34-6 fulltext | Barbarian | Lantern


One’s past is what one is. It is the only way by which people should be judged. —Oscar Wilde(1) What is past is prologue. —William Shakespeare(2)

Introduction: Brief Review of Literary Criticism
Blanche Dubois is often the main focus of academic studies of Tennessee Williams’ famous play, A Streetcar Named Desire. The well-known drama critic John Gassner argues that Blanche is “a victim of neurosis” rather than a classical heroine because in her case, “psychopathology substitutes Fate” (quoted by Tischler, 1961, p. 146). Although Nancy M. Tischler sees that “Tennessee Williams makes no claims to objectivity or to classical tragedy in his art,” she echoes John Gassner’s key point, saying: She [Blanche] loses some chances of tragic stature from the very first when she is seen as a neurotic and an alcoholic. As the play progresses, she loses even more, especially in her seduction scene with the newsboy which discloses her nymphomania. If these had all been the result of the decline of the family fortunes, she might still have had a claim to tragic stature by virtue of her symbolic significance. But then the revelation of her marriage, the discovery of her husband’s homosexuality, the compounded death—a series traumas supposedly impelling Blanche into abnormalities—all make her not a tragic heroine, but a case history. (p. 145) Ronald Hayman (1993) claims: “Like Amanda Wingfield, Blanche is a faded beauty who affects a greater gentility than she has ever had, and like Laura she is crushed by the forces of brutality” (p. 101). Hayman continues: It can almost be said that Stella represents young America, torn between its loyalty to antiquated idealism and the brutal realism of the present, while Blanche incarnates the pretensions of the old South: its values and quaint manners echo through her quaintly mannered speech, while Belle Reve, the ancestral home that she was forced to sell, stands for the elegant life that was once lived on the plantations. (p. 112) Felicia Hardison Londré (1997) maintains: “Blanche’s desire for illusion in opposition to the harsh realities that surrounded her is probably the play’s most obvious thematic value” (p. 55).


Londré further argues: Tennessee Williams intended a balance of power between Blanche and Stanley, to show that both are complex figures whose wants and behaviors must be understood in the context of what is at stake for them. The action proceeds through clashes of these two opposites to the inevitable showdown by which one wins and one loses. (p. 50) While these important critics’ comments on Blanche are quite just from their approaches to the play, I feel that Londré’s criticism is more convincing about the “balance power between Blanche and Stanley” and their “complex figures.” Blanche is much more than just “a victim of neurosis,” “a neurotic and an alcoholic” a debauched seducer full of “nymphomania” (Tischler, 1961, pp. 145, 146), a “desperate fantasist” (Rooney, 2005, p. 74), and “a faded beauty” who “incarnates the pretensions of the old South” (Hayman, 1993, pp. 101, 112), who has “fumed presence into absence” (Kolin, 1997, p. 458), who just pathetically clings to the decayed or dead values of “the old, decadent way of life” (Holland, 2003, p. 20), and who is “neurasthenic” and “loses her mind” (Lahr, 2005, p. 27). Again all these critics’ comments on Blanche are quite just in a realistic perspective, but I do not think that Williams has really meant us to read the play only with a realistic perspective; rather, he would prefer that we read it with a spiritual perspective. Williams (1962) makes the point clearly in The Night of the Iguana while letting Shannon tell Hannah: “Yeah, well, you know we—live on two levels, Miss Jelkes, the realistic level and the fantastic level” (p. 69). Shannon’s “fantastic level” is his spiritual level on which he yearns to live and in which he faithfully believes because it is his truth in life. The same can be said about Blanche, as she also attempts to live on the fantastic level rather than on the realistic level. This is indeed true because Williams himself once openly claimed that in Shannon he “was drawing a male equivalent almost of a Blanche Dubois” (Devlin, 1986, p. 80). On the realistic level, Blanche is of course a much flawed and faulted woman as those critics’ commonly argue. Nevertheless Williams’ (1955, 1978) own comment on Blanche implies that spiritually Blanche is true to herself and true to others in her heart: “She told many lies in the course of Streetcar [sic] and yet at heart she was truthful” (Where I Live, p. 70). In the play, twice Blanche claims: “when a thing is important I tell the truth . . . I haven’t cheated anyone . . . as long as I have lived” (p. 41); “Never inside, I didn’t lie in my heart . . . ” (p. 119). As no critics have systematically focused on the spiritual side of Blanche, in this essay, I will focus on the spiritual level on which Blanche clearly prefers to live,

she was the strongest” (quoted by Tischler. Blanche never loses “the arrogance of a lady.(5) But Tennessee Williams has really meant something much more complex and complicated about the character of Blanche. but the unyielding spirit of Blanche has never been completely defeated even to the very end of the play. But surprisingly critics have neither said anything that Blanche is “the strongest” character in the play. p.” That is exactly why Williams also claims: “Blanche was the most rational of all the characters I’ve created and.淡江人文社會學刊【第三十四期】 especially in cultural terms. She is sweeping all about me as I work. her way of thinking. Thus in this essay. His reflection on creating Blanche while writing the play should well clarify the true nature of her character: “She is not still for a moment. 144). crying out. “The past is never dead.(4) Her behavior. preserving and recreating the past genteel values of the old southern civilization in her cultural war against a ruthless and relentless modern society represented by Stanley. tenaciously fighting for their survival and actively recreating them whenever she has an opportunity. laughing.” let alone explore her active role in defending.” and she behaves like “a queen of Scotland. 1961. sobbing. in almost all ways.” to borrow Carl Sandburg’s verses. (3) It is true that everything about Blanche has something to do with the past. in cultural terms. her manner of talking. Only by reading the play this way can we understand why Tennessee Williams once claimed that Blanche “was the strongest” and “most rational character [he] had ever created. All what she represents and what she attempts to protect and preserve are positively presented as genteel values of the old Southern civilization even though it has physically become “a bucket of ashes…a wind gone done. I will argue that consciously or subconsciously Blanche not only attempts to live in the past in her so-called “illusions” but also pertinaciously clings to those past genteel values of the good old South. 114 .” all show signs of the culture of the old disintegrated South to which Williams himself shows a sympathetic and nostalgic attitude. but never losing the arrogance of a lady descended from a queen of Scotland. It's not even past” for her yet. to borrow William Faulkner’s words. a sun dropped in the west. and her style of doing things and even her so-called “illusions.” Obviously Williams has made Blanche the strong but tragic representative of the old agrarian South that has been ruthlessly disintegrated and physically destroyed by the brutal and modern world of industry and materialism. nor mentioned anything that “Blanche is the most rational of all the characters [Williams has] created.” (6) Indeed.

