What is the significance the paper lantern in 'A Streetcar Named Desire'?

Williams employs plastic theatre as a means of giving physical onstage presence to abstract concepts in order to better clarify for the audience their meaning and significance within 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. The paper lantern is arguably the most significant example of all, acting as a stand-in for Blanche's attempts at covering the truth with 'what ought to be the truth' until she can no longer distinguish between illusion and reality.

Williams makes it clear that light represents truth, both in relationships and in the self. The paper lantern therefore demonstrates Blanche's attempts to conceal the truth, and instead craft 'magic,' or the illusion that she feels she needs to adopt in order to survive. The act of placing a paper lantern over the light gives physical form to the idea of her obscuring the truth, or casting it in a more flattering shade. When Mitch rips the paper lantern off the light in Scene Nine, we as an audience understand that he no longer buys into the illusion that Blanche tried to craft, and wishes to expose the truth as represented by the light. In the denouement of the play during Scene Eleven, it is made clear that Blanche's metaphorical 'death' or downfall as a tragic character has taken place by the final reference to the paper lantern, in which Stanley mocks her for her failure to craft her illusion successfully; the stage directions show that she 'cries out as if the lantern was herself,' demonstrating her retreat into her delusions and total loss of sanity. In this way, the paper lantern is a key plastic theatre device allowing us as an audience to trace Blanche's manic avoidance of the truth that causes her eventual insanity.

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