In A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams depicts the death of the old southern lifestyle at the hands of the callous modern world.
The main character, Blanche DuBois, is a southern belle who has lived on a plantation in Laurel, Belle Reve, her whole life. Blanche leaves Laurel and arrives in New Orleans to find her sister, Stella, married and living in a small apartment. Stella and Blanche are the last living members of their family. This symbolizes that the two sisters are the last members of a dying world, the Old South.
The first evidence that the old southern lifestyle is dying is when Blanche reveals to Stella, her sister, that Belle Reve has been lost. The loss also marks one of the play's major concerns that, "The hallowed things of the sensitive are cheapened and destroyed by contact with the new world whose brutish instinct can neither understand nor sustain what is fragile" (Spoto 139).
The name of Belle Reve is French for ''beautiful dream'' and suggests the nostalgia Williams has for the old southern lifestyle. "Williams himself admitted: 'I write out of love for the south . It once had a way of life that I am just old enough to remember- a culture that had grace, elegance, an inbred culture, not a society based on money" (Spoto 139).
Belle Reve's name also hints at the condition of Blanche's dream-like state, which is partly responsible for Blanch being unaware of the contrast of the present and her southern aristocratic past. "She [Blanche] lives partly in a dream world and teeters in the brink of psychosis" (Roth 272).
Contributing to Blanche's dream-like condition is her frequent use of alcohol, accompanied by her excessive bathing. "Blanche's compulsive bathing and drinking are perverted substitutes of the Eleusinean purification rites of where excess intoxication and sexual indulgence are to have a rejuvenating rather than a self-destructive function" (Bloom 97).