its tradition and culture continue to survive in the genteel society. like Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey into Night. according to Greek mythology. challenged and threatened by the relentless. and the last cavalier Blanche is seriously mauled in the battle of defending it. ] . Tischler (1961) describes Blanche this way: “Blanche . The street-cars named “Desire” and “Cemeteries” carry the “moth”-like Blanche to Elysian Fields. 115 . virtuous people dwell after their death. the soft genteel values seem to be played out and begin to disintegrate. Nancy M. Blanche’s social position and personal situation are greatly weakened and become extremely difficult. Blanche was raised in the genteel tradition and culture. actively defended and tenaciously preserved by Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire. which symbolically stands for the cultural heritage of the genteel civilization of the old South. even though the naturalistic realism(7) of Williams’ play makes it clear at the beginning that Blanche’s destiny will be tragic. In her defending battle to preserve her ancestral mansion. Yet. . at least in social and political (if not cultural and spiritual) terms. 138). Blanche consciously or unconsciously attempts to go back to a self-preserved ideal world so as to turn a blind eye to the harsh reality of her isolated and lonely present. who tenaciously clings to an ideal past. (8) which. but she has never deserted the values represented by it. Yet. . . All these names symbolically foreshadow Blanche’s inevitable doom at the end of the play. the unyielding personality of Blanche is not completely crushed in spiritual terms. and the culturally refined and delicate nature of Blanche is part of this continuation. She is in the tradition of heroines of medieval romance as revived in the pale images of the English ‘Pre-Raphaelites” (p. or at least she denies such a defeat in her deep soul. represents tradition and idealism [ . But. 1956. (9) Although the Southern American aristocracy as a political entity disappeared after the South lost in the Civil War. is the place where good. harsh and cold reality of modern society. but she still tenaciously refuses to accept her tragic fate in her idealistic if not illusionary manner. 203).論《慾望街車》中白朗琦之文化戰爭 The Battle over the Past Heritage: Belle Reve Clearly the past cultural heritage of the old South is nostalgically sought. p. . The loss of Belle Reve clearly marks the end of the era of the traditional old South. The sad situation is shown in the loss of Belle Reve. inherited from “the age of chivalry transplanted to a New World which was making its own legends and its own myths” (Catton. Blanche’s ancestral mansion and plantation. She has lost the battle in preserving Belle Reve.

. never. . Blanche imagines that she would find her last retreat at Stella’s place because Stella was raised in the same genteel world like her. Nonetheless. vulgar. They not only embody the past love between her and her young husband but also stand for the past genteel cultural values: they are “[p]oems a dead boy wrote” (p. 50). never in my worst dreams could I picture—Only Poe! Only Mr. and he (1962) clearly says: “Blanche is a delicate tigress with her back to the wall. she will carry all her cultural heritage in her old trunk with her to open another battlefield elsewhere. no wonder. genteel life style and refined taste. Thus.” Felicia Hardison Londré (1997) makes the point clear that Williams has indeed intended a balance of power between Blanche and Stanley and both are complex figures (p. and Stella should have a civilized place where she could feel comfortable with her refined taste. The cultural war between Blanche and Stanley starts immediately after Blanche arrives. The fact that Blanche always carries those old love letters “yellowing with antiquity” (p. 42). Londré is quite right. Stanley’s brazen raid of the love letters and Blanche’s fight with him over them symbolically foreshadow Stanley’s violation of her at the end of the 116 . Edgar Allan Poe! —could do it justice! Out there I suppose is the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir” (p. (Where I Live. she comes to her sister Stella in her last hope.(10) If Belle Reve stands for Blanche’s civilized cultural values. shallow world of materialism. she is not only disappointed but also greatly surprised by the horrible place. 41) in her old trunk wherever she goes clearly indicates how valuable and important they mean to her. to create a plausible balance . The brutal animal-like Stanley’s first attack is his unscrupulous invasion of Blanche’s trunk and unbridled plunder of Blanche’s old love letters. That part must be played opposite an actor of towering presence. Stanley.153). but also in cultural terms. “A Streetcar Running Fifty Years. But when she gets there. Stanley’s place clearly stands for the coarse. she is so surprised by Stella’s shabby place and its noisy environment that she can’t help but directly tell Stella: “Never. 20). Tennessee Williams makes it clear that Blanche and Stanley are dead enemies not only in social and political. brutal Stanley. but the chain of the past runs here with her.淡江人文社會學刊【第三十四期】 Although the loss of Belle Reve has left Blanche no other alternative. a Brando or a Tony Quinn. In her illuminating essay. Blanche and Stanley symbolize the two opposite forces of the refined genteel culture and the ruthless modern society without culture although she does not mention anything about Blanche’s active role in the cultural war against the primitive savage. In her deep mind. p. Blanche will turn Stanley’s place into her new battlefield against the coarse.

