Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

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9. Symbols: A Soundtrack Called Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire and The Awakening both use music as metaphorRead those stage directions!

Tennessee Willams writes music cues throughout the pages of A Streetcar Named Desire. And a lot of that music does more than just set the mood, like a movie soundtrack. Williams uses those music cues to help tell his story.

You can get the 60second Recap on symbols in literature here.

And here’s the 60-second scoop on music symbolism in A Streetcar Named Desire…


A Streetcar Named Desire The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

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The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

Even if you’re reading this play instead of watching it, you won’t be able to miss the songs in A Streetcar Named Desire. Which is a good thing, because they’re symbols.

The Varsouviana Polka and “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” If you wanted an indication that Blanche is losing her grip on reality, these songs are it.

Remember that The Varsouviana Polka was the song that was playing in the last moments before Blanche’s young husband’s suicide. Since then, Blanche has heard the Polka whenever she’s feeling sorry about his death, and her role in his death.

But the Polka isn’t just a song that symbolizes Blanche’s remorse; it also symbolizes her descent into fantasy. The emotional trauma she suffered as a result of the suicide has been taking its toll, and as the play goes on and Blanche becomes more insane, the Polka plays more frequently.

By contrast, we only hear the song about the paper moon once—in Scene Seven. But the lyrics couldn’t be any more explicit. They’re all about fantasy, and what can turn what’s merely make-believe into something real.

Just another indication that in A Streetcar Named Desire, song symbolizes the permeable boundary between what’s real and what isn’t … not to mention Blanche’s tendency to ignore that boundary altogether.


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