A Streetcar Named "Super Symbolic"
Let’s start with the literal meaning of the title. There is an actual streetcar named “Desire” that Blanche takes on her way to the Kowalskis’. She mentions it twice. First, in Scene One, she tells Eunice that “they told [her] to take a street-car named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!” (1.16). Later, she berates Stella for her obsession with Stanley and mentions the streetcar again. Take a look:
What you are talking about is brutal desire—just—Desire! The name of that rattle-trap street-car that bangs through the Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another…
Haven’t you ever ridden on that street-car?
It brought me here. (4.104-106)
Which brings us nicely into our discussion of the metaphorical meaning of the title. Blanche is literally brought to the Kowalski place by “Desire,” but she is also brought there by desire; her sexual escapades in Laurel ruined her reputation and drove her out of town.
Now, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen sex do destructive things in Williams’s play. In fact, go back to Blanche’s first reference to the streetcar that we opened this discussion with. Desire, then Cemeteries, then Elysian Fields. Sex, death, the afterlife. It’s like a linear progression. Sex leads to death, or at least some heavy-duty wreckage. Don’t believe us? Here are a few examples:
- Blanche claims that her ancestors’ “epic fornications” led to the squandering of the family fortune and the eventual loss of Belle Reve.
- Blanche’s own good reputation meets its end at the hand of her epic fornications in the Flamingo Hotel.
- After Blanche had an affair with a high school student of hers, her boss, a Mr. Graves (!), fired her.
- When Blanche’s former husband was found having sex with another man, he killed himself out of shame.
- And The Big One: Stanley’s rape of Blanche (a sexual act) kills what’s left of her sanity.
Blanche herself seems to recognize some sort of connection here with this line, one that is key to understanding the role that desire plays in Streetcar: “Death […], death was as close as you are. […] The opposite is desire” (9.69-71).
Blanche is somehow under the impression that sex is her escape from death. She turned to sex to comfort herself after her husband died, and after her relatives passed away one by one. Unfortunately, as we already know, Desire leads to Cemeteries leads to the Elysian Fields. Blanche has actually gotten herself into a vicious cycle. Something dies, so she turns to sex, which causes something else to die, which makes her turn to sex, and on and on...