to the postwar urban-industrial society in which Stanley’s class has gained leverage” (p. Thus. sees this transfer of papers/merging of bloodlines as a key concept in the evolution of the social system from the old agrarian South. Indeed. but also ruined its purity or sacredness in symbolic terms. 42). 54). The past is at least secure for her in her self-preserved world. Blanche still pertinaciouly refuses her final defeat. Felicia Hardison Landré (1997) clarifies the point well enough: “Robert Bray. The Battle over Mitch and Stanley’s Place The second round of Blanche’s battle against Stanley is her attempt to change Stanley’s place with her refined cultural taste and her campaign to win Stanley’s best friend Mitch over 117 . burdened by its past. as Ronald Hayman (1993) points out: “In the squalid setting of Streetcar Blanche’s language seems no less fragile than Laura’s glass animals” (p. foreshadowing his actual rape of Blanche towards the end. but in cultural terms. 43) are part of his first round of the battle against Blanche. Blanche also has a strong will to persistently hang on and stubbornly refuses to let go of those past values which she has been fighting to preserve. Stanley’s touch of the love letters has not only blemished and polluted her past young love. 101). affecting Belle Reve” (p. In social and political terms. Robert Bray may be right. The naturalistic realism of the play again shows Blanche’s inevitable loss of the battle when she submits all the legal papers to Stanley. As the antique old trunk is the symbolic miniature of both Blanche’s own personal past and the whole past legacy of her ancestors’ history. Such a foreshadowing is further suggested by Blanche’s angry but sad ominous remark to Stanley: “The touch of your hands insults them!” “Now that you have touched them I’ll burn them” (p. Stanley’s brutal invasion of the trunk and his profaning examination of the love letters and historical papers “stretching back over hundreds of years. Commenting on Robert Bray’s reading of the play. Like Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey into Night. Stanley’s invasion of the trunk and raid of the love letters are a symbolic rehearsal. as represented by Blanche. The fact that “ [h]e rips off the ribbon and starts to examine them” (p.論《慾望街車》中白朗琦之文化戰爭 play. she tenaciously continues her war in defending those old cultural values and never gives up her spiritual heritage. who will forever hunt the past. 42) without paying any attention to Blanche’s angry protest suggests the ruthless naturalistic reality in which her angry words to the brutal and coarse Stanley are just as fragile as Laura’s glass menagerie in The Glass Menagerie. in his Marxist reading of the play.

淡江人文社會學刊【第三十四期】 from Stanley’s barbarous camp in Scene Three. she quickly starts her scheme to educate him with her own unique self-preserved fashion of gentility. or a folktale. self-preserved or rather self-recreated genteel realm that Blanche can feel at ease. but also consciously and purposely leads Mitch into an aesthetic world of literature. Her remark symbolically implies that her delicate refined nature cannot stand the raw. ] Blanche’s desire for illusion in opposition to the harsh realities that surrounded her is probably the play’s most obvious thematic value. “I can’t stand a naked light bulb. no matter how useless and futile. 55). Whitman and Poe” (p. especially putting colored Chinese paper lanterns on naked light bulbs because as she says. talking about love and literature including Shakespeare. any more than I can a rude remark or vulgar action” (p. preparing herself to be ready for her next fight. art. At Blanche’s request. . as Felicia Hardison Londré (1997) indicates: Her equation of the naked bulb with vulgarity implies its opposite: the soft glow of filtered light as the refined sensibility by which she identifies herself. (p. Blanche starts to decorate it right after she gets there. she is not only building herself a haven there to take a rest. and the colored paper Chinese lantern is obviously a culturally exotic artifact which suggests Blanche’s cultural refinement and artistic taste. here she believes that she can ignore and resist the harsh and cruel reality of the external world. 55) We should also notice that because of her cultural idealism. rough and animal characteristics of Stanley and his like. Mitch is glad to put an “adorable little colored paper lantern” (p. 55) on the naked light bulb. fifteen days after the Chinese New Year. “Hawthorne. or a philosophical and 118 . . for the print or painting on every paper lantern tells a famous legendary or historical story or a fairy tale. . 56). As a self-illusionary idealist. music and dance. Consciously or unconsciously. but also tries to reenergize herself. Blanche tenaciously clings to her unfashionable cultural values of the past and insists on changing and decorating Stanley’s apartment in her own cultural taste. In other words. Then. coarse. especially during the traditional Lantern Festival. Blanche not only renovates Stanley’s place with her refined cultural tastes. [ . Disappointed by Stanley’s place. display rich culture and ancient civilization. It is in such a self-imagined. Anyone with some knowledge of traditional Chinese culture can tell that paper lanterns. which is of course alien to him. Blanche immediately tells him that the inscription is from Elizabeth Browning’s famous love Sonnet 43. When Mitch shows her his silver cigarette case with an inscription on it. Symbolically she starts to recreate the genteel cultural world which has physically disintegrated.

