A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Brief Intro

“A Streetcar Named Desire” is a classic film directed by Elia Kazan, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tennessee Williams. Set in the vibrant French Quarter of New Orleans, it tells the story of the tumultuous relationship between the fragile Blanche DuBois and her brutish brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski. The film delves into themes of desire, mental illness, and societal expectations, making it a rich subject for literary analysis.

Literary Devices Used in A Streetcar Named Desire

Let’s explore the ten key literary devices used in the film with specific examples from various scenes.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Blanche’s frequent bathsRepresent her desire to cleanse herself of her past
The broken mirrorSymbolizes Blanche’s fractured sense of reality


Movie SceneDevice Example
Blanche’s fear of lightHints at her hidden secrets and vulnerability
The streetcar named ‘Desire’Suggests the destructive path of the characters’ desires


Movie SceneDevice Example
Blanche’s name meaning ‘white’ or ‘pure’Contrasts with her morally ambiguous past
Stanley’s insistence on truthIronically, he himself hides many truths


Movie SceneDevice Example
Blanche’s lantern over the light bulbRepresents her attempt to soften reality
Stanley as a ‘streetcar’Metaphor for his forceful and direct nature


Movie SceneDevice Example
The constant poker gamesReflect the power struggles between characters
Music of the “Varsouviana”Recurs to indicate Blanche’s traumatic past


Movie SceneDevice Example
References to Elysian FieldsAlludes to the final resting place of souls, ironic given the characters’ turmoil
Blanche’s talk of Edgar Allan PoeReflects her own descent into madness


Movie SceneDevice Example
Blanche’s delicate demeanor vs. Stanley’s raw masculinityHighlights their conflicting worlds
The decaying grandeur of Blanche’s attireJuxtaposes the gritty reality of her surroundings


Movie SceneDevice Example
Blanche’s recollection of her husband’s deathProvides insight into her fragile mental state
Memories of Belle ReeveReveal Blanche’s fall from grace and the family’s decline


Movie SceneDevice Example
New Orleans itselfComes alive as a character with its vibrant, oppressive atmosphere
Blanche’s descriptions of light and shadowsPersonify her internal battles and illusions


Movie SceneDevice Example
The hot, oppressive New Orleans settingEvokes the characters’ internal pressures
Detailed descriptions of Blanche’s attirePaint vivid pictures of her attempts to maintain a façade

Character Analysis Through Literary Devices

Character Studies

Blanche DuBois

Symbolism (Lantern)The paper lantern Blanche places over the light bulb symbolizes her attempt to mask the harsh realities of her life and past.
Metaphor (Moth)Blanche is often likened to a moth, fragile and drawn to the light despite its dangers, illustrating her delicate, self-destructive nature.

Stanley Kowalski

Irony (Truth)Stanley’s demand for truth contrasts with his own deceitful behavior, highlighting his complex morality.
Juxtaposition (Power)Stanley’s physical dominance and raw masculinity starkly contrast with Blanche’s refined, delicate demeanor, underscoring the central conflict.

Stella Kowalski

Motif (Poker)Stella’s involvement in Stanley’s poker games represents her immersion in his world, despite her attempts to maintain a semblance of refinement.
Foreshadowing (Pregnancy)Stella’s pregnancy foreshadows the continuation of the cycle of violence and conflict within the Kowalski household.


Symbolism (Cigarette Case)The inscription in Mitch’s cigarette case symbolizes his idealistic view of love and connection, which contrasts with Blanche’s jaded experiences.
Flashback (Mother)Mitch’s memories of his sick mother reveal his vulnerability and desire for genuine affection, making his eventual betrayal of Blanche more poignant.

Character Dynamics

Blanche and Stanley The clash between Blanche and Stanley drives the narrative, with literary devices like juxtaposition and irony highlighting their conflicting values and worldviews. Stanley’s brute force and unyielding nature starkly contrast with Blanche’s delicate façade and desperate need for validation, creating a volatile dynamic that propels the story toward its tragic conclusion.

Stella and Stanley Stella’s relationship with Stanley is a study in compromise and survival. Through motifs like the poker game and foreshadowing through her pregnancy, their dynamic illustrates the tension between passion and brutality, as well as the sacrifices Stella makes to maintain her life with Stanley.

