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The Destruction Of Blanche Dubois Essay, Research Paper
A fading Southern belle from an aristocratic background. She has just lost her ancestral home, Belle Reve, and her teaching position as a result of promiscuity. Blanche was described by Tennessee Williams as delicate and moth-like. She is a refined, sensitive, cultured, intelligent woman who is never willing to hurt someone. Blanche is at the mercy of the brutal, realistic world.
The Destruction Of Blanche DuBois
Tennessee Williams was once quoted as saying “Symbols are nothing but the natural speech of drama…the purest language of plays”. This is clearly evident in A Streetcar Named Desire,. I n analyzing Blanche DuBois, it is crucial to use both the literal text as well as the symbols of the story to get a complete and thorough understanding of her. Before one can understand Blanche’s character one must understand the reason why she moves to New Orleans and joins her sister, Stella, and brother-in-law, Stanley. By analyzing the symbolism in the first scene, one can understand what prompted Blanche to move. Her appearance in the first scene “suggests a moth” (Williams 96). In literature a moth represents the soul. So it is possible to see her entire voyage as the journey of her soul (Quirino 63). Later in the same scene she describes her voyage: “They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields” (Quirino 63). Taken literally this does not seam to add much to the story. However, if one investigate Blanche’s past one can truly understand what this quotation symbolizes. Blanche left her home to join her sister, because her life was a miserable wreck in her former place of residence. She admits, at one point in the story, that “after the death of Allan (her husband) intimacies with strangers was all I seemed able to fill my empty heart with” (Williams, 178). She had sexual relations with anyone who would agree to it. This is the first step in her voyage-”Desire”. She said that she was forced into this situation because death was immanent and “The opposite (of death) is desire” (Williams, 179). She escaped death in her use of desire. However, she could not escape “death” for long. She was a teacher at a high school, and at one point she had intimacies with a seventeen year old student. The superintendent, “Mr. Graves”, found out about this and she was fired from her job. Her image was totally destroyed and she could no longer stay there. “Mr. Graves” sent her on her next stop of the symbolic journey-”Cemeteries”. Her final destination was “Elysian Fields”. The inhabitants of this place are described in Book six of the Aenied: “”They are the souls,” answered his [Aeneas'] father Anchises, “Whose destiny it is a second time To live in the flesh and there by the waters of Lethe They drink the draught that sets them free from care And blots out their memory.”" (Quirino 61) This is the place of the living dead. Blanche came to Elysian Fields to forget her horrible past, and to have a fresh start in life (Quirino, 63). In fact Blanche admits in the fourth scene that she wants to “make myself a new life” (Williams 135). By understanding the circumstances that brought Blanche to Elysian fields it is easy to understand the motives behind many of Blanches actions. One such action is that during the play Blanche is constantly bathing. This represents her need to purify herself from her past (Corrigan 53). However, it is important to note that Blanche’s description of her traveling came before she actually settles into Elysian Fields. The description therefore represents the new life Blanche hoped to find, not what she actually did find. From the begging we see that Blanche does not fit in with the people of her new community, nor her physical surroundings in her new home. We can see that she did not fit in with the people of the community by comparing the manner in which women in the story handle their social life with men. In the third scene, Stella, who is pregnant at the time, is beaten by her husband Stanley. She immediately runs upstairs to her friend’s apartment, upstairs. But, soon Stanley runs outside and screams “Stell-lahhhhh” (Williams 133). She proceeds to come down, and they then spend the night together. The next morning Stella and Blanche discuss the horrible incident. Blanche asks “How could you come back in this place last night?” (Williams 134). Stella answers “You’re making much too much fuss about this” and later says that this is something that “people do sometimes” (Williams 134). One sees that this is actually a common occurrence by the fact that the same exact thing happens to the neighbors a few scenes later. Later in the story Mitch, Blanche’s boyfriend, yells at her and tries raping her, but she does not let him. Afterwards, she tells Stanley that she would never forgive him because “deliberate cruelty is unforgivable” (Williams 184). Blanche also does not fit into her surroundings. Tennessee Williams describes the place as having a “raffish charm” (Corrigan 50). But, this eludes Blanches. She describes it as a place that “Only Poe! Only Mr. Edgar Allen Poe!