[ . Blanche influences Mitch with her refined qualities of literature. it is her active psychological battle to win Mitch over from Stanley’s uncultured barbarian camp. . ] Unlike her sister. . as Felicia Hardison Londré (1997) also notes: It is significant that Mitch is the one who both installs the paper lantern and in Scene 9. . removes it. p. under the spell of an illusion she creates. is another desideratum in Blanche’s epistemology of fantasies.” (p. ] With Mitch as her enthralled audience. dancing and gentle manner. . 55) Yet. Kolin (1997) has an extended interpretation of the Chinese paper lantern: Like her Kleenex note. Mitch is obviously influenced and starts to imitate her dancing though very awkwardly. for these actions define the period during which he sees Blanche as she wants him to see her. Unfortunately the play’s naturalistic realism makes Blanche again lose her battle over Mitch. . dangerously 119 . perhaps. [ . This paper shade.(11) Williams’ own comment on the character of Blanche can further confirm the point: “Blanche mentions her Chinese philosophy—the way she sits with her little hands folded like cherub in choir. . . . 139). [ . ] Blanche is. . Philip C. Consciously and actively. music. eye-hurting and uncovered vulgarity of Stanley and his like. ] The paper lantern—like the revealing slip Blanche wears in the famous Thomas Hart Benton painting of the play. 1961. teasing opaqueness. etc. we need to point out that Blanche’s cultural education of Mitch is much more than “under the spell of an illusion she creates”. shadow. which reveals more than it conceals.” (quoted by Tischerler. the paper Chinese lantern that Blanche hangs over the “naked” light bulb foregrounds her desire. or like the Kleenex note—lets in illusion. Blanche with her flimsy paper lantern desires indeterminacy (and female ambiguity) to reign.論《慾望街車》中白朗琦之文化戰爭 cultural riddle. . and her loss of Mitch is symbolically suggested by Mitch’s removal of the colored paper Chinese lantern from the naked bulb in Scene Nine. When Blanche turns on the radio and starts dancing with the music. Holding the lantern to the light allows Blanche to capture magic in paper. . [ . The naked bulb obviously symbolizes the bare. she adds musical underscoring: she turns on the radio and “waltzes to the music with romantic gestures. art. . her fate. rather. who is subjugated to Stanley’s male desire. imagination. So Mitch’s help with the paper Chinese lantern starts his initiation into Blanche’s refined cultural world even without his own conscious awareness.

Consequently.” It seems that Kolin has overlooked the cultural and artistic values of the paper Chinese lantern. Mitch—with the paper lantern” (p. Mitch fails to understand the true cultural values that the paper Chinese lantern represents. But it is much more than that. Mitch fails to see that the ancient classical culture symbolized by the paper Chinese lantern stands for Blanche’s refined true nature. he fails to accept Blanche’s personal past by falling back to his own old vulgar world. That is exactly why when “[h]e tears the paper lantern off the light bulb. 140). First. shallow never-grown-up Mamma’s boy. his pathetically attempted but aborted rape will be finally turned into reality by Stanley’s brutal rape of Blanche towards the end of the play. 117). 462) Kolin’s comment on the Chinese paper lantern is quite just and illuminating in the context of his critical study of the play. tearing it off the light bulb and extends it toward her. by shadowing and thereby diminishing the intensity of the light bulb. her aesthetic values and her second life. This second life of Blanche is brutally trampled by the primitive animalistic Stanley and the final removal of the Chinese paper lantern in Scene Eleven suggests that Stanley’s lust to violently violate the genteel values tenaciously defended and preserved by Blanche is finally satisfied. Mitch’s removal of the paper Chinese lantern symbolizes three things. When Stanley “crosses to [the] dressing table and seizes the paper lantern. as a weak. as he calls the lantern just a “paper thing” (p.淡江人文社會學刊【第三十四期】 “too transparent. a self of cultural values and refined artistic taste. And as a foreshadowing gesture. She cries out as if the lantern was herself” (p. the power of his glaring male gaze. Stanley. the paper lantern enables Blanche to script herself. Her shocked. Blanche seeks to modulate the physics of Stanley’s desire through this paper script” (p. the paper lantern is her second self. In symbolic terms. hysterical attitude towards both Mitch’s and Stanley’s tearing of the paper lanterns in Scene Nine and Scene Eleven can prove the point. [s]he utters frightened gasp” (p. This point is made clear at the end of the play just before Blanche is taken to the madhouse. 462). Second. Stella. the paper Chinese lantern is much more than just “another desideratum in Blanche’s epistemology of fantasies. This can be explicitly proven by his attempt to rape Blanche right after he removes the paper lantern from the light bulb. She tries to redefine existence—for herself. It is true that “like the Kleenex note. Obviously this symbolic gesture indicates that in 120 . 462). It is also true that “she wants to dilute and to neuter Stanley’s harshness. which Blanche treasures so much that she regards them as the spiritual nourishment for her life in her refined cultural tradition. Indeed. 117).” (p.

Although Blanche is beaten. Blanche’s constant hot-bath bathing not only indicates her subconscious desire to cleanse and purge her past unclean personal blemishes and moral stains but also symbolizes her strong wish for a spiritual or cultural rebirth and revival. It is interesting to note that Blanche’s battle against Stanley begins right after her first hot bath. and feeling like a fresh new human being!” (p. her last one seems to imply not only her strong desire to purge herself after being raped by Stanley. 53). When Blanche allures Mitch to marry her. 37). and never stops until the last moment when she is forcedly 121 . Stanley nips her hope in the bud by revealing her inglorious past to Mitch. all freshly bathed and scented. Angrily and cruelly. If her first hot bath symbolizes her rejuvenation. she refuses to accept her tragic fate. That is why Felicia Hardison Londré (1997) claims: “The bathroom will be Blanche’s habitual retreat throughout the play. 127-128) Stanley’s own words also proves that the cultural war between Blanche and him starts as soon as she comes to the place. and her constant bathing evokes a purification ritual” (p. and meanwhile it also indicates her attempt to revitalize and regenerate her soul energy. and she never admits that she will be spiritually defeated. But of course Stanley will do everything to interfere it and makes sure of its ruin. he bursts into a volcanic fury like a mad bull and violently smashes the radio onto the street through the window. the cultural war at Stanley’s place is not quite easily over yet. Yet. When Blanche turns on the radio music to dance with Mitch. as he never stops but aggressively keeps attacking those delicate and vulnerable genteel values that Blanche inheritably possesses and highly values. Stanley shouts at Blanche towards the end of the play: You come in here and sprinkle the place with powder and spray perfume and cover the light-bulb with a paper lantern. coarse and violent Stanley.論《慾望街車》中白朗琦之文化戰爭 the cultural war Blanche’s delicate and fragile world of gentility is forever dangerously threatened and will be ultimately annihilated by the vulgar. Blanche’s own words right after her first hot bath at Stanley’s place strongly suggests the point: “Here I am. Whenever Blanche shuts herself in the washroom for a hot bath. but it is not finished until she takes her last hot bath in Scene Eleven. and he openly interferes and threatens her privacy throughout the play. Stanley violently howls at her to get out. but also a spiritual purification for rebirth. and lo and behold the place had turned into Egypt and you are the Queen of the Nile! Sitting on your throne and swilling down my liquor! I say—Ha! —Ha! Do you hear me? Ha—ha—ha! (pp.

