Desire, Dependency, and Nationalism in Streetcar Named Desire

The exploration of sexual desires, dependency on men, and nationalism are intricately woven into the fabric of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. Through the characters of Blanche Dubois and Stanley Kowalski, Williams delves into the complexities of human relationships and societal norms, employing allegory, allusion, symbolism, foreshadowing, indirect characterization, metaphor, and tone to convey the multifaceted layers of these themes.

The Allegorical Journey of Desire

In the narrative, Blanche Dubois embarks on a symbolic journey through various streetcars, each named with profound significance.

The "Desire" streetcar, where her odyssey begins, becomes a metaphor for her unbridled sexual aspirations. Williams ingeniously uses allegory to depict Blanche's chronological progression from the "Desire" streetcar to the "Cemetery" and, ultimately, her disembarking at "Elysian Fields," the land of the dead in Greek Mythology.

This allegorical transportation of events highlights Blanche's poor decision-making, where her initial pursuit of desire leads her down a path fraught with misfortune. The "Cemetery" streetcar foreshadows the calamities that await her due to her imprudent desires.

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The final destination, "Elysian Fields," serves as a grim allusion to the possibility of Blanche's demise by the narrative's conclusion. Through this creative use of allegory, Williams effectively underscores the theme of sexual intimacy and its consequences in the play.

As we delve deeper into Blanche's journey, we witness the intricate web of symbolism that Williams has masterfully woven. The "Desire" streetcar is not merely a mode of transportation but a vessel that mirrors Blanche's innermost desires. It symbolizes her yearning for a passionate and fulfilling life, one that is fraught with sensuality.

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However, this desire becomes a double-edged sword, as the subsequent transition to the "Cemetery" streetcar foreshadows the inevitable consequences of her choices. The graveyard imagery encapsulates the death of innocence and the burial of her romanticized aspirations.

Blanche's journey, culminating in "Elysian Fields," delves even further into the realm of allusion. The reference to Greek Mythology adds layers of meaning to her ultimate destination. Elysian Fields, the land of the dead, becomes a poignant metaphor for the death of Blanche's illusions and the harsh reality she faces. Williams, through this rich tapestry of allegory and allusion, elevates the exploration of desire beyond the superficial, making it a profound commentary on the human condition.

The Theme of Dependency on Men

A pervasive theme throughout A Streetcar Named Desire is the dependency of women, exemplified through Blanche DuBois's sentiments regarding Stanley Kowalski. In the early 20th century, men held significant authority in households, rendering women reliant on their actions. Blanche's proclamation that Stella and she "need a man like Stanley Kowalski" unveils a theme of dependency for men.

Through foreshadowing, indirect characterization, and metaphor, Williams constructs a narrative where Blanche's elitist nature clashes with her profound dependence on men. Her disdain for Stanley's lack of refinement, symbolized by his disinterest in "jasmine perfume," reveals Blanche's snobbish disposition. Simultaneously, her acknowledgment of needing Stanley to "mix with our blood" demonstrates her pragmatic reliance on him in the absence of the family's former affluence symbolized by Belle Reve.

Blanche's foreshadowing of societal shifts emphasizes her belief that children with refined traits may not thrive in the current social climate, advocating for the acceptance of vulgarity. Williams skillfully utilizes indirect characterization to portray Blanche's contradictory personality, combining snobbery with an inherent dependency on the very qualities she scorns.

Delving into the layers of dependency, we witness a nuanced exploration of societal expectations and gender roles. Blanche's need for a man like Stanley goes beyond mere companionship; it becomes a desperate plea for stability in a world that is rapidly changing. As the echoes of Belle Reve fade into the background, the stark reality of dependence on masculine authority comes to the forefront, showcasing Williams' astute commentary on the fragility of societal structures.

Nationalism and Personal Identity

Williams introduces the theme of nationalism through the character of Stanley Kowalski, whose fervent defense of his American identity serves as a catalyst for conflict. Stanley's vehement declaration, "I am not a Polack," underscores the importance of personal identity and pride in one's nationality.

Through indirect characterization and tone, Williams delineates the tension between Stanley and Blanche, arising from their disparate backgrounds. Stanley's anger at being labeled a "Polack" reveals a deep-seated resentment, suggesting a personal history that influences his reactions. The term "Poles" carries historical connotations, as Blanche unwittingly touches upon the longstanding divisions between civilizations, portraying Stanley as a representative of the once-dismissed "Barbarians."

The recurrence of nationalism as a theme in A Streetcar Named Desire contributes to the characterization of individuals like Stanley and Blanche as egotistic, reflecting their pride in their respective nationalities. This exploration of personal identity adds depth to the narrative, showcasing how cultural backgrounds can shape characters and fuel interpersonal conflicts.

As we dissect the layers of nationalism, the play becomes a microcosm of the societal tensions prevalent in the early 20th century. Stanley's insistence on his American identity transcends a mere defense; it becomes a manifestation of the societal upheavals that marked the era. The clash between old-world sensibilities, embodied by Blanche, and the burgeoning nationalism exemplified by Stanley, encapsulates the larger struggle for identity in a rapidly changing world.


In conclusion, A Streetcar Named Desire stands as a literary masterpiece that intricately weaves themes of desire, dependency on men, and nationalism into its narrative fabric. Through allegory, allusion, symbolism, and a myriad of literary devices, Tennessee Williams creates a rich tapestry of characters and events that reflect the complexities of human relationships and societal norms. Blanche Dubois and Stanley Kowalski serve as conduits through which these themes are explored, offering audiences a profound glimpse into the intricacies of desire, the dynamics of dependency, and the nuances of personal identity.

Updated: Dec 15, 2023
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Desire, Dependency, and Nationalism in Streetcar Named Desire. (2016, Sep 17). Retrieved from

Desire, Dependency, and Nationalism in Streetcar Named Desire essay
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