Tennessee Williams uses symbols to help communicate his ideas in A Streetcar Named Desire. Symbols add to the meaning of Blanche's fragile sensitivity and delicateness as well as Stanley's animalistic, brutal coarseness. The old Mexican woman is a symbol for death, a problem for Blanche. Vivid imagery of colors and light accompany and amplify these symbols, helping them to achieve their place in expressing the meaning of this classic play. .
Stanley is a man. He symbolizes all that is manly. He is rough, common, harsh, and dominating, but at times cries like a baby. Everything that is his, winning at games, and sexual pleasure drive his very existence. He solves problems like the animal that symbolizes. When Blanch enters his house, she presents a threat to his belongings. She not only drinks up his liquor, she begins to threaten his marriage. With her around, Stella begins to criticize his common habits, and tension between Stanley and his wife increases until he explodes and re-asserts his dominance. "Remember what Huey Long said-"Every Man is a King!" And I am the king around here, so don't forget it!" (1, scene eight). He criticizes Blanche on her frequent bathing and confrontations between them become increasingly more physical until Stanley finally rapes her in scene ten.
Blanche is a "southern gentlewoman, the last.
representative of a dying culture too delicate to withstand the crudeness and decay surrounding her." (2) Symbols help present Blanche as a southern gentlewoman. The stage directions characterize Blanche as a moth because of her clothing, but the moth motif extends farther than that. Blanche is "flighty and frail" (3) she is delicate and wears "light, airy clothing" (3). Moths burn up when they touch light bulbs, and Blanche refuses to face direct light. She covers up the light bulb with a paper Chinese lantern-cover (1, scene five). This behavior symbolizes her inability to face the truth.