A Streetcar Named Desire

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Interior and Exterior Appearance Theme Analysis

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.
Interior and Exterior Appearance Theme Icon

The audience of Streeetcar sees both the inside of the Kowalskis’ apartment as well as the street, which emphasizes the tense relationship between what is on the outside and what is on the inside throughout the play. The physical attention to inside versus outside also symbolically demonstrates the complicated relationship between what goes on in the mind versus what occurs in real life. As the play progresses, the split between Blanche’s fantasy world and reality becomes sharper and clearer to every character in the play except Blanche, for whom the interior and exterior worlds become increasingly blurred.

Social and class distinctions also point to the tension between interior and exterior. Blanche is trying to “keep up appearances” in all aspects of her life. She surrounds herself in her silks and rhinestones and fantasies of Shep’s yacht to maintain the appearance of being an upper-class ingénue, even though she is, by all accounts, a “fallen woman.” Blanche also calls Stanley a “Polack” and makes snide remarks about the state of the Kowalski apartment in order to maintain her own sense of external social superiority.

Williams uses music to play with the boundary between the interior and the exterior. The “blue piano” that frequently plays outside evokes tension and fraught emotions inside the apartment. Although the blue piano is a part of the exterior world, it expresses the feelings occurring inside the characters. Blanche sings “Paper Moon” in the bath offstage while, onstage, Stanley reveals to Stella Blanche’s hidden and sordid history. Music also allows the audience to enter Blanche’s head. When she hears the Varsouviana Polka, the audience hears the polka, even though it is only playing in her mind. Just as Blanche’s fantasy blurs into reality, Blanche’s point of view and the perspective of the whole play become blurred.

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Interior and Exterior Appearance ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Interior and Exterior Appearance appears in each scene of A Streetcar Named Desire. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Interior and Exterior Appearance Quotes in A Streetcar Named Desire

Below you will find the important quotes in A Streetcar Named Desire related to the theme of Interior and Exterior Appearance.
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.

Since earliest manhood the center of [Stanley’s] life has been pleasure with women, the giving and taking of it, not with weak indulgence, dependently, but with the power and pride of a richly feathered male bird among hens.

Related Characters: Stanley Kowalski
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

When Stanley enters the kitchen, Stanley and Blanche are in the same physical space for the first time in the play, and the stage directions commemorate this occasion by describing not only Stanley’s literal presence but also his symbolic appearance. Stanley’s power, especially his sexual power, is described as animal behavior, emphasizing his raw physicality and brute force. Animal metaphors are frequently used in the play to signify lust, and this symbolic dimension highlights the tense, sexually charged current between Stanley and Blanche.

Throughout the play, Blanche attempts to draw a contrast between herself and Stanley by emphasizing her delicate, aristocratic nature and highlighting his bestiality. But the animalistic description of Stanley ultimately draws Stanley and Blanche together. When Blanche comes to New Orleans, she is also described as an animal, since the stage directions depict her as looking like a fluttering moth. As much as Blanche sees Stanley as a beast, she also recognizes that he is a magnet for women, and that she is hardly immune. Indeed, even though she pretends to be disgusted by Stanley, Blanche has been looking at pictures of Stanley before he enters. The animal metaphors draw Stanley and Blanche together on a symbolic level long before they have any physical interaction.

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. 

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 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. 

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 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 told you already I don’t want none of his liquor and I mean it. You ought to lay off his liquor. He says you’ve been lapping it up all summer like a wild-cat!

Related Characters: Harold Mitchell (Mitch) (speaker), Blanche DuBois, Stanley Kowalski
Related Symbols: Alcohol and Drunkenness
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the play, metaphors of beasts and animality are used throughout the play to refer to physical lust and raw sexuality. Blanche calls Stanley a “brute” and a “beast.” The stage directions refer to Stanley as a rooster preening among female hens. Here, Mitch’s use of the term “wildcat” for Blanche foreshadows Stanley’s outcry later in the play, when Stanley calls Blanche a “tiger” just before raping her. Calling Blanche a “wildcat” also symbolically pulls Blanche from the realm of magic into the physical world.

Mitch also proudly differentiates himself from Stanley in this exclamation. Stanley is the alpha male throughout the entire play. However, in this outburst, Mitch declares himself to be self-sufficient, and therefore, by implication, a sexual partner worthy of Blanche’s attention on his own terms. Blanche treats Mitch as a sympathetic and gentle character, but in this outburst, Mitch tries to reclaim some of the sexual energy that Stanley exudes.

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 11 Quotes

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.