Blindness to reality and desire for fulfillment play a crucial role when analyzing A Streetcar Named Desire. These two elements are especially vital to understand the main protagonist, Blanche Dubois. Analyzing Blanche Dubois is fascinating, yet difficult, because of the complexity of her character. First seen clothed in a manner fit for a high-society afternoon tea, her dress starkly contrasts with the part of town in which she arrives. Tennessee Williams describes her appearance as “incongruous- to the setting of the play (Scene 5).
She is dressed completely in white, a symbol of innocence and purity. Yet the drama occurs at Elysian Fields, a low-class section of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Blanche is portrayed as delicate, sensitive, and refined, while her surroundings are dirty, run-down, and anything but sophisticated. The contrast between the settings of the play and manner in which Blanche dresses provides the reader with his first glimpse of a major conflict in the drama: the true reality of life versus created illusion.
Tennessee Williams is famous for dressing his most degenerate characters ironically in all white, so this provides readers with another clue about Blanche. We learn that Blanche refuses to see life realistically, and prefers fantasy, or as she calls it, “magic. “” She says in scene nine, “I don’t want realism! I want magic! Yes, yes, magic! ” (Williams, Scene 9). Blanche’s character is shaped by her blindness to true reality. Blanche has the outward appearance of being a Southern belle, and although she was brought up in a high class family, we soon realize that her air of dignity is only an illusion.
Although she is truly a sensitive creature, cultured and intelligent, and sincerely wants to be and be treated like an innocent Southern belle, the promiscuous lifestyle she has led the past few years and her alcoholism make this impossible. Blanche tries to play the role of who she would like to be. When Blanche arrives at Elysian Fields to stay with her sister Stella and Stella’s husband Stanley, she acts refined and sophisticated. Soon, however, her true nature is revealed when we see her secretly drinking Stanley’s whisky, and then covering up the fact that she touched it.
Stanley is aware that she drank his liquor, and is never fooled by Blanche’s pretense of innocence. Blanche fails with Stanley because he is straightforward and honest, a man who will not tolerate anything but bare, harsh reality. Stanley’s world of facts poses a threat to Blanche’s world of illusions (Corrigan 389). It is the cold world of facts that Blanche is always trying to soften, and this clash of personality makes them forever in conflict with one another. She tries to soften the reality of who she is with her womanly charms; she penly admits to Stanley that a woman’s charm is 50 percent illusion (Williams, Scene 4).
The only way that Blanche knows how to relate to men is by using her womanly charms and by flirting with them, so this is the way she relates to Stanley even though he is the husband of her sister. Stanley says that she never pulled “the wool over his eyes-; he was able to see through her from the beginning (Williams, Scene 10). The conflict between the viewpoints of Blanche and Stanley is an externalization of Blanche’s personal conflict between illusion and reality (Corrigan 392).
Because Blanche negatively influences Stella’s feelings about him, Stanley feels that Blanche is a threat to his marriage. When Stanley rapes Blanche at the end of the drama, some feel that she got what was coming to her, because she had “backed herself into a corner with her lies and evasions- (Lant 2). Since Blanche led a promiscuous lifestyle, she was “guilty of abusing and using sensitive men’, so that her punishment’ “her rape “fits her crime- (Lant 3). Others may “grieve as the environment destroys Blanche- (Lant 2).
But whatever viewpoint is taken, it is her casual flirting, as well as her interference in Stanley’s marriage, that comes back to haunt her. It is this violent, animal-like rape that brings about Blanche’s downfall (Lant 2). After at first trying, unsuccessfully, to stand up to Stanley’s efforts to rape her, she sinks to her knees “silent crumpled, immobile- and completely gives up (Fleche 5). This action is not only an acknowledgement of Stanley’s supremacy, but more importantly the dominance of his realism.
