Symbols in "A Streetcar named Desire" and "Blue Jasmine" Alexandra van peborgh & mia maffei y12

A Streetcar named Desire

Play by Tennesse Williams

Published in 1947

Blue Jasmine

Film adaptation by Woody Allen

Released in 2013


Light in the play

Blanche does not want to be seen in direct light because she is not as young and pretty as she was before and doesn't want her wrinkles to show in order to disguise her age

Stella says to Stanley "And admire her dress and tell her she's looking wonderful. That's important with Blanche. Her little weakness!"

Blanche tells Mitch "I bought this adorable paper lantern at a Chinese shop on Bourbon. Put it over the light bulb! Will you, please?".

Blanche to Stella "put a paper lantern over the light.... It isn't enough to be soft. You've got to be soft and attractive. And I--I'm fading now! I don't know how much longer I can turn the trick."

Stanly to Blanche "You left nothing here (...) unless it's the paper lantern you want to take with you. You want the lantern? (He crosses to dressing table and seizes the paper lantern, tearing it off the light bulb, and extends it toward her. She cries out as if the lantern was herself.) → Stanley takes off the paper lantern, he is exposing Blanche to her own self, she has to face her true reality

Mitch questions Blanche "I don't think I ever seen you in the light. That’s a fact! (...) You never want to go out in the afternoon (...) You never want to go out till after six and then it’s always some place that’s not lighted much (...) What it means is i've never had a real look at you."

Blanche described falling in love as though "you suddenly turned a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow (...) But I was unlucky. Deluded."

Light in the film - Flashbacks

In "Blue Jasmine", flashbacks are used to represent what light symbolizes in the play.

The film shows a series of flashbacks which move forward in time → it starts showing Hal and Jasmine in their new luxurious Park Avenue house hosting a fancy dinner for their close friends.

As the films carries on → the flashbacks show how Jasmine's priviliged life starts fading away

  • Hal is exposed as fraudster and taken to jail
  • They start losing their property
  • She loses her social status
  • She starts selling her jewellery to make money
  • Their son Danny drops out of Harvard and runs away because he is ashamed of his father's actions
  • Hal commits suicide → as in "A Streetcar named Desire" this is what sparks Jasmine's madness and she later becomes an alcoholic

It can be said that the flashbacks, as light, expose Jasmine. It shows how she is not as young and how she does not have the priviliged and luxurious life she had before. Additionally, as in the play, the flashbacks makes the audience get to know how Jasmine is not the fragile victim she appears to be.

Moreover, the flashbacks reveal how Jasmine lies and hides her actions, as does Blanche in the play. An example of this can be seen in the film when she calls the police on Hal to arrest him in the middle of the streets of New York, shaming him in front of everybody. As she is then regretful of her action, when Danny asks her about this, she does not say it was her who made the call, she cannot confront reality.

The difference on the technique of light VS flashback

In "A Streetcar named Desire", Tennessee Williams decides to slowly unmask Blanche's troubled past by making her hide away in the "dark". She covers the bare lightbulb in her room to create enchantment, to forget her past and live a make-believe reality.

However, in "Blue Jasmine", Director Woody Allen uses a different technique, via the use of flashbacks, he directly shows the audience Jasmine's madness, we see her true self since the beginning of the film.

Music in the play

The Varsouviana Polka

Blanche had walked in on her husband Allan Grey, and a male friend. After that encounter, they decided to go dancing together and pretend that nothing had happened. In the middle of the night, when the polka was playing, Blanche told Allen that he "disgusted" her. This resulted in Allen running away and committing suicide.

The Varsouviana plays at various points in the play when Blanche's past starts haunting her

Scene 1: Stanley asks Blanche about her husband

  • STANLEY: You were married once, weren't you? (The music of the polka rises up, faint in the distance.)
  • BLANCHE: Yes. When I was quite young.
  • STANLEY: What happened?
  • BLANCHE: The boy--the boy died. (She sinks back down) I'm afraid I'm-going to be sick! (Her head falls on her arms.)

Scene 6: Blanche opens up to Mitch about Allan's suicide, the polka is heard throughout all the scene. It is heard faintly, it increases, then it stops

  • (...The polka music increases. Mitch stands beside her.)
  • MITCH (drawing her slowly into his arms): You need somebody. And I need somebody too. Could it be--you and me, Blanche?
  • BLANCHE: (She stares at him vacantly for a moment. Then with a soft cry huddles in his embrace. She makes a sobbing effort to speak but the words won't come. He kisses her forehead and her eyes and finally her lips. The polka tune fades out. Her breath is drawn and released in long, grateful sobs) → the polka stops and she feels relieved

Scene 8: the day of Blanche's birthday, when she is expecting Mitch to come, but then Stanley crashes her illusions saying he wont and giving her a bus ticket to go back to Laurel (Blanche tries to smile. Then she tries to laugh. Then she gives both up and springs from the table and runs into the next room. She clutches her throat and then runs into the bathroom. Coughing, gagging sounds are heard)

Scene 9: Blanche alone in the Kowalki's house - stage directions (The rapid, feverish polka tune, the Varsouviana, is heard. The music is in her mind; she is drinking to escape it and the sense of disaster closing in on her, and she seems to whisper the words of the song.) → she wants to escape her past

Scene 9: Mitch and Blanche talking alone at the Kowalski's house → she hears the Polka in her head, it then stops as a gun shot is heard. Mitch realizes she is mad as he cannot hear the polka nor the gun shot she mentions.