-could do it justice!” (Corrigan 50). The person whom Blanche is most directly contrasted with is Stanley. Blanche loves living in an idealistic world, while Stanley strictly relies on facts. In the story Blanche makes up a good portion of her past for the majority of the play. When she was young she lived an eloquent life in a mansion, but she eventually lost it due to unpaid bills. She tells everyone this part of her history but neglects to tell them what she had done during the interim period, before she came to Elysian Fields. Ms. DuBois never told them about the promiscuous life she lived before she came. Stanley, on the other hand, persisted in trying to find out her true past throughout the story. Considering that this is Stanley’s house, his domain, it is easy to see that this spells doom for Blanche. The difference between Blanche and Stanley would not be so bad if it were not for one of Blanche’s flaws. This harmful trait is Blanche’s inability to adapt to her surroundings. This is seen by noting a play on words used by Williams. In the first scene Blanche is described as “daintily dressed” and mentions that she is “incongruous to her setting” (Williams 96). Blanche cannot adapt to her surroundings, but instead tries to change them. Later in the story she says “You saw it before I came. Well, look at it now! This room is almost-dainty!” (Williams 176). By using the word dainty in both places Williams shows us how Blanche tries to change her surrounding to match her, instead of adapting to them. This will not work with Stanley. Blanche deceives everyone for a good portion of the play. However, Stanley is continually trying to find her true history. Blanche says “I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, Magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth.” (Williams 177). Stanley does not enjoy “magic”, he says that “Some men are took in by this Hollywood glamour stuff and some men are not” (Williams 114). Stanley never believes Stella’s act (i.e. her “Hollywood glamour”) he only likes the truth. This difference of philosophy creates much tension between the two. The climax of the tension between them is in the seventh scene. While Stanley is revealing to Stella Blanche’s promiscuous life, Blanche is singing the following song: “Say it’s only a paper moon. Sailing over the cardboard sea- But it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me! It’s a Barnum and Bailey world. Just as phony as it could be-But it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me!” (Corrigan 53) The louder Stanley gets on insisting on the undeniable facts about Blanche, the louder Blanche sings (Corrigan 53). This is a symbolic collision of their two philosophies. Stella, the link between the two, must listen to the facts given to her by Stanley, and the virtues of idealism given to her by Blanche. Light plays a crucial part in the struggle between Blanche and Stanley. From the beginning Blanche insists “I cannot stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark” (Corrigan 54). She then puts an artificial lantern on the light bulb. Light represents truth, and Blanche wants to cloak the truth by covering it up. Later in the play Stanley “brings to light” the true facts of Blanche’s life (Corrigan 54). When Mitch, Blanche’s boyfriend, is “enlightened” by Stanley about her history he proceeds to rip off the paper lantern from the light bulb, and demands to take a good look at her face (Corrigan 54). The scene when Stanley rapes Blanche is the beginning of the end for Blanche.Sex is her most obvious weakness. That is the reason why she ran to New Orleans in the first place. Since she had come to New Orleans she had tried to avoid it. But, once again, Stanley is in direct contrast to this. Williams describes him: “Since earliest manhood the center of his life has been pleasure with women, . . . He sizes them up at a glance, with sexual classifications, crude images flashing into his mind and determining the way he smiles at them.” (Corrigan 57) It is only fitting that he destroys her with sex because sex “has always been her Achilles heel. It has always been his sword and shield” (Corrigan 57). After he has sex with her, she is taken to another asylum, a psychiatric hospital (Quirino 63). The cycle is started again. “Desire” has once again sent her off to “Cemeteries”. Throughout the book it is possible to describe the confrontation between Blanche and Stanley as a poker game. The importance of the poker game in the play is proven by the fact that Tennessee Williams was thinking of calling the play “The Poker Night”. In the first four scenes of the play, Blanche plays a good bluff. She tricks everyone into believing that she is a woman of country-girl manners and high moral integrity (Quirino 62). Stanley asks her to “lay her cards on the table”, but she continues her bluff (Adler 54). However, Stanley then goes on a quest for the truth. He then discovers and reveals Blanche’s true past. Once he knows her true “cards” he then has the upper hand. Stanley caps his win by raping her. It is interesting to note that in the last scene of the play, when Blanche is being taken away, Stanley is winning every hand in a poker game he is playing with friends. This symbolizes his victory over Blanche. The card game can be viewed as fate, in which skillful players can manipulate his cards to his advantage (Quirino 62). The music in the background, plays a key part in the play, in describing Blanche’s emotions. In fact at one point it says of Blanche that “The music is in her mind” (Corrigan 52). The Blue Piano represents Blanche’s need to find a home. She is always extremely lonely and needs companionship. This music is apparent during scene one when she is recounting the deaths of her family at Belle Reeve, and when she kisses the newsboy in scene five. The music is the loudest during the scene when Blanche is being taken away to the asylum. The Varsouviana Polka represents death, and to Blanche immanent disaster. This music is heard as she explains the suicide of her husband in scene six. It is also in the background when Stanley gives her a Greyhound ticket to go home (i.e. back to cemeteries) in scene eight. It also fades in and out of the scene where Mitch confronts Blanche about her true past (Corrigan 52). In studying the main character of A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois, it is necessary to use both a literal translation of the text as well as interspersed symbolism to have a complete understanding of her. Tennessee Williams the author of the play wrote it this way on purpose. In fact he once said that “Art is made out of symbols the way the body is made out of vital tissue” (Quirino 61). This is a wonderful quotation to show just how necessary it is to incorporate symbolism in an interpretation of a story.
In Tennesse Williams’ play, “A Streetcar Named Desire” the readers are introduced to a character named Blanche DuBois. In the plot, Blanche is Stella’s younger sister who has come to visit Stella and her husband Stanley in New Orleans. After their first meeting Stanley develops a strong dislike for Blanche and everything associated with her. Among the things Stanley dislikes about Blanche are her “spoiled-girl” manners and her indirect and quizzical way of conversing. Stanley also believes that Blanche has conned him and his wife out of the family mansion. In his opinion, she is a good-for-nothing “leech” that has attached itself to his household, and is just living off him. Blanche’s lifelong habit of avoiding unpleasant realities leads to her breakdown as seen in her irrational response to death, her dependency, and her inability to defend herself from Stanley’s attacks.
Blanche’s situation with her husband is the key to her later behavior. She married rather early at the age of sixteen to whom a boy she believed was a perfect gentleman. He was sensitive, understanding, and civilized much like herself coming from an aristocratic background. She was truly in love with Allen whom she considered perfect in every way. Unfortunately for her he was a homosexual. As she caught him one evening in their house with an older man, she said nothing, permitting her disbelief to build up inside her. Sometime later that evening, while the two of them were dancing, she told him what she had seen and how he disgusted her. Immediately, he ran off the dance floor and shot himself, with the gunshot forever staying in Blanche’s mind. After that day, Blanche believed that she was really at fault for his suicide. She became promiscuous, seeking a substitute men (especially young boys), for her dead husband, thinking that she failed him sexually. Gradually her reputation as a whore built up and everyone in her home town knew about her. Even for military personnel at the near-by army base, Blanche’s house became out-of-bounds. Promiscuity though wasn’t the only problem she had. Many of the aged family members died and the funeral costs had to be covered by Blanche’s modest salary. The deaths were long, disparaging and horrible on someone like Blanche. She was forced to mortgage the mansion, and soon the bank repossessed it. At school, where Blanche taught English, she was dismissed because of an incident she had with a seventeen-year-old student that reminded her of her late husband. Even the management of the hotel Blanche stayed in during her final days in Laurel, asked her to leave because of the all the different men that had been seeing there. All of this, cumulatively, weakened Blanche, turned her into an alcoholic, and lowered her mental stability bit-by-bit.