Blanche and Mitch Blanche’s relationship with Mitch offers a glimmer of hope for redemption and acceptance. However, through devices such as symbolism and flashbacks, it becomes clear that their connection is built on fragile grounds. Mitch’s eventual disillusionment with Blanche underscores the theme of illusion versus reality.

Thematic Analysis

Desire and Destruction

Symbolism (Streetcar Named Desire)The streetcar represents the driving force of desire that leads characters to their downfall.
Irony (Blanche’s Desires)Blanche’s pursuit of desire ultimately leads to her destruction, highlighting the perilous nature of unchecked passion.

Illusion vs. Reality

Metaphor (Lantern)Blanche’s lantern symbolizes her efforts to obscure reality and present a softened version of herself.
Juxtaposition (Blanche and Stanley)The stark contrast between Blanche’s illusions and Stanley’s harsh reality underscores the central conflict of the film.


Motif (Varsouviana Music)The recurring Varsouviana music signifies Blanche’s slipping grasp on sanity, triggered by traumatic memories.
Flashback (Allan’s Death)Blanche’s flashbacks to her husband’s suicide reveal the roots of her mental instability.

Cinematic Techniques That Enhance Literary Devices

Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
Symbolism (Lantern)LightingThe use of soft, diffused lighting around Blanche emphasizes her attempts to obscure reality.
Irony (Blanche’s Purity)CostumingBlanche’s white dresses, which symbolize purity, contrast with her tarnished past, visually reinforcing the irony.
Motif (Poker Game)Sound DesignThe constant background noise of poker games and jazz music reflects the chaotic, oppressive atmosphere of the Kowalski home.
Juxtaposition (Characters)Camera AnglesClose-ups on Blanche’s delicate features versus low angles on Stanley’s imposing frame highlight their differences.
Metaphor (Moth)Visual EffectsThe use of soft-focus shots around Blanche enhances her ethereal, fragile presence, much like a moth drawn to light.

Key Scene Analysis

Scene: Blanche’s Arrival

YouTube Link

In this scene, Blanche arrives at the Kowalski home, immediately highlighting the stark contrast between her refined, fragile demeanor and the gritty, bustling environment of New Orleans. The use of juxtaposition and symbolism (Blanche’s white attire) establishes her as an outsider in Stanley’s world, setting the stage for the ensuing conflict.

Scene: The Poker Night

YouTube Link

During the poker game, the motif of gambling and the oppressive atmosphere of the Kowalski household are highlighted. The sound design, with the clattering poker chips and Stanley’s aggressive behavior, amplifies the tension. The scene exemplifies the power dynamics and the struggle for control between the characters.

Scene: The Final Confrontation

YouTube Link

The climactic scene where Stanley confronts Blanche uses a combination of lighting, sound, and camera angles to heighten the tension. The use of harsh lighting strips away Blanche’s illusions, while the close-up shots on Stanley’s face emphasize his dominance and aggression. This scene encapsulates the film’s themes of illusion versus reality and the destructive power of desire.


To wrap up our deep dive into “A Streetcar Named Desire,” let’s test your knowledge with a fun quiz! Ready? Here we go!

Multiple Choice Quiz

  1. What does Blanche’s frequent bathing symbolize?
    • a) Her need to cool down
    • b) Her attempt to cleanse her past
    • c) Her love for water
    • d) Her fear of germs
  2. Which literary device is exemplified by Stanley’s insistence on truth?
  3. The constant poker games in the film are a motif representing:
    • a) Luck
    • b) Friendship
    • c) Power struggles
    • d) Wealth
  4. What does the lantern over the light bulb symbolize?
    • a) Illumination
    • b) Warmth
    • c) Blanche’s attempt to mask reality
    • d) Decoration
  5. The Varsouviana music motif signifies:
    • a) Blanche’s joy
    • b) Blanche’s connection to New Orleans
    • c) Blanche’s slipping grasp on sanity
    • d) Stanley’s favorite tune

Answers: 1-b, 2-b, 3-c, 4-c, 5-c