  • BLANCHE: (She touches her forehead vaguely. The polka tune starts up again.)...That--music again...
  • MITCH: What music?
  • BLANCHE: The "Varsouviana"! The polka tune they were playing when Allan--Wait! (A distant revolver shot is heard. Blanche seems relieved.) There now, the shot! It always stops after that. (The polka music dies out again.) Yes, now it's stopped.
  • MITCH: Are you boxed out of your mind?

Scene 11: The Doctor and the Matron come to pick up Blanche at the Kowalki's house.

  • BLANCHE: It is for me, then! (She looks fearfully from one to the other and then to the portieres. The "Varsouviana" faintly plays) Is it the gentleman I was expecting from Dallas?
  • EUNICE: I think it is, Blanche.

(She rushes past him into the bedroom. Lurid reflections appear on the walls in odd, sinuous shapes. The "Varsouviana" is filtered into a weird distortion, accompanied by the cries and noises of the jungle. Blanche seizes the back of a chair as if to defend herself.) → Blanche can no longer

  • STANLEY: Doc, you better go in.
  • DOCTOR (motioning to the Matron): Nurse, bring her out

Every time the polka is played, Blanche becomes distracted and irrational; she panics and loses her grip on reality. This sets the mood of Blanche being unstable and imagining music that no one else can hear.

The Varsouviana polka symbolizes Blanche's loss of innocence and how the suicide of her beloved was the event that triggered her mental decline and alcoholism. She can not escape the guilt of feeling like she caused his suicide.

It's only a paper moon - song by Ella Fitzgerald

Throughout the play, Blanche takes several long baths. While doing so she sings a ballad called "It's only a paper moon". The lyrics describe the way love turns the world into a fantasy and that if both lovers believe in their imagined reality then it will be true.

These lyrics "Say, it's only a paper moon, Sailing over a cardboard sea- But it wouldn't be make-believe If you believed in me!" describe Blanches attitude towards life and her actions; she is constantly neglecting her situation, mental illness and she lies to people and to herself creating an idealised life - she believes her own lies

Music in the film

Blue Moon - song by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart

Jasmine in the film listening to the song Blue Moon in her head

Music is also present in the film, in this case it is a song called "Blue Moon". As Jasmine repeatedly explains, this song was playing when she and Hal met. This song reminds her of her high-society priviliged life that she no longer has. "Blue Moon" is the blue piano that, as Williams wrote in the play, it expresses “the spirit of the life which goes on here.”

Every time she feels nostalgic about her past she imagines the song playing in her head and loses her grip on reality. She neglects the reality in which her actions led her to and recreates a fantastic life through her memories of when she was a socialite.

Similarities in music in the play and the film

In "A Streetcar named Desire" the Varsouviana Polka and “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” trigger memories of Blanche's young husband’s suicide and symbolize her descent into fantasy and madness. Blanche can’t escape feeling to blame for her husband’s suicide because she confronted his sexuality.

This is the same in "Blue Jasmine", when Jasmine reveals her husband's crimes to the police, leading to Hal’s arrest and later, his suicide. Despite everyone believing that she knew nothing of Hal's financial indiscretions, she ends up revealing that she has known everything all along.

Both Jasmine and Blanche prefer to retreat back into a fantasy world of feigned ignorance and fragility than to confront their true reality.

Bathing in the play

Throughout the play, Blanche bathes herself for a long time. The fact that she spends hours on the tub represents that she is trying to remove all of the sins that she has committed, she wants so cleanse herself, from her sexual experiences, but she is unable to do so because she cannot erase her illicit past.

Furthermore, these experiences made her a hysterical woman and mentally ill, but these baths, calms her nerves and for a brief moment she can forget everything that she has done.

Moreover, Stanley takes a shower after beating Stella. He does this in order to soothe his violent temper and makes him remorseful about his actions- calls out longingly for his wife.

Bathing in the film

Jasmine takes a long shower after Dwight finds out about her tragic past. As in A Streetcar Named Desire, she is trying to cleanse herself of all the sins she committed, she thinks she can erase her troubled past.

Additionally, by taking a shower she calms herself (she is mentally ill) and forgets about every bad decision she has taken in her life regarding both Dwight and Hal.

Created By
Mia Maffei

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