Blanche lives in her own spiritual world rather than in the normally realistic world. vulgar modern society represented by the violent Stanley and the fast-running trains. In other words. Shep Huntleigh. Every time when a train comes with shrilling whistles and loud noises. and her comic behavior is also as honestly serious as Don Quixote’s serious attitude towards his comic fight against the windmill. Blanche is forced to withdraw herself further into a lost genteel world still existing in her own deep psyche. coarse. This is unmistakably implied in the fact that she simply cannot stand the shrilling whistles and loud noises of the fast-running trains. In realistic terms. her “illusions” are part of her spiritual truth rather than merely delusive whimsical fancies.” and she believes that “the conflict between Blanche and Stanley is an externalization of the conflict that goes on within Blanche between illusion and reality” (p.淡江人文社會學刊【第三十四期】 taken to the asylum. Crushed by the brutality and cruelty of Stanley. vulgar and violent Stanley and the powerful fast-running trains whose piercing whistling and loud noises challenge and threaten her existence. 122 . she recalls her old admirer during her college days. Blanche’s vulnerable delicate inner life that is nourished by those genteel cultural values is easily paralyzed. Symbolically it seems that all Blanche’s genteel values can be easily shattered by the ruthless industrial world of modern society. But.” In other words. I believe that it is Blanche’s strong spiritual faith in the cultural genteel values of the old South that enables her to have such fantastic imagination rather than mere “illusions. Twice at her wit’s end. But Blanche’s genteel qualities of refined life are unable to survive in the hard. she fancies he would come to her rescue. Blanche is physically crushed by Stanley and the fast-running trains. Blunche’s behavior is somewhat comic. it will ruthlessly rack her nerves and mercilessly drives her wild. Mary A. this is another symbolic gesture indicating Blanche’s Cinderella belief that her prince on a white horse will come to rescue her. violated and finally ruined by the brutal. One may easily say that Blanche’s rather comic calls simply become Stanley’s cruel laughing stocks. With such a desperate gesture. 392). callous and cold modern world that is embodied in both the rude.” We know that in that play. Surely Blanch believes that Shep Huntleigh would help her because her imagined prince stands for the old cultural values that she can share in her unconscious or subconscious world of genteel civilization. The whole process is also a struggle between the haunting past and the social reality of the ruthless present. Like Shannon in The Night of the Iguana. in fantastic/spiritual terms. Blanche lives on the “fantastic level” much more than the “realistic level. Shannon’s fantastic world is obviously his spiritual world. True. Corrigan (1997) considers Blanche’s behavior as “illusions.

. She looks about for a tradition according to which she may live and a civilization to which she can be loyal. But she does choose it rather than the ‘adjustment’ of her sister. . sobbing” (p. 144-145). the only culture only about which she knows anything. The Battle over Stella Indeed. . The fact that in the last scene Mitch angrily calls Stanley: “You…you…you…. . Blanche chooses the dead past and becomes a victim of that impossible choice. it must be the play’s naturalistic realism dictating that Blanche be physically. This is of course the consequence of Blanche’s cultural teaching and genteel education of him. 141) just before Blanche is taken to the asylum further proves his violently mental struggle between his conflicting attitude towards Stanley and Blanche. as Joseph Wood Krutch describes: But the age has placed her in a tragic dilemma. This effect is also noted by Londré (1997): “Scene 11 hints that the nominal winner. socially and politically beaten. The world of Stella and her husband is a barbarism—perhaps. [ . If the statement “Blanche chooses the dead past and becomes a victim of that impossible choice” is true. as Mitch is no longer the same barbarian in Stanley’s camp even though the weak mamma’s-boy personally falls back to the old barbarian camp. pp. . as its admirers would say. . In this dilemma. Stanley. [ . Moreover.131) is a telling evidence to show the impact of Blanche’s cultural education of him. Stanley’s relationship with his wife Stella “will never again be quite the same” simply because of the influence of Blanche’s cultural campaign to win Stella back from 123 . . Brag…brag…bull…bull” (p. 1961. however.論《慾望街車》中白朗琦之文化戰爭 yet spiritually she has never given up in her war against “barbarism” by Stanley at least in her own mind. has also lost. a vigorous barbarism—but a barbarism nonetheless. His behavior at the end of the play can convincingly prove it. ] Behind Blanche lies a past which seems to have been civilized. 50). the fact that “Mitch lunges and strikes at Stanley . in that the relationships he values most—those with his wife Stella and his best friend Mitch—will never again be quite the same” (p. At least she has not succumbed to barbarism (quoted by Tischler. ] It is. Blanche seems not to have completely lost her cultural war against Stanley. . collapses at the table. Nevertheless it is quite obvious that Tennessee Williams sympathetically suggests that spiritually.

Blanche expects to find Stella not only as her little playmate sister in the past but also as a comrade-in-arms to share. much more seriously. Stellar. Naturally. Like Blanche. and there he is—Stanley Kowalski--survivor of the stone age! Bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle! [ . . . . and swilling and gnawing and hulking! [ .] 124 . Thus. and this is exactly why Blanche comes to Stella after Belle Reve is lost. ] Night falls and the other apes gather! There is the front cave. but Stellar—my sister—there has been some progress since then! Such things as art—as poetry and music—such kinds of new light have come into the world since then! In some kinds of people some tenderer feelings have had some little beginning! (pp. especially in sexual life. Blanche is greatly shocked by Stanley’s insane salvage violence and primitive vulgarity not only against her. has an animal’s habits! Eats like one. but also. . . The third round of Blanche’s cultural war against Stanley starts with her attempt to win Stella over. if he was just—ordinary! Just plain—but good and wholesome. Stella has been changed and is no longer the little sister as Blanche has imagined. against the pregnant Stella. that you just suppose that any part of a gentleman’s in his nature! Not one particle. no! Oh. something ape-like about him. 71-72) [All italics in this passage are original. . Stella was raised in the genteel world of the old Southern civilization. moves like one. . for now Stella closely clings to Stanley. But to her great surprise. Blanche finds her opportunity to win Stella over from Stanley right after he has violently pushed Stella in his drunkenness in Scene Three. defend and protect their genteel values of the old South. There’s something downright—bestial—about him! [ . but—no. under Stanley’s strong control. .淡江人文社會學刊【第三十四期】 Stanley’s barbarian camp. talks like one! There’s even something—sub-human—something not quite to the stage of humanity yet! Yes. all grunting like him. enjoy. Williams devotes the entire Scene Four for Blanche to lecture on Stella about all the values of their past civilized heritage as well as about the primitive cruelty of the brutal ape Stanley and his like: You can’t have forgotten that much of our bringing up. like one of those pictures I’ve seen in—anthropological studies! Thousands and thousands of years have passed him right by. ] this party of apes! Somebody growls—some creature snatches at something—the fight is on! God! Maybe we are long way from being made in God’s image. ] He acts like an animal.

p. anxious and miserable. as Charles Isherwood (2004) points out: Emotionally frayed almost to the breaking point by her desire to protect her beloved sister. and she will lose the physical Stella. 125 . 62). . ] Stella’s last cries of remorse are as painful to hear as any of Blanche’s anguished arias. perhaps they will find it in themselves to stand up against the hegemony of apes” some day in the future (Londré. Thus. it is Blanche that refreshes Stella of the values of such a cultural heritage. (p. and deterministically interferes and abolishes her plans. Indeed. Stella’s mixed feelings of guilt and helplessness toward Blanche reveal her spiritual and moral conflict and dilemma. and it is Blanche’s cultural lecture that greatly influences Stella who will never quite be the same person again. and it is exactly because of Blanche’s cultural education and influence that Stella emotionally becomes frayed. . The impact of Blanche’s cultural teaching of Stella becomes obvious in the later development of the play. Blanche is socially and politically conquered again.論《慾望街車》中白朗琦之文化戰爭 Finally Blanche honestly pleads Stella: “Don’t—don’t hang back with the brutes!” (p. Blanche’s cultural war is certainly not futile. whose desperate plight she understands all too dearly. Yet. More importantly. therefore. “Stella and Mitch have been irrevocably changed by Blanche’s passages. To this extent. when Blanche is taken to the asylum. the roots of which are in her cultural heritage. and hold as our flag!” (p. it has indeed stamped its brand in the world even after she is taken to the asylum. . rather. 47) Williams’ naturalistic realism best embodied in the powerful fast running trains in the play cuts Blanche short. and this guilt is partially due to Blanche’s cultural lecture on the genteel values of the cultural tradition of the old South: “She sobs with inhuman abandon. with a broken heart. There is something luxurious in her complete surrender to crying now that her sister is gone” (p. the lady cavalier Blanche even courageously calls on Stella to hold the war “flag” to fight for their old culture and civilization: “That we have got to make grow! And cling to. 142). however. Stella is a continually anxious. 72). 142). [ . suffering presence in the play. The final stage instruction further proves that Stella is indeed guilty for her treatment of her sister. 1997. she can’t help but hysterically “cr[y] out her sister’s name from where she is crouched a few steps up on the stairs” three times: “Blanche! Blanche! Blanche!” (p. 72) Blanche’s brave statement again convincingly proves that she has been actively and honestly fighting her cultural war to defend her past heritage until she is taken to the asylum at the end of the play. Stella is also deeply guilty for her own treatment of Blanche. like the guilty Mitch.

