During the late nineteen-forties, it was common for playwrights such
as Tennessee Williams to use symbolism as an approach to convey
personal thoughts, through the attitudes of the characters and the
setting. Williams' actors have used symbolism to disguise the
actuality of their thoughts and to accommodate the needs of their
A Streetcar Named 'Desire' has a few complicated character traits and
themes. Therefore, they have to be symbolised using figures or images
to express abstract and mystical ideas, so that the viewers can remain
clueless. Williams not only depicts a clear personality of the actors
but he also includes real-life public opinions from the past (some of
which are contemporary.) These opinions were likely to raise
controversies on issues such as prejudice, social gender expectations
and men and women's roles in society.
There have been numerous occasions when symbolism has taken place in A
Streetcar Named 'Desire.' Firstly, Stanley is insulted several times
by Blanche (his sister-in-law) Stella (his beloved wife) and other
residents of the 'Quarter'.
For example, the term 'animal' has been constantly spoken of, to
define Stanley's malicious and ill-natured conduct. In scene four,
Blanche tries to persuade her younger sister to go elsewhere and leave
her husband. On page 163, she complains:
Blanche: He acts like an animal, has an animal's habits! Eats like
one, talks like one! There's even something - sub-human - something
not quite to the stage of humanity yet! Yes, something - ape-like
about him there he is - Stanley Kowalski - Bearing the raw meat
home from the kill in the jungle!
Furthermore, when the play begins, Stanley enters the ground-floor
apartment carrying 'a red stained package from a butcher's.'
From these two brief extracts, the keynote is that the red meat is a
symbol used to show Stanley's 'bestial' attitude, which is also in
another of Blanche's dialogues:
Blanche: There's something downright - bestial - about him!
The image Blanche creates of Stanley (him being an animal - an ape) is
coincidental to the fact that she is actually describing her
brother-in-law, throwing red meat to his wife in an unacceptable
We know that Blanche had not been present, at the time of the event.
This clearly proves that Stanley's bad actions are so obvious, even
other characters in the play can predict his actions. It is just like
saying a tiger arrives at his habitat with 'red meat' and feeds his cubs,
similar to what any other animal would do. Basically, Stanley tossing
the pack of meat at his wife could symbolise that he is not a normal
human being! He is an animal, a caveman, or even a 'madman', as Blanche
prefers calling him! (Page 158)