Study Guide

A Streetcar Named Desire Mortality

By Tennessee Williams


They told me 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)

Um…death much? "Cemeteries" is pretty much self-explanatory, but Elysian Fields are basically like heaven in ancient Greek Mythology. In other words, "death" is written all over this scenery before we even jump into much of the play. For more on how "Desire" fits in there, see "What’s Up With the Title?"

I was on the verge of — lunacy, almost! So Mr. Graves—Mr. Graves is the high school superintendent — he suggested I take a leave of absence. (1.109)

Mr. Graves, eh? Oh, Williams, we just wouldn’t put it past you. Looks like we’ve got even more death imagery, and we haven’t even left Scene One yet.

I, I, I took the blows in my face and body! All of those deaths! The long parade to the graveyard! Father, mother! Margaret, that dreadful way! So big with it, it couldn’t be put in a coffin! But had to be burned like rubbish! You just came home in time for the funerals, Stella. And funerals are pretty compared to deaths. Funerals are quiet, but deaths—not always. Sometimes their breathing is hoarse, and sometimes it rattles, and sometimes they even cry out to you, "Don’t let me go!" (1.185)

All this death – not only of Blanche’s family, but also of her former husband – seems to be largely responsible for her loss of sanity.

The four-letter word deprived us of our plantation, till finally all that was left — and Stella can verify that! — was the house itself and about twenty acres of ground, including a graveyard, to which now all but Stella and I have retreated. (2.148)

It’s interesting that Blanche blames sex for the loss of Belle Reve, when her own "epic fornications" have cost her so dearly.

You are as fresh as a daisy.
One that’s been picked a few days. (3.33-4)

Wait a minute…flowers…death…sounds familiar. You’d better go check out "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory." Meanwhile, compare this line to the other mention of daisies later in the play, when Blanche references the soldiers outside her window.

The first time I laid eyes on [Stanley] I thought to myself, that man is my executioner! That man will destroy me. (6.102)

Interesting choice of words, isn’t it? Notice how rape – a sexual act and therefore one that involves desire – brings about the effective "execution" of Blanche’s sanity.

Yes, that’s where I brought my victims. […] Yes, I had many intimacies with strangers. After the death of Allan — intimacies with strangers was all I seemed able to fill my empty hearty with. (9.55)

Looks like we have one more complication to add to our understanding of death and desire in Streetcar. Desire seems to cause all this death, and yet Blanche turns to sex to comfort herself in the aftermath of death.

Death—I used to sit here and she used to sit over there and death was as closer as you are… We didn’t even admit we had ever heard of it.
Flores para los muertos, flores—flores…
The opposite is desire. (9.68-71)

This final line is incredibly important to understanding some key elements of A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche here states that desire is the opposite of death – this explains her attempt at taking refuge from death through "intimacies with strangers," and why she relies so heavily on her looks in relating to others. For lots, lots more, read "What’s Up With the Title?"

You know what I shall die of? [She plucks a grape] I shall die of eating an unwashed grape one day out on the ocean. I will die—with my hand in the hand of some nice-looking ship’s doctor, a very young one with a small blond mustache and a big silver watch. […] And I’ll be buried at sea sewn up in a clean white sack and dropped overboard — at noon — in the blaze of summer — and into an ocean as blue as my first lover’s eyes! (11.69)

Blanche romanticizes even her death. And notice how this final image of mortality is saturated with desire and love….

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