the play also implies Blanche’s purgation. [ . 109) While Schvey suggests that Blanche symbolically transcends death through physical and psychological suffering leading to spiritual purgation. music and romantic dance. but also because of the incompatibility between them in cultural and spiritual terms. . by her fantasy that eating an unwashed or impure grape. one may conclude that Blanche will become a dignified martyr in defending her genteel culture and 126 . of course. [at] spiritual purification through suffering. . [ . purification and spiritual rebirth. has nonetheless transported her soul to heaven and her body into a deep blue ocean. seeded in the naturalistic realism of the play. Robert James Cardullo (1997) maintains that Scene Eleven of the play deals with the theme of death and resurrection: Blanche’s anticipated transcendence or resurrection is further augmented by the cathedral bells that chime for the only time in Streetcar during scene 11 (p. the death image is clearly connected with the birth image. Henry I. therefore. . ] Blanche’s symbolic death has resulted in new life. arts. Blanche cannot tie the knot to Mitch not only because of her personal past in a conventional and realistic sense. (p. . Unlike her sister Stella who has readjusted herself to marry the coarse and common Stanley. Nevertheless.淡江人文社會學刊【第三十四期】 Conclusion If the beginning of the play has already foreshadowed Blanche’s social and political doom. 36) If one insists that the chimes of the cathedral bell symbolize a funeral rather than a birth ceremony because Blanch talks about dying on the blue ocean at the end of the play. In other words. . . ] Thus Blanche’s fall is actually part of a process that goes beyond death and hints at something like heroic transcendence. We call it social death. (p. This social death is. . Scene Nine obviously shows that Blanche’s social death is approaching when the old Mexican woman comes to sell her flowers for the dead. . 136) . let us say one that has not been transubstantiated into the wine/blood of Christ. it is interesting to note that the episode of the old Mexican woman trying to sell Blanche flowers for the dead takes place exactly on Blanche’s birthday. Schvey (1988) is quite right when he argues: Williams clearly suggests an identification between the tragic fall of one and the birth of the other. for socially Blanche cannot marry Mitch anymore even though she carefully plans to do it by educating him with the genteel values of literature. .

The symbolic connection between Blanche’s “Della Robbia blue” dress after her final purifying hot bath. it can be also argued that although Blanche’s cultural war results in physical and social tragedy. we will finally see the point that her explanation not only gives a cultural education to Stanley who is too crude and coarse to know any zodiac knowledge. but the real strongest character. it can be argued that the spiritual birth or rebirth is suggested at the very end of the play. unyieldingly protecting. The blue of the robe in the old Madonna pictures” (p. while she is telling Stanley the zodiac sign under which she was born: “Virgo is the Virgin” (p. and “the ocean as blue as [her] first lover’s eyes.” and the new-born baby’s “blue blanket” is finally established for the symbolic cycle of death. 77).論《慾望街車》中白朗琦之文化戰爭 civilization of the good old South. and nostalgically recreating the genteel values of the good old South. rebirth and resurrected spiritual life. Reexamining Williams’ statement that “Blanche was the most rational of all the characters I’ve created and. Also. Blanche’s new dress after her last purifying hot bath is “Della Robbia blue. but also implies her self-claimed spiritual innocence and purity. 136). 136) The process of spiritual purification is clearly suggested in the claimed sea burial “in a clean white sack” and such a desired sea burial becomes the prelude for Blanche’s spiritual rebirth. in almost all ways. Moreover her talking about dying on the blue sea clearly reveals her desire to be cleanly washed. the symbolic spiritual birth is implied. tenaciously clinging to a disintegrating culture. 135). it finally and symbolically yields spiritual new birth or rebirth. 144). therefore. Stella’s new-born baby “is wrapped with a pale blue blanket” (p. Williams foreshadows this spiritual rebirth early in Scene Five. we can discover that in the play. passionately living in the past. thus. Blanche is indeed the tragic representative of a lost civilization. cleansed and purified: And I’ll be buried at sea sewn up in a clean white sack and dropped overboard—at noon—in the blaze of summer—and into the ocean as blue as [Chimes again] my first lover’s eyes! (p. This point is further strengthened by Blanche’s own remark at the end of the play: “That unwashed grape has transported her soul to heaven” (p. Blanche’s talking of “the old Madonna”—Virgin Mary indicates the birth of Jesus Christ. courageously defending. When she 127 . she was the strongest” (quoted by Tischler 1961. faithfully preserving. If we note the Virgin image Blanche mentions in Scene Five. More importantly it foreshadows the image of Madonna in the last scene in which the symbolic meaning of the color blue further connects to spiritual birth or rebirth in the play. Thus. p. 142).

When Mitch intends to rape her. she also clearly tells the world that she has a unique internal integrity of her own. rather it has indeed left a deep impression on the audience that the impact of such cultural heritage and legacy will continue even though the political and social institution of the old Southern aristocracy has indeed disintegrated and destroyed. When the big Matron tries to subdue her physically on the floor. Stanley. it certainly creates a moving tragic catharsis for the audience because Blanche’s so-called “defeat has considerable aesthetic dignity. Because of this. In such a spiritual realm. she never stops resisting until the Doctor gently offers her his arm like a real gentleman.” as the famous Yale critic Harold Bloom (2003. Thus it becomes quite clear at the very end of the play that Blanche is indeed the strongest character in the play in cultural and spiritual terms. . Blanche’s dignified leaving further indicates her spiritual integrity. 36). she is honest to herself. 119). 3) puts it. to which she dropped after the Matron had pinioned her arms crucifixion-style (p. 121). she fights against him to her physical limit with a broken liquor bottle. “Never inside. I didn’t lie in my heart . ” (p. followed by the Doctor and Matron instead of being escorted by them” (p. together with Blanche’s spiritedly leading the way [stress added] out of the hell of her sister’s home (without looking back). preserving and recreating the past genteel values of the old southern civilization against the ruthless and relentless modern society is certainly not futile. she becomes a cavalier who has never spiritually surrendered to the brutality and savagery of the relentless modern society. Blanche has never spiritually yielded to any coarse violent actions and rude behavior. and Blanche’s cultural war of defending. 141). . as Robert James Cardullo (1997) claims that “by the Doctor’s raising Blanche up from the floor of the Kowalski apartment. When she is really raped by the brutal savage. p. even to the very end of the play. 128 . Thus. honest to others and honest to her genteel values of her cultural heritage and to the legacy of the disintegrated civilization of the old South. she cries wildly: “Fire! Fire! Fire!” (p.淡江人文社會學刊【第三十四期】 says. If the ending is tragic for Blanche.