Susan Brownmiller explains Stanley’s intentions of the rape when she says, Rape is not a crime of irrational, impulsive, uncontrollable lust, but it is a deliberate, hostile, violent act of degradation and possession on the part of a would-be conqueror, designed to intimidate and inspire fear- (Lant 1). By raping Blanche, Stanley wins the conflict that has been raging between them by conquering Blanche and shattering her world of fantasy. In the same way that Blanche relates to Stanley by flirting, Blanche relates to her unpleasant surroundings in the only way that she can: by creating illusions for herself. She creates these illusions in several different ways.
Soon after Blanche moves in, she puts a “gaily-colored paper lantern- over a bare light bulb in Stanley and Stella’s bedroom, exclaiming that she “can’t stand a naked light bulb” (Williams, Scene 3). It is not the bulb itself that she abhors, but what the light reveals when it is allowed to shine full strength, unhindered and unrestricted. She refuses to be looked at in strong light, because she wants others to never really see what she looks like; she wants to blind other people to her true self. Covering up the light symbolizes Blanche’s attempts to “combat actuality- and to sooth the harshness of reality (Lant 8).
Blanche admits that she fibs a lot, but she claims that when something is important she tells the truth. Blanche cannot see anything wrong with misleading others about unimportant details, and fails to understand why others would care about her little white lies. She “puts on airs” for the same reason; only by acting as if she is too high class for Elysian Fields can Blanche tolerate the situation (Berkman 254). Her approval of deceitfulness causes Blanche to be blind to her surroundings; she never accepts cold hard truth. She tries to cover it up.
After making the comment about not wanting realism but rather magic, Blanche continues, “I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth” (Williams Scene 9). Blanche’s intolerance for the cold hard truth, however, did not always exist. Looking closely at the play, it is evident that Blanche is capable of telling the truth, but it is at those times that she suffers most. Deceitfulness was forced upon her in part, because it is when she tells the truth consistently that she is punished (Lant 8).
For example, in Blanche’s ” first great moment of truth-telling-, she challenged Allen, her young husband, with his homosexuality (Lant 8). She was outraged, and hiding none of her emotions from him, she told Allen that he disgusted her. Because Blanche told the truth, challenged him, and unmasked herself, she suffered when her husband committed suicide, and was forced to deal with the terrible guilt that Allen’s death was her fault. The other major instance when Blanche told the truth and suffered greatly for it was when Blanche told Stella how she really felt about Stanley.
In the same way that Blanche showed her disgust for Allen, she tells Stella of her disgust for Stanley. After the night that Stanley beats Stella, Blanche thinks of Stanley as an animal and a brute. She tells Stella so, and encourages Stella to leave Stanley: “Don’t hang back with the brutes! – (Williams, Scene 4). This would not have caused Blanche harm except for the fact that Stanley overhears the conversation, and it is then that Stanley decides Blanche has crossed the line. “She has wounded male pride once to often; she has seen little too clearly and spoken far too forcefully.
She must be punished-(Lant 8). Once again, Blanche has spoken the truth and has unmasked someone, but she will pay a high price for her honestly later. “She believes that telling the whole truth’ might save her, yet is rejected for doing so and escapes’ into a world of illusion- (Adler, A Streetcar 36). It is because of what happens to her when she does tell the truth that Blanche turns to fantasy and illusions. Blanche cannot reveal truth she refuses to see, so she cannot suffer for her revelations. One area that Blanch is unable to see realistically is the way she relates to her suitor, Mitch.
She puts on a different “face- when she is around Mitch, and the strange thing is that she doesn’t believe that he will eventually see through her. Blanche sees a relationship with him as her last chance to make the “magic- in her life real (Adler, American 143). It’s as if once she can win him, and get him to marry her, she will be fulfilled. She never wonders what might happen to their relationship once he discovers her promiscuous past. Blanche seems to think that she can keep that part of her past a secret from Mitch forever; she certainly tries her best to keep it hidden as long as possible.
Blanche’s efforts to catch Mitch reveal a very important element of her character: her desires. Blanche’s primary desire in life is to find someone who will genuinely love her, and provide security and protection from the cruel world. At one point in her life, when she was sixteen and married to Allen, these desires were satisfied. She was completely, desperately in love with him until she found him in bed with an older man. When she told her husband that he disgusted her and Allen committed suicide by shooting himself, Blanche felt, and still feels, completely responsible for his death.
