A Streetcar Named Desire

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Streetcar Named Desire, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Fantasy and Delusion Theme Icon

In Scene One, Blanche takes a streetcar named Desire through Cemeteries to reach Elysian Fields, where Stella and Stanley live. Though the place names are real, the journey allegorically foreshadows Blanche’s mental descent throughout the play. Blanche’s desires have led her down paths of sexual promiscuity and alcoholism, and by coming to stay with the Kowalskis, she has reached the end of the line. Blanche’s desire to escape causes her to lose touch with the world around her. By the end of the play, Blanche can no longer distinguish between fantasy and real life.

The tension between fantasy and reality centers on Blanche’s relationship with both other characters and the world around her. Blanche doesn’t want realism––she wants magic––but magic must yield to the light of day. Although Blanch tries to wrap herself in the trappings of her former Southern belle self, she must eventually face facts, and the real world eclipses and shatters Blanche’s fantasies. Throughout the play, Blanche only appears in semi-darkness and shadows, deliberately keeping herself out of the harsh glare of reality. She clings to the false, illusory world of paper lanterns and satin robes: if she can keep up the appearance of being an innocent ingénue, she can continue to see herself in this fashion rather than face her checkered past and destitute present. By maintaining an illusory exterior appearance, Blanche hopes to hide her troubled interior from both herself and the world at large.

When Stanley tells Stella the sordid details of Blanche’s past, Blanche is offstage bathing and singing “Paper Moon,” a song about a make-believe world that becomes reality through love. But Blanche’s make-believe world does not overtake reality: her fantasy version of herself crumbles. At the end of the play, Blanche is taken to a mental asylum, permanently removed from reality to her own mind.

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Fantasy and Delusion Quotes in A Streetcar Named Desire

Below you will find the important quotes in A Streetcar Named Desire related to the theme of Fantasy and Delusion.
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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Stella, oh, Stella, Stella! Stella for Star!

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker), Stella Kowalski
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

When Blanche is first reunited with her sister, Stella, she cries out Stella’s name over and over, with a warmth that borders on hysteria. Blanche’s greeting shows her love for her sister, but also demonstrates her desperation. The lines also show how Blanche wants to live in a world of fantasy, not reality. By referring to her sister as “Stella for Star,” she calls attention to the name’s allegorical meaning ("stella" is Latin for "star"), and in doing so emphasizes how she prefers to live in the beauty of the fantasy that she constructs about herself, not in gritty reality.

Blanche herself is already attempting to act out the meaning of her own name by dressing all in white, since “blanche” means “white.” Even though Blanche has had a troubled past, she wants to become innocent and clean again. However, despite the façade of purity, Blanche is hardly as innocent as she seems. Just before Stella arrives, Blanche gulps down some whisky, using alcohol as an attempt to escape reality. When Stella comes in, Blanche immediately focuses her attention her sister, trying to deflect away from her own troubles.

Stella's name is also significant in its own right, as she serves as a guiding star and moral compass for both Stanley and Blanche throughout the play.

Sit there and stare at me, thinking I let the place go? I let the place go? Where were you! In bed with your–Polack!

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker), Stanley Kowalski, Stella Kowalski
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Blanche lashes out against Stella for choosing to leave the family estate of Belle Reve for a lower-class lifestyle. From Blanche’s perspective, Stella appears to have rejected the family’s aristocratic background in favor of a marriage to a man that she sexually desires.

But Stella is not embarrassed to be married to Stanley. Rather, Blanche is projecting her own feelings of shame onto Stella. Blanche cannot face her own guilt over letting Belle Reve collapse into both social and financial ruin. Instead, she makes herself feel morally superior by blaming Stella rather than herself. The word “Polack” demonstrates Blanche’s desperation to cling to social hierarchy: she uses racial slurs to cast down Stanley and to make herself feel as though she is of a higher class.

Blanche is also jealous of Stella’s freedom. Blanche has become an outcast in her hometown, Laurel, Mississippi, because of her scandalous behavior. She envies Stella’s relationship with her husband, and she envies Stella’s ability to live a happy and fulfilled life rather than being burdened with the ghosts of the past. Blanche cannot bear to face her own wrongdoings, and so she instead attempts to make Stella feel guilty for leaving, casting herself as the martyr rather than admitting her mistakes.

Scene 2 Quotes

Now let’s cut the re-bop!

Related Characters: Stanley Kowalski (speaker)
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Stanley lets Blanche talk coquettishly and indirectly with him for a little while, eventually he gets irritated with her coyness and demands that they speak plainly. At first, Blanche becomes even more flirtatious, since she thinks that this is Stanley’s way of taking their flirting to the next level, and she sends Stella out of the house so that she can focus her attentions on Stanley without being inhibited or chaperoned by her sister. However, as the conversation proceeds, Blanche realizes that Stanley’s anger isn’t just foreplay: he’s actually suspicious that Blanche is hiding money from Stella and, therefore, from him. Stanley wants to take control over everything that he thinks rightfully belongs to him, and that includes both Blanche’s property and Blanche herself. “Re-bop” is a word borrowed from jazz culture, not from Blanche’s aristocratic background, and the term makes Stanley, rather than Blanche, in control of the terms of the conversation. Rather than engaging with her vocabulary, Stanley shouts with his own slang, forcing the conversation into his idiom.

After all, a woman’s charm is fifty percent illusion.

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker)
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

When Blanche tells Stanley that illusion is fifty percent of a woman’s charm, she is, ironically, speaking to him directly for the first time. Stanley has declared his impatience with Blanche’s coy maneuvers and indirect flirtations, so Blanche changes tactics. Rather than play the innocent ingénue figure, she acts as though she is being open with Stanley, putting all her cards on the table and having a frank conversation rather than continuing her coquettish dance.

Yet Blanche is still continuing to hide behind illusions, even when she says that she is speaking entirely openly. She acts as though she is completely open with Stanley, yet she still snatches away the love letters from him. She also begins to faint and flutter at the merest mention of mortgages and money, playing the weak woman for Stanley’s benefit, as well as for her own, since she does not want to face ugly financial truths. Not only does Blanche create illusions to charm Stanley, she also uses illusion to hide from reality herself. Blanche also leaves unanswered the other half of her statement: if illusion is only fifty percent of a woman’s charm, there must be another fifty percent made of something else.


Oh, I guess he’s just not the type that goes for jasmine perfume, but maybe he’s what we need to mix with our blood now that we’ve lost Belle Reve.

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker), Stanley Kowalski
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

When Stella returns home, Blanche tells her that she and Stanley have discussed the matter of Belle Reve and their family’s finances, and that they’ve settled things out. To Stella, Blanche describes her conversation with Stanley lightly, assuring her that everything is fine. In this depiction of events, Blanche suggests that even though she and Stella come from a higher class than Stanley, sometimes people like Stanley can help balance them out and ground them in real life.

When Blanche shows Stanley the mortgage papers to prove that Belle Reve, the ancestral home, has indeed been lost, and that the cause of the loss was bad investment by several generations of ancestors, Stanley becomes sheepish and says that he is so concerned because Stella is going to have a baby. Upon learning that Stella is pregnant, Blanche switches from painting Stanley as a brute who is unworthy of Stella’s love to portraying Stanley as a raw, untamed man who will benefit from Stella and Blanche’s generosity in opening their family to him. 

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.

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 5 Quotes

Young man! Young, young, young man! Has anyone ever told you that you look like a young Prince out of the Arabian Nights?

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker)
Related Symbols: Paper Lantern and Paper Moon
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

Blanche flirts with the boy who comes to collect money for subscriptions to the newspaper, which is called the "Evening Star." By calling him a prince from the Arabian Nights, Blanche sweeps the boy into her world of fantasy and illusion. Blanche wants to create a fairy-tale world around her so that she doesn’t have to face any consequences of her actions, but Blanche is also very aware of her seductive powers throughout her flirtation with the paper boy, deliberately turning his innocent words into sexually charged statements. When the boy reveals that he has just had a cherry soda, Blanche lingers on the flavor, drawing attention to its sensuality. Her emphasis on the word “young” also foreshadows the information Stanley reveals about Blanche later in the play, that is, that she was exiled from her hometown for her sexual relations with boys. (And her attraction to youth is presumably also connected to her fear of her own aging self.)

The idea of the Arabian Nights contrasts with Blanche’s slurs against Stanley. Although she refers to Stanley as a “Polack” in a condescending way, she uses the illusion of foreignness to deepen her fantasy of the young boy. The name of the paper, the "Evening Star," is another symbolic name that becomes both a real-life signifier and an allegory throughout the play. Blanche far prefers the night to the day, and starlight to sunlight, because she never wants to face the full truth. The Evening Star also riffs on the “Paper Moon” song that Blanche sings throughout the play: the Star paper and the paper moon form a false, alternate reality. 

Scene 6 Quotes

Sometimes–there’s God–so quickly!

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker)
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

Despite acting as though she is laying the whole truth bare to Mitch, Blanche is still pretending to be innocent when she flirts with him. Blanche divulges the story of her failed marriage, but she tells the story in such a way that she is the one who deserves pity and help. Even though she acts like she is opening up to tell Mitch her darkest, most sordid secrets, she disguises her confessions in a cloak of romance that makes her appear in a favorable light.

In the context of the scene, it is unclear whether or not Blanche’s exclamation is addressed to Mitch or to herself. If it’s addressed to Mitch, she is still playing the sweet, innocent victim, and the exclamation comes as a sign of her desire to ensnare him through her guiles. If the exclamation is addressed to herself, it could signal a crack in her façade, showing a moment of genuine relief that someone is there to pay attention to her and to give her comfort and acceptance. 

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.

Scene 9 Quotes

I don’t want realism. I want magic!

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker)
Related Symbols: Paper Lantern and Paper Moon
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

When Mitch rips the paper lantern off the lightbulb, Blanche cries out against this action. She pretends to be making a melodramatic joke in the moment, but her outcry portrays Blanche’s fear of reality and the make-believe world she clings to more and more desperately as the play proceeds.

Blanche claims that she doesn’t want Mitch to see her in the light of day because she is ashamed of how old she actually is. Blanche cloaks herself in shadows and wears makeup to act as though she is younger than she really is, but she is not the maiden that she pretends to be. However, Blanche’s outcry against Mitch goes deeper than a literal request made about the lightbulb. Blanche is terrified of facing the truth, both about her sordid past and her future prospects. Ultimately, Mitch’s and Blanche’s worlds are incompatible with each other. Mitch lives in the real world, and though he might be charmed by Blanche’s flirtations, he is too firmly grounded in the light of day to be taken in by her magic forever. 

Scene 10 Quotes

Tiger–tiger! Drop the bottle-top! Drop it! We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning!

Related Characters: Stanley Kowalski (speaker), Blanche DuBois
Related Symbols: Alcohol and Drunkenness
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

Stanley aggressively attacks Blanche, insisting that their carnal lusts have both led them to sleep with each other. Stanley calls Blanche a “tiger,” emphasizing the raw, animal power of desire present in both people. Stanley demonstrates his violent passion for Blanche in this scene, yet Blanche is not wholly guilt-free, as she also desires him, and has been physically attracted to him since the beginning of the play (her "willingness," however, depends on the production of this scene). Although Blanche likes to pretend throughout the play that she is a delicate, coy, innocent maiden who has never had more than a gentle flirtation with a man, Stanley has discovered Blanche’s more sordid sexual history, and he is not afraid to present her with the truth. Blanche wants to create illusions and live in a world of her own fantasy, but Stanley is only interested in the present moment and in reality.

Stanley’s admonition to her to drop the bottle has several layers of significance. Blanche is holding a broken bottle at Stanley in threat, so he wants her to let go of the weapon and surrender to her carnal passion. Stanley also wants Blanche to let go of the security blanket of alcohol. Rather than drowning her feelings in liquor, and drowning the present in her memories of the past, Stanley insists that she occupy the harsh, merciless present.

Scene 11 Quotes

Please don’t get up. I’m only passing through.

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker)
Related Symbols: Varsouviana Polka
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

When Blanche tells the men playing poker in the kitchen to remain seated when she walks through, she reveals her assumption that since she is such a dignified lady, and since they are all refined gentlemen, they would automatically stand up out of respect when they see her. However, the scene that Blanche is actually entering is a very different one than she believes she is in. Although Blanche is going to be taken away to the asylum, she believes that she is going to start a new life with Shep, a wealthy suitor from her past. Her admonition to the men to stay seated represents the last gasp of Blanche’s delusion. To this point, she still thinks, or is still letting herself think, that Shep is coming to get her. But as soon as she tells the men to stay seated, she recognizes that the world she wants to enter and the reality she is in do not cohere.

Blanche’s utterance is one of extreme pathos. Stella is heartbroken over her sister’s illness, but she believes that she is doing the right thing for everyone by sending Blanche away. The audience recognizes that Blanche is living in a completely self-deluded world. The men take pity on Blanche, because they know she is having a nervous breakdown. Everyone sees Blanche for who she is except for Blanche herself.

You left nothing here but spilt talcum and old empty perfume bottles–unless it’s the paper lantern you want to take with you. You want the lantern?

Related Characters: Stanley Kowalski (speaker), Blanche DuBois
Related Symbols: Paper Lantern and Paper Moon
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

Blanche attempts to stall her trip to the asylum, which signifies her forced acceptance of reality, by desperately pretending that she has left items behind. Stanley yells at her roughly, asking if she wants the paper lantern that she has placed over the bare bulb. Stanley’s question is literal, on the surface: Blanche bought the paper lantern, so the object does belong to her. But the line is less important for its literal than its symbolic meaning. On one level, the lantern shows how far Blanche has fallen: she's gone from a wealthy, cultured upbringing to owning nothing but a piece of paper. Furthermore, throughout the play the paper lantern has signified Blanche’s mania for hiding reality in illusion and cloaking the harsh truth with fanciful stories. By thrusting the paper lantern at her, Stanley rips off Blanche’s final delusions and fantasy life.

The talcum bottles and paper lantern also symbolize the false effects of the theater itself. A stage set is created through illusions and magic, and it provides an escape from the real world. When Blanche exits, the play ends: she is the glue that holds the illusion of the play itself together. 

Whoever you are—I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

Related Characters: Blanche DuBois (speaker), Doctor
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

Blanche’s final line in the play demonstrates that she has fully descended into madness. Stanley and Stella have realized that Blanche has lost her grip on reality, and they commit her to a mental institution. Blanche deludes herself into believing that her long-lost lover, Shep, is coming to sweep her away. When she realizes that the doctor and the matron from the asylum are the ones escorting her out of the apartment, Blanche initially puts up a struggle, and the matron grabs her roughly. But when the doctor treats Blanche more gently, offering his arm as though he were a suitor, rather than a doctor, Blanche relaxes back into her delusion, playing the part of a genteel Southern belle.

Blanche’s final line is poignant because of its apparent innocence. Her surrender to faith in others has a religious tinge to it as well: Blanche submits herself to a higher power. Blanche is also playing a very melodramatic part here. She casts herself as a martyr figure, relying on the kind nature of others. Yet the statement further demonstrates that Blanche does need psychiatric help, as she cannot understand her own delusions and does not know the difference between dream and reality. Blanche’s pronouncement line also underscores Stella’s guilt regarding the treatment of her sister. Stella knows that she has to deceive Blanche in order to help both herself and her family, but Stella also feels as though she is betraying Blanche by sending her away.