(1611/1988: 1177). her passion and instinct. O. (1947 New Directions edition) (11) Frye.論《慾望街車》中白朗琦之文化戰爭 Footnotes (1) (2) (3) Wilde. Day & B. B. such as literature. etc. to which Blanche tenaciously clings. An Ideal Husband.. I mean that the fate of the individual (Blanche) is determined not by herself but rather by the social environment. W. Bankhead. The Tempest. M. heredity. Where I Live: Selected Essays. or chance. E. died in his favorite hotel called Elysée in New York on February 25. S. (1963/1978: 152) T. Perkins. dancing. see the famous American historian. Requiem for a Nun.. 129 .. at least his use of the Chinese colorful paper lantern reminds us of the history of the movement of Art for Art’s sake in which French artists embraced Japanese ceramics. art. Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrast. Baker.” Williams. T. especially the popular Japanese prints used to wrap them as artifacts without knowing the ancient tales those prints depicted. W. But he also suggests a compensating humanistic value in his characters or their fates which affirms the significance of the individual and of his life. by her heredity. (1899/1970: 161). Shakespeare. (10) All the page number references refer to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. instinct. (1960: 81). decorations.). (1997: 6). The borrowed verses are from the second last stanza of Carl Sandburg’s “Prairie. (9) For further discussion of the aristocratic values of the old South. T. painting. If Williams did not really know much about the cultural tradition of the Chinese Lantern Festival. By “cultural terms” here. music. Woods (Eds.. “Williams’s View of T.” In C. quaint manners and elegant styles.” (8) It is an interesting coincidental irony that Williams. I mean the genteel values of the old South. & Perkins. N. 1983. Part of Donald Pizer’s definition of the naturalist (1984: 11) may help to illustrate my point: “The naturalist often describes his characters as though they are conditioned and controlled by environment. or chance. (7) By naturalistic realism. Bruce Catton’s essay (1956: 202-205). the playwright himself. (4) (5) (6) Faulkner. G.

(2004). (Ed. The English Review. (1997). The American story: The age of exploration to the age of atom (pp. UK: Penguin Books. CT: Yale University Press. 74-75. Devlin. Bruce and Company. J. 75-84). (1988). I. Baker. In E. 40(4). 13(4). A streetcar running fifty years. In B. Kolin.). MS: University Press of Mississippi.). 10(4).. Roudané (Ed. B. Selected poems of Sandburg. C. Modern critical interpretations: Tennessee Williams’s a streetcar named desire (pp. In W. 202-205). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers. (Rev. R. New Haven. & Perkins. Requiem for a nun. (1997). ANQ. J. (First published in 1918) Schvey. Harold (Ed. Variety. Holland. C. Tharpe (Ed. (1956). (2005). A ‘Streetcar’ stripped of desire. In M.. The Harper handbook to literature. Corrigan. CT: Yale University Press. (1956). Grant and Lee: A study in contrast. F. (1960). (1997). Rooney. S. New York: Chelsea House. Pizer. UK: Cambridge UP. (Ed. 34-39. O’Neil. C. A. 81(12). Madonna at the poker night: Pictorial elements.). C. (pp. (2003). New York: Addison Wesley Longman. C. S. H. J. (2003). MS: University Press of Mississippi. 103-109). C. Tennessee Williams. D. Beyond verisimilitude: Echoes of expressionism in Williams’ plays. Catton. Hayman. Lahr. Harmondsworth. In J. Perkins. 375-412). B. Jackson. Rebecca (Ed. The New Yorker. It’s only a paper moon: The paper ontologies. 27-28. 130 . 454-467. D. E. Tennessee Williams: Everyone else is an audience.). A long day’s journey into night.). Tennessee Williams: A tribute (pp. Cambridge. (1993). N. (1977). Faulkner. (1984). 46-47. Prairie. Cardullo. ed. Jackson. Modern Drama. R. H. Londré. A.淡江人文社會學刊【第三十四期】 References Bloom. 10-13. M. 398(11).. G. (1926). Frye. P. 395(2).). Indie Doyenne boards streetcar. (2005). H. Miers (Ed. Carbondale. Isherwood. Realism and naturalism in nineteenth-century American fiction. W.). New York: Harcourt. M. Variety. (1997). New Haven. Scene 11 of a streetcar named desire.). Stanley Kowalski: From page to stage. New York: Channel Press. (1986). Sandburg. The Cambridge companion to Tennessee Williams (pp. IL: Southern Illinois University Press. Conversations with Tennessee Williams. 45-66). Survivors.

E. Weales. Bankhead.). New York: New Directions. N. (1965). Woods (Eds. Day & B. (1962). Williams’s view of T. 137-225). O. ———. (First published in 1963) 131 . New York: The Citadel Press. New York: New Directions. R. New York: Airmont Publish Company. Taylor. The night of the iguana. & W. (1978). T. ———. In N. New York: New Directions. Tennessee Williams: Rebellious puritan. (1961).). Where I live : Selected essays (pp.論《慾望街車》中白朗琦之文化戰爭 Shakespeare. (1970). The glass menagerie. ———. New York: New Directions. The tempest. G. Wilde. William Shakespeare : The complete works (pp. Oxford. (1949). Minneapolis. Montgomery (Eds. (1947). 1167-1189). (First published in 1611) Tischler. W. M. UK: Oxford University Press. T. Teitel (Ed. MN: University of Minnesota Press.). A streetcar named desire. In S. Oscar Wilde: Five major plays (pp. G. In C. Wells. (First published in 1895) Williams. Tennessee Williams. (1988). An ideal husband. 148-154).

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