The Use of Music in A Streetcar Named Desire

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Tennessee Williams employs music in his literature, “A Streetcar Named Desire” to symbolize specific themes and to set the different types of mood and atmosphere throughout the play. Besides, the music cues help build and narrate the story of his characters. Largely, the play employs music as a keynote of a certain disposition. The essay will analyze how Tennessee employs different pieces of music to portray and symbolize his characters’ emotional state.

            Tennessee predominantly uses the “Blue Piano” and the “Varsouviana Polka” in the entire play to describe the setting and as an element of characterization. The “Blue Piano” played in scene 1 sets the stage for an anxious yet vibrant and multicultural city of New Orleans, “A corresponding air is evoked by the music of negro entertainers… This “blue piano” expresses the spirit of life which goes on here” (Williams 5). In the excerpt, Tennessee tries to portray that as long as the “Blue Piano” plays, life still continues, but when there is any disorder, the music from the piano changes, as evidenced by Blanche’s first arrival. The fact that the Blue Piano grow louder foreshadows that the protagonist’s arrival is bound to change the life of the other characters. The loud music combined with the trumpets help to establish tension and suspense in the play.

            The “Blue Piano” has also been used in the play to signify depression, desperation, loneliness and the main character’s longing for companionship. In the entire play. The “Blue Piano” appears when Blanche recounts the loss of Belle Reve, her family and when she is with the newspaper man. For instance, “The music of the ‘Blue Piano’… grows louder”  as Blanche recounts the loss of Belle Reve symbolizing Blanche’s desperation as she construes Stella’s questions as harsh reproaches (Williams 21). Blanche's loneliness and the quest for love is depicted as the "distant piano is slow and blue"when Mitch tells her that he will not marry her (Williams 150). Additionally, the slow music represents’ Blanche’s melancholic state.

            On the contrary, “Varsouviana Polka” depicts Blanche’s anxiety and remorse over her past as well as the character’s transition into fantasy. The fact that the Polka music plays whenever Blanche recounts her husband’s suicide and that she is the only character whoever hears it indicates her remorse and her descent into insanity. Additionally, the excerpt, “…then the polka resumes in a major key.” and “the polka tune fades out” denotes that Blanche considers Mitch as her escape from her traumatizing past ((Williams 115). The rising in “sinister rapidity” of the Polka in scene eight denotes that the play is at its climax and further emphasizes that Blanche is beginning to lose her sanity. Lastly, “the rapid, feverish polka tune, the ‘varsouviana’, is heard; she is drinking to escape it and the disaster closing in on her,” highlights the fragility of the main character’s mentality and the speed at which Blanche is descending into fantasy (Williams 139).

            The lyrics of the pop song, “It’s only a paper moon” emphasizes the narrator’s perception of Blanche, which her deception and lies only succeed when other characters believe her (Williams 121). Additionally, the song reveals that it only takes a single person, in this scenario, Stanley, to shatter her world of fantasy.  Overall, the integration of music into the literature has helped build the characters and set the mood for the entire play.

Work Cited

Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. New Directions Publishing, 2004.

November 24, 2023

Literature Music



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