Her husband’s death affects her greatly and determines her behavior from then on. Having lost Allan, who meant so much to her, she is blinded by the light and from then on never lights anything stronger than a dim candle. This behavior is evident when she first comes to Stella’s and puts a paper lantern over the light bulb. Towards the end, when the doctor comes for Blanche and she says she forgot something, Stanley hands her her paper lantern. Even Mitch notices that she cannot stand the pure light, and therefore refuses to go out with him during the daytime or to well lit places. Blanche herself says “I can’t stand a naked light bulb any more than …”. A hate for bright light isn’t the only affect on Blanche after Allan’s death – she needs to fill her empty heart, and so she turns to a lifestyle of one-night-stands with strangers. She tries to comfort herself from not being able to satisfy Allan, and so Blanche makes an effort to satisfy strangers, thinking that they need her and that she can’t fail them like she failed Allan. At the same time she turns to alcohol to avoid the brutality of death. The alcohol seems to ease her through the memories of the night of Allan’s death. Overtime the memory comes back to her, the musical tune from the incident doesn’t end in her mind until she has something alcoholic to drink. All of these irrational responses to death seem to signify how Blanche’s mind is unstable, and yet she tries to still be the educated, well-mannered, and attractive person that Mitch first sees her as. She tries to not let the horridness come out on top of her image, wanting in an illusive and magical world instead. The life she desires though is not what she has and ends up with. Blanche is very dependent coming to Stella from Belle Reve with less than a dollar in change. Having been fired at school, she resorts to prostitution for finances, and even that does not suffice her. She has no choice but to come and live with her sister; Blanche is homeless, out of money, and cannot get a job due to her reputation in Laurel. Already in New Orleans, once she meets Stanley, Blanche is driven to get out of the house. She needs get away from Stanley for she feels that a Kowalski and a DuBois cannot coexist in the same household. Her only resort to get out, though, is Mitch. She then realizes how much she needs Mitch. When asked by Stella, Whether Blanche wants Mitch, Blanche answers “I want to rest…breathe quietly again! Yes-I want Mitch…if it happens…I can leave here and not be anyone’s problem…”. This demonstrates how dependent she is on Mitch, and consequently Blanche tries to get him to marry her. There is though Stanley who stands between her and Mitch.
Stanley is a realist and cannot stand the elusive “dame Blanche”, eventually destroying her along with her illusions. Blanche cannot withstand his attacks. Before her, Stanley’s household was exactly how he wanted it to be. When Blanche came around and drunk his liquor, bathed in his bathtub, and posed a threat to his marriage, he acted like a primitive animal that he was, going by the principle of “the survival of the fittest”. Blanche already weakened by her torturous past did not have much of a chance against him. From their first meeting when he realized she lied to him about drinking his liquor, he despised her. He attacked her fantasies about the rich boyfriend at a time when she was most emotionally unstable. He had fact over her word and forced her to convince herself that she did not part with Mitch in a friendly manner. Further, he went on asking her for the physical telegram to convince him that she did receive it. When Blanche was unable to provide it, he completely destroyed her fantasies, telling her how she was the worthless Queen of the Nile sitting, on her throne and swilling down his liquor. This wild rebuttal by Stanley she could not possibly take, just as she could not face a naked light bulb. Further when Stanley went on to rape her, he completely diminished her mental stability. It was not the actual rape that represents the causes for her following madness, but the fact that she was raped by a man who represented everything unacceptable to her. She couldn’t handle being so closely exposed to something that she has averted and diluted all of her life – reality, realism, and rape by a man who knew her, destroyed her, and in the end made her something of his. She could not possibly effectively refute against him in front of Stella. Blanche’s past and present actions & behavior, in the end, even in Stella’s eyes depicted her as an insane person.
All of Blanche’s troubles with Stanley that in the end left her in a mental institution could have been avoided by her. Stanley and she would have gotten along better if she would have been frank with him during their first encounter. Blanche made a grave mistake by trying to act like a lady, or trying to be what she thought a lady ought to be. Stanley, being as primitive as he was, would have liked her better if she was honest with him about drinking his liquor. Blanche always felt she could give herself to strangers, and so she did try to flirt with Stanley at first. After all like she said to Stella “Honey, would I be here if the man weren’t married?”, Stanley did catch her eyes at first. But being brutally raped by him in the end destroyed her because he was not a starnger, he knew her, he made her face reality, and in a way he exposed her to the bright luminous light she could not stand all her life.
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