I can't stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action. (p. 60)
This line clearly sets up the key theme of illusion vs reality. Blanche takes the naked truth - the stark bare lightbulb, the rude remark - and dresses it up prettily to make everyone happier and everything easier. That she speaks of talk and action as analogous to a lightbulb shows that she considers the remedy for uncouth behavior and appearance to be a paper lantern, an external cover, rather than a change from within.
Poker should not be played in a house with women. (p. 63 & 65)
During Stanley's tantrum at the poker game, Mitch twice remarks that women and poker are a bad mix. This characterizes Mitch as someone who believes women are soft and gentle and should be protected from the roughness of poker. But it also shows that he doesn't blame the individual - Stanley - for his actions, but instead blames the poker game, as though the testosterone stirred up were unavoidable and necessary.
I'm not in anything I want to get out of. (p. 74)
This moment represents a major blow to Blanche's world view. Up till now, she was unable to imagine that her sister could be happy with the small flat and the brutish husband. But Stella finally drives home the point that she is not looking for an escape. It crumbles Blanche to learn that this way of life is embraced by someone she loves and respects.
But there are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark - that sort of make everything else seem - unimportant. (p. 81)
Stella is explaining her overwhelming love for Stanley in terms of physical passion. Blanche correctly sums this up as "desire," just like "that rattle-trap street-car that bangs through the Quarter." Blanche can recognize desire, but she tries to pretend she can't, and refuses to get on board. She cannot experience desire separately from shame. Stella's contentment with her relationship is completely foreign to Blanche.
I never was hard or self-sufficient enough. When people are soft - soft people have got to shimmer and glow - they've got ot put on soft colors, the colors of butterfly wings, and put a - paper lantern over th elight... 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. (p. 92)
Blanche explains her difficulties in life through a philosophy that pairs softness with attractiveness. She paints herself as floating, without agency or will, just a victim of the demands that the soft be attractive. But the truth is that the abuse of life has forced Blanche to harden up. She resists any hardness, preferring the ephemeral freeness of her youth, and actively undermines any walls and strength that have built up inside her. Her use of the phrase "turn the trick" is also noteworthy, as that is an old idiom for prostitution. Women in Blanche's world view must sell themselves, and when they are no longer a sellable commodity then they are in a desperate situation indeed.
And then the searchlight which had been turned on the world was turned off again and never for one moment since has there been any light that's stronger than this--kitchen--candle. (p. 115)
Blanche is telling Mitch the sad details of her marriage to Allan. She loved him truly, despite her disgust at his homosexuality, and something broke inside her when he died. She ties this loss to the theme of light. Blanche hides from bright lights because they expose the truth, but she also avoids them because there is no longer any light inside her to match.
I don't want realism. I want magic! (p. 145)
This is Blanche's battle cry. It doesn't matter whether the magic is real. It doesn't even matter whether Blanche herself believes it. What's important for Blanche is that she always have the option of the fantasy - that she can believe in and hope for something prettier and lovelier and kinder than the real world. She is a self-aware Don Quixote, forcing the world to be as beautiful as she imagines it.
Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable. It is the one unforgivable thing in my opinion and it is the one thing of which I have never, never been guilty. (p. 152)
Blanche may be deluded about a lot of things, but she is lucid and strong on this point. She lies and cheats and steals, but never to hurt anyone. She wishes only to preserve an illusion. And a fundamental component of her illusion is that she must believe the best of anyone she loves, and believe them incapable of cruelty. She is, unfortunately, unable to make this dream a reality.
We've had this date with each other from the beginning. (p. 162)
This is Stanley's implicating moment. In a fundamental way, Blanche and Stanley have always been the only ones who knew what was going on. Blanche knows what part of her story is illusion, and Stanley sees through it all. The conflict of that dynamic was destined, according to Stanley, to come to a head in the bedroom. But this statement also turns Blanche's rape into a premeditated act, turning Blanche for once into as much a victim as she has long painted herself to be.
I couldn't believe her story and go on living with Stanley. (p. 165)
Stella is the interesting character in the final scene. She has resolved an unresolveable conflict in her soul in the only way possible. Her sister says that Stanley raped her. Stella's only options, therefore, are to either believe Blanche - and leave Stanley - or to consider Blanche's story a lie or a delusion. Even though Stella knows deep down that Blanche was telling at least a partial truth, she must now follow her sister's example and embrace illusion over reality, in order to continue living the life she had before Blanche ever came to New Orleans.
A Streetcar Named Desire Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for A Streetcar Named Desire is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
This theme is all through this play. By the end of the book, Stella is torn between believing that Stanley raped her sister or believe that Blanche is lying. This is a great example of the conflicts and pain that can come from love. In my copy,...