How Does Williams Present the Themes of Illusion and Fantasy in a Streetcar Named Desire?
How does Williams present the themes of illusion and fantasy in A Streetcar Named Desire? The theme of reality vs. fantasy is one that the play centres around. Blanche dwells in illusion; fantasy is her primary means of self-defence, both against outside threats and against her own demons. Throughout the play, Blanche’s dependence on illusion is contrasted with Stanley’s steadfast realism, and in the end it is Stanley and his worldview that win. To survive, Stella must also resort to a kind of illusion, forcing herself to believe that Blanche’s accusations against Stanley are false so that she can continue living with her husband.
One of the main ways Williams dramatises fantasy’s inability to overcome reality is through an exploration of the boundary between exterior and interior. The set includes the two-room Kowalski apartment and the surrounding street. Williams’ use of a flexible set that allows the street to be seen at the same time as the interior of the home expresses the idea that the home is not a place of safety. The characters leave and enter the apartment throughout the play, often bringing with them the problems they encounter outside.
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For example, Blanche refuses to leave her prejudices against the working class behind her at the door. The most notable instance of this effect occurs just before Stanley rapes Blanche, when the back wall of the apartment becomes transparent to show the struggles occurring on the street, foreshadowing the violation that is about to take place in the Kowalski’s’ home. Blanche is the most fascinating character in A Streetcar Named Desire. One reason for this is that she has an absolutely brilliant way of making reality seem like fantasy, and making fantasy seem like reality.
This element of Blanche’s personality is what makes her character interest the audience and contribute to the excellence of the work. Returning to the beginning of the play, Blanche, shocked with the dirtiness and gloominess of Stella and Stanley’s home in New Orleans, looks out the window and says ‘Out there I suppose is the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir! ‘, to which Stella replies ‘No honey, those are the L and N tracks. ‘ Blanche would assume that something so common and simple as noisy, dark railroad tracks might as well be ‘ghoul-haunted woodlands. Further evidence of Blanche’s warped view of reality and fantasy is shown throughout the entire play. She seems to hint to Stella and Stanley, and therefore the audience, that she is actually much more than she seems. In scene seven, Blanche soaks in a tub, singing: ‘Say, it’s only a paper moon, sailing over a cardboard sea -But it wouldn’t be make-believe If you believed in me! It’s a Barnum and Bailey world, Just as phony as it can be -But it wouldn’t be make-believe If you believed in me! ‘
As she sings this song, telling the story of her tendency to believe a more pleasant, warped view of reality over the actual reality, Stanley is telling Stella the horrifying truth about Blanche’s scandalous past. These lyrics sum up Blanche’s approach to life. She believes that her lying is only her means of enjoying a better way of life and is therefore essentially harmless. In scene nine, Blanche is confronted by Mitch, who has learned the truth about her past. Mitch tells Blanche that he has never seen her in the light.
He tears Blanche’s paper lantern off of the plain, bright light bulb, and tries to see her as she really is, and not in a view warped by Blanche’s efforts to make herself seem more innocent, young, and beautiful than she is. Blanche responds to this by saying ‘I don’t want realism. I want magic!… I try to give that to people. I misinterpret things to them. I don’t tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth… Don’t turn the light on! ‘ This intense, frightening scene reveals to the audience the way Blanche views the world.
Tennessee Williams’ use of this kind of dual view of the world to develop Blanche’s character is a perfect example of the way A Streetcar Named Desire makes the audience react to the characters in the play. The use of light and dark links to the key theme of fantasy and reality. The light is the truth, and this is what Blanche always tries to cover up. Stanley wants the truth so rips away any protection Blanche hides behind, for example the paper lantern over the naked bulb. The Streetcar light that always shines through the window, is trying to uncover the truth so Blanche ides away whenever it drives by, ‘A locomotive is heard approaching outside. She claps her hands to her ears and crouches over. ’ In conclusion, the reader of A Streetcar Named Desire is not only entertained by an interesting story when they read the play. They are also thrust into a reality which is not their own, yet somehow seems familiar. This realistic fantasy Williams creates with his brilliant use of symbolism, intriguing characters, and involving action in the play causes the reader to connect fully with the setting, characters, conflicts, and emotions within it.