Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is a work full of extended metaphor and multiple meanings. One of the longest metaphors in the play is that of Blanche symbolizing the world’s progression from the old south to the new.
The south in which Blanche was raised was that of genteel courtesy, elaborate facade, and unmasked bigotry. Blanche’s life on the former DuBois estate, Belle Rive, must have reflected characteristics almost completely in opposition to the atmosphere she finds in New Orleans. The city of Stella’s residence is a lusty one where, if pretense arises, it is cut down quickly. All of a person’s character is exposed while races and classes mix completely. Most importantly, New Orleans freely gives in to its sexual desires, putting to bed the prudent and virginal behavior of the old south. Blanche suffers these changes for the world and as the world.
The first indicator of Blanche’s duel role is the journey she takes. Upon arrival at Stella’s home, she finds a white landlord conversing as an equal with a black woman. When asked if she is lost, she tells them, “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!” The names of the streetcars and places are very important in this moment. Blanche arrives from the old south where desire is forbidden. However, she boards the streetcar into her new life. Her next streetcar is Cemeteries, an indicator of the death of her former self, or in the case of the world, the former south. After a six block ride, she arrives at Elysian Fields, which is the Greek mythological name for the afterlife. She begins here anew.
Next, Blanche tells Stella about her troubles back home. Upon explaining to Stella why Belle Rive is lost, she says, “Why, the Grim Reaper had put up his tent on our doorstep!… Stella, Belle Rive was his headquarters! Honey- That’s how it slipped through my fingers. Which one of them left us a fortune?” She goes on to describe the numerous sicknesses, deaths, and subsequent funerals she had to endure. The financial hardships, her inability to provide for the expenses of the estate, all of these events contributed to what she does not share with Stella yet, her degradation into a fallen woman.
Blanche’s struggles in Laurel depict the degrading value of being born into a certain class, something the residents of the old south held very dear. Mobility between classes was nearly impossible until Blanche’s time when her last name could no longer buy her good opinion.
It is upon her move into The Flamingo Hotel that Blanche metaphorically boards the streetcar named Desire. Her insecuritues about her future drive her into the arms of numerous men which leads her to confuse sex with love and protection.
Eventually, when Blanche arrives in New Orleans, she comes directly in contact of the new American success story, Stanley. He, being a child of immigrants and an uneducated ruffian, is able to use the sweat of his brow and not an inherent class to become a success in his field. It is men like these who are the new elite of America, those who are not much more than the embodiment of passion, determination, and lust.
At the end of the play, the defeat of the old south is completed with Stanley’s rape of Blanche. He destroys her facade of innocence and propriety with a single act of unbridled avarice. In effect, Stanley, the harbinger of the new south, devours Blanche, the world that clings to the old.