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Aviva Galpert

May 21st, 2010


D block American Studies

NEIGHBORS:
Charