Not only is stage lighting used in the play to express different dramatic moods, light is also used as a metaphor for truth, as opposed to illusion. This can be seen when Blanche asks Mitch to put the paper lantern over the bare light bulb. Covering the light, making it less harsh, is literally a way for Blanche to conceal the signs of her age; symbolically it expresses her desire for illusion over reality.
Blanche uses light as a metaphor in a different context when she describes her feelings when she first fell in love with the man who was to become her husband. It made her see everything in life in a new context, as if a blinding light had been turned on what before had been in shadow. Blanche is not the first person in literature or life to describe love in terms of light. After her husband’s death, the light went out, so the world Blanche lives in is deprived, as if existing only in shadow. She uses the same metaphor of light and darkness when she refers to art and music bringing light into the darkness of a world that is characterized by people like Stanley.
The play is permeated by different musical backgrounds. The music of the “blue piano,” coming from the Four Deuces bar, expresses the spirit of life in that part of the city. It responds to the moods depicted in the play, and is also heard in conjunction with brass, drums and clarinet at appropriate times. The opposite of the “blue piano” music, which represents life, is the polka music, also called the Varsouviana music, which represents death. It is first heard in scene 1, and is repeated whenever Blanche remembers her dead husband. It is heard most prominently in scene 6, when Blanche tells the story to Mitch.
Other symbolic elements
There are some other symbolic elements in the play. The names of the two streetcars Blanche takes to reach Stella’s house, Desire and Cemeteries, symbolize the themes of sex and death that permeate the play. The name of the area where Blanche and Stanley live is called Elysian Fields. The Elysian Fields are the blissful abode where ancient Greek heroes dwell in the afterlife. The term suggests that Blanche and Stanley live in a kind of paradise (a paradise that of course is hard for Blanche to understand). A clue to this paradise of sexual fulfilment is given in Stanley’s first action in the play, which is to toss a package of raw meat to Stella, which she catches. The sexual innuendo is the reason behind the laughter of the black woman who observes this. The locomotive that is heard in scene 10, just before the rape, can be seen as an expression of aggressive male desire. Finally, Blanche’s seemingly constant desire to bathe symbolizes her longing for purity, her desire to wash off the sins of her past.
A Streetcar Named Desire: Metaphor Analysis