A Streetcar Named Desire – Motif Tracking: Colour



The motif of colour relates to various themes in A Streetcar Named Desire. Firstly it is used to emphasise the theme of class struggle, as the lower class characters and settings are described as being bright, colourful and lively, which contrasts with Blanche’s appearance, at least initially, as she is dressed all in white; and absence of colour. This could show the decline in the upper class compared to the lower, working class, as the upper class is losing its vitality and its energy, while the lower class is growing much stronger.


Another theme the motif of colour relates to is that of pleasant dreams vs. ugly reality. This is because Blanche often uses colour to gloss over, to glamourise, the world, such as when she uses the coloured paper lanterns. However although this changes the appearance of objects, it is simply a superficial change and does not significantly improve whatever it is that has been romanticised by Blanche, in her futile attempt to improve the world.



Quotations & Analysis:





“You can almost feel the warm breath of the brown river”

The personification of the river, in giving it ‘breath’, shows that perhaps it is because of the colour that it is alive; the colour has given it its vitality.



“This ‘blue piano’ expresses the spirit of the life which goes on here”

The colour of the piano represents the vibrancy of the area, and epitomises the people who live there.



Vendor: “Red hot! Red hots!…Re-e-ed h-o-o-t!”

The description of the vendors goods, and the way in which the words are said again highlights the energetic nature of all the people in the area, that even the street vendors are bursting with energy.



“roughly dressed in blue denim work clothes. Stanley carries…a red-stained package from a butcher’s”

This is the first impression we get of Stanley, and the colourful description serves to accentuate his energy and liveliness, and thus the energy and liveliness of the working class, which is represented by Stanley.



“Her appearance is incongruous to the setting. She [Blanche] is daintily dressed in a white suit…white gloves and hat”

In this case, there is a lack of colour, as Blanche is simply wearing white. This conveys the idea that the upper class is declining, as it lacks the vivacity of the working class, which Williams believes will replace the upper class as the new driving force in America.



Blanche: “From the land of the sky blue water”

Here Blanche is singing in the bathroom, and the colour in the lyrics could be said to represent her pleasant dreams, as it covers up what the world she has come from is really like.



“Blanche comes out of the bathroom in a red satin robe”

This again displays how Blanche attempts to romanticise things, as something as simple as a bath robe has to be made from such a material as satin, and in as bright a colour as red. It has no real effect on her life or the way she lives, but it is her way of making the world more beautiful, and making herself feel better. It also has sexual connotations, accentuating the sense created of her here as a sexual predator planning to take advantage of Mitch.



Blanche: “I like an artist who paints in strong, bold colours, primary colours. I don’t like pinks and creams and I never cared for wishy-washy people.”

Although this may seem like Blanche is describing how important it is to her that people be bold, she is actually attempting to flatter Stanley, as she knows that this is the kind of person he is. In reality, the colours here represent Blanche’s manipulative nature and her control over men.



Blanche: “These are love-letters, yellowing with antiquity.”

These letters represent the deterioration of the upper class, as all that is left of Blanche’s love is these letters, which are fading and decaying away.



“The kitchen now suggests that sort of lurid nocturnal brilliance, the raw colours of childhood’s spectrum. Over the yellow linoleum of the kitchen table hangs an electric bulb with a vivid green glass shade. The poker players…wear coloured shirts, solid blues, a purple, a red-and-white check, a light green, and they are men…as…powerful as the primary colours.

Now that the upper class characters of Blanche, and to some extent Stella, have left, the working class men are left. Their vibrancy and liveliness is highlighted by the many vivid colours, not only in their clothes but in their surroundings as well, which could be said to show the influence they have on those around them. It could also be said that it is when they are alone that they stand out, and that they are better off separate from the upper class.



“She [Blanche] moves out of the yellow streak of light”

Blanche is scared by bright light, as it reveals her true appearance, and destroys her fragile illusions. The light being yellow represents the strength of the more vibrant lower class.



“She has slipped on the dark red satin wrapper”

This again shows how she feels she must improve her appearance when in the company of others, as her beauty is fading.



Blanche: “Blanche means white”

Relates to the previous point that there is an absence of colour in the upper class, as they are lacking in energy and vitality, and are fading compared to the working class.



Stanley comes around the corner in his green and scarlet silk bowling shirt”

Stanley contrasts with Blanche here, as the colours of his shirt display his vivacity and his hunger for life.



Blanche: “soft people…have got to be seductive – put on soft colours, the colours of butterfly wings, and glow – make a little – temporary magic”

Here Blanche tells her reasons for romanticising, as she believes it is the only way she can be seductive, because she needs security and companionship. The soft colours do not improve her life, they just improve the way the world looks.



“Stella…turns on the light under the paper lantern”

Stella is also affected by Blanche’s use of colours to influence her surroundings; in this case, a coloured paper lantern. Again it has no real effect but to make the room look nicer.



“Right on my pretty white skirt”

Here we see how easily Blanche’s can be undermined; not only has she, and the upper class, faded, as represented by the white of the skirt, but it is easily stained which shows the fragility of Blanche’s position.



Stanley: “This is after the home-place had slipped through her lily-white fingers!”

The deterioration of the upper class is represented by the lack of colour in Blanche’s fingers, and her subsequent inability to retain possession and control of her property.



“she [Stella] starts sticking little pink candles in the birthday cake”

Again we see how Stella is similar to Blanche in that she is trying to decorate the cake, and make it more aesthetically pleasing, a trait which would be associated with Blanche’s attempts to dress up the world in the colours of butterfly wings.



Blanche: “This old maid, she had a parrot that cursed a blue streak and knew more vulgar expressions that Mr Kowalski”

Stanley is being related to a parrot, which is vibrant and colourful, along with the ‘blue streak’, which display Stanley’s energy and vivacity, as he is not afraid to express himself. Here blue also suggests rudeness or coarseness – reflecting Stanley’s vulgarity.



Stanley: “it’s gonna be sweet when we can make noise in the night…and get the coloured lights going…”

Again, colours are linked to passion, in this case sexual passion between Stanley and Stella, who are prevented from living their usual vibrant, colourful lives until Blanche leaves.



“He [Mitch] tears the paper lantern off the light bulb”

Once Blanche’s colourful façade is stripped from the light bulb by Mitch, he can see the truth, while at the same time shattering Blanche’s fragile illusions. Blanche had only been trying to make the world a prettier place, but the destruction of this flimsy lantern intimates that this dream was simply too fragile.




Key Moment:

The key moment is when Mitch rips the lantern off the light bulb (as mentioned above), it firstly shows how the working class has deposed the deteriorating upper class, with an action as simple as removing a paper lantern. It additionally shows the fragility of Blanche’s illusions, when even though she wished to improve the world, it was only a superficial improvement, and it only took one person for her façade to fall.


The decline of the upper class is also highlighted as it is Mitch who destroys Blanche’s illusions, as she had previously been able to manipulate him but now there is no-one that she has power over, not even the lowest of the working class.


This moment is significant for Blanche as it is the moment that Mitch sees the truth about her, and decides he does not want to be with her, which is another blow to Blanche’s faltering sanity, pushing her closer to madness. It can be seen as a triumph for Mitch, as he has broken free from Blanche’s manipulation by himself, and has managed to see the truth through her façade. This moment also foreshadows Blanche’s rape by Stanley later in the play, as Mitch initially came with the intention to rape Blanche, but he was not able to do it.