy that she cannot pretend to ignore. Blanche also knows that desire is the passion that drove her to New Orleans in the first place. Allegorically, succumbing to illicit desire drives Blanche out of her hometown, and then Desire literally drives Blanche to Stella and Stanley’s apartment.

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