A Streetcar Named Desire | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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Course Hero, "A Streetcar Named Desire Study Guide," October 13, 2016, accessed September 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Streetcar-Named-Desire/.

A Streetcar Named Desire | Motifs

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Williams uses music, such as the "blue piano," the song "It's Only a Paper Moon," and the Varsouviana polka, to represent his characters' inner lives, set the mood, and further define the themes of the play.

Blue Piano

The term "blue piano" suggests the blues, mournful music often written in response to life's hardships and tragedies. The music of the "blue piano," which opens and closes the play, is often heard during particularly sad or tragic moments. For example, the "blue piano" grows louder as Blanche admits to Stella that Belle Reve is "lost," and again as Blanche flirts desperately with a young man. Later in the play, the "blue piano's" music grows louder until it turns into the "roar" of a train as Stanley prepares to rape Blanche.

"It's Only a Paper Moon"

The song "It's Only a Paper Moon" appears only once in the play, when Blanche sings it while taking a bath in Scene 7, while Stanley reveals Blanche's sexual exploits to Stella. Its lyrics focus on one of Blanche's struggles to deal with truth versus illusion: "But it wouldn't be make-believe If you believe in me!" The song reveals Blanche's reliance on illusion to help her find true love. She believes that manipulative flirtation and hiding the truth about her sexual escapades is the only way to secure romantic love.

Varsouviana Polka

The Varsouviana polka symbolizes the combination of desire, destruction, and death that haunts Blanche, and which began with her husband's suicide. The author cues this polka when Blanche describes the death of her husband, when Stanley gives Blanche a ticket back to Laurel, where her life has fallen apart after she is caught having sex with one of her teenage students, and when the Doctor and Matron arrive to take Blanche away in Scene 11.

Belle Reve

Williams uses the Belle Reve plantation to represent the traditional lifestyle of upper-class Southern landowners. However characters in the play react to this setting in different ways. For Blanche, Belle Reve relates to her agonizing attempt to hang on to a refined way of life. The plantation's name is French for "beautiful dream." Even after Belle Reve has been lost, Blanche clings to traditional Southern values as if she still lived there. Stella feels some guilt about leaving Belle Reve. She cries when Blanche accuses her of not helping to keep the plantation. Blanche is angry not only about the loss of the estate, but also about having had to abandon the way of life the estate represents. She objects, "I let the place go? Where were you! In bed with your—Polack!" Stanley does not care about Belle Reve representing Southern tradition. For him Belle Reve means money. He and Stella did not get any money from the sale of Belle Reve, which upsets him until he realizes the property was lost due to a foreclosed mortgage.

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