Her entire life has been affected by this event, and she is still haunted by the gunshot and the polka dance music that often plays inside her head. The only way to make the music stop is to consume alcohol until the gunshot comes that signals the end of the music. To escape from her own guilt, and from the lonely void that her husband left when he committed suicide, Blanche turned to sexual promiscuity. “Intimacies with strangers were all I seemed able to fill my empty heart with,”” Blanche confessed (Williams, Scene 9).
Having lost her sense of worth and her self-respect, yet needing somehow to counter Allen’s death and affirm life through its opposite-desire-she turns with confusion to brief sexual encounters- (Adler, A Streetcar 45). Of course these did not meet her deep need for fulfillment, but it was the best that Blanche could do. Even now, Blanche seeks to fill this void in her heart once again, but now by means of Stanley’s friend Mitch. Thinking that finding a husband will solve all of her problems, and knowing that time is running out because of her age, Blanche is willing to lie, deceive, and alter her personality to catch the man that she wants.
Because she knows that Mitch wants a girl that is prim and proper, one that he can take home to his mother, Blanche takes on this role and does everything else in her power to win him. She succeeds in winning him, and captivates him with her girlish charms. However, just when Mitch is planning to marry her, and Blanche is counting on her most sought after desire at last being fulfilled, it is Stanley who reveals Blanche’s past promiscuity to Mitch. This shatters Blanche’s last hope of redemption. After Mitch confirms all that Stanley tells him, Mitch no longer has any intentions of marrying Blanche.
However, it is not surprising to readers that Mitch would react this way, because it is clear to him now that Blanche is not at all the type of girl that he thought she was. Mitch was never in love with Blanche. He was in love with who she was pretending to be. “Ironically, he treats her like the refined lady she claims to be by acting the perfect gentleman who could never marry and bring home to mother the fallen woman- (Adler, American 143). When Mitch confronts Blanche with the truth about her life, Blanche at first denies it, but then reveals to Mitch even more detail about her past than he had been told by Stanley.
Mitch claims that she has lied to him, but Blanche argues, “Never inside, I never lied in my heart. “” (Williams, Scene 9). When informing Mitch of the details of her past, Blanche is turning once again to the truth in hopes that it might rescue their relationship. But instead, it turns Mitch away even more forcefully. “There is tragic irony, in short, in that Mitch’s response to Blanche’s initial tackling of truth encourages Blanche to make further truthful admissions that will only, in Mitch’s eyes, condemn her- (Berkman 255).
When Blanche confesses for the second time, Mitch does not comfort her like he did when she told him about Allen, but he calls Blanche dirty and wants to sleep with her. According to Berkman, this is the point of Blanche’s downfall: she tries to use truth in intimacy in order to escape her whore-image, but the truth actually blocks her escape from that image (Berkman 255). Both the rape by Stanley and the rejection by Mitch contribute to Blanche’s eventual descent into insanity. Stella refuses to believe Blanche’s story that Stanley raped her, and of course Stanley denies it as well.
At one point, Blanche is examining herself in a hand mirror, and reality breaks through. She is “no longer able to believe in her own fantasy- (Adler, A Streetcar 138), and “slams the mirror face down with such violence that the glass cracks- (Williams, Scene 2). Blanche now has no one to who she can run, and nothing to turn to except her world of fantasy and unfulfilled desires. In the opening scene of the play, we learn that Blanche first took a streetcar named Desire, and then transferred to one called Cemeteries to eventually arrive at Elysian Fields.
While seemingly insignificant, this sequence reveals Blanche’s life story. She seeks to fulfill her dreams through her desires, and almost has them within reach. But certain incidents, triggered by her search for fulfilled desire, cause her dreams to die. It is then that Blanche turns to a fantasy world created by her illusions. Blanch is eventually forced into a state of insanity, with her illusions as all that is left of her once beautiful life. All that is left is blind desire.