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A Streetcar Named Desire

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An analysis of some of the many symbols found in "A Streetcar Named Desire" by Tennessee Williams, with the help of psychoanalytical theory. Williams' expert use of these symbols helped him to convey the meaning of many characteristics of the protagonists in the play.

Was Tennessee Williams a psychoanalyst too"

A crÐ"­tica psicanalÐ"­tica, em outras palavras, pode ir alÐ"©m da caÐ"§a aos sÐ"­mbolos fÐ"ÐŽlicos; ela nos pode dizer alguma coisa sobre a maneira pela qual os textos literÐ"ÐŽrios se formam, e revelar alguma coisa sobre o significado dessa formaÐ"§Ð"Јo. EAGLETON (1994: 192)

It is very debatable nowadays how much psychology can influence an author or how much the author's psychological features can influence his work.

The creation of a character demands different kinds of information and the most important part of this process happens when the psychological aspects of the character are put together to meet his life history up to that moment when the story is happening.

In the book Teoria da Literatura: uma introduÐ"§Ð"Јo by Terry Eagleton (1994), there is a chapter dedicated to psychoanalysis and I think that some of the topics referred to in that chapter need to be mentioned here before the most important symbols found in the play A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams are discussed.

One of the ideas discussed by Eagleton is that if after coming across psychoanalysis for the first time you happen to like it, it will probably become a useful tool to help you understand literature or films better, for example. Psychoanalysis is well-known to be able to help explain a number of pieces of art, especially when we have the author's biographical data to confront with their works.

But still, there is a whole host of literature theorists who believe that every piece of art has its own meaning and that they have no connection with the author's private life.

There is a famous quotation by Fernando Pessoa which reads: "o poeta Ð"© um fingidor ." If this is true, an important question must be asked: "How can an artist pretend they are somebody else 100% of their working hours"" Eagleton (1994: 171) explaining schizophrenia says that a schizophrenic person is the one who doesn't live in the same world as normal people do. They are usually detached from this reality and frequently believe they are someone else. Could we say, then, that all artists are schizos? What I mean is, to be able to create new stories, without any trace of their own subjectivity in them, an artist would have to be at least a little psychotic. And that is something I would not say about Williams. Actually, it is well known that he had some major psychological problems, but it is quite clear in his play - A Streetcar Named Desire - that he was intentionally writing about himself and some of his relatives too.

When A Streetcar Named Desire is read by someone who knows something about Williams' life, it becomes quite an easy task to find similarities between his life and the characters in the play. Some of these similarities are:

Tennessee Williams had a sister who collapsed psychologically and had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and this fact made him feel guilty about having abandoned her.

Stella, in the play, also feels guilty about abandoning her sister, Blanche, when a doctor is called at the end of the play, and he takes her to a psychiatric hospital.

Williams' grandparents came from a declining aristocratic background.

Again, in the play, it is associated with Stella and Blanche's declining aristocratic family too.

Blanche is always on the verge of collapsing psychologically, and so is Williams in real life.

Williams had to leave his parents' house and move to another city in order to "get out of the closet" and try to live a happier life.

Blanche also had to move to another city, and she also did it looking for a better life after her eviction from Belle Reve and her ostracism from Laurel due to her immoral past.

And last but not least, Williams died after choking on a barbiturate (or killed himself some will say!) in a place called Elysee Hotel in New York. Was it some sort of coincidence or did he intend to die in the same place where Blanche had "died", assuming of course, that when she went crazy it was the same as her death?

Still considering Freud's psychoanalysis, we must remember that his method of analysis consisted of letting the patients talk freely so that they come to some conclusions by themselves, and what the analyst does in this process is guide the patient's thoughts in a way that important elements of their lives emerge from the depths of their unconscious. Speaking is the only way one can be cured according to psychoanalysis. And I believe we may say that Williams went through his own process of analysis when he wrote A Streetcar Named Desire.

But how does this emergence of ideas take place in the process of psychoanalysis? Is it something easy and natural? How does our unconscious communicate with us in our everyday life? There are some tools that our unconscious uses for this communication, such as: dreams, faulty actions, Freudian slips, metaphors, jokes among others.

Dreams are a very powerful media used by the unconscious. According to Freud, dreams are wish-fulfillments (ADLER: 1996, 533). This explains why sometimes we dream that we are talking to a dead person whom we loved a lot. This kind of dream is very easily interpreted. We dream that we are talking to our dearest deceased grandmother, for example, because we wish we could talk to her again. But how do we interpret the crazy dreams we sometimes have? Most of the times we cannot analyse them because they are conveyed in a symbolic language and our conscious mind is not prepared to decode those symbols. If we did so, we would probably go crazy or just wake up during a dream. "We have found out that the distortion in dreams which hinders our understanding of them is due to the activities of a censorship, directed against the unacceptable, unconscious wish-impulses." (FREUD in ADLER, 1996: 504). This censorship usually works through the use of symbols.

But, what are symbols? What does symbolism represent in psychoanalysis"

Symbols are all around us. We use symbols to represent numbers in maths and there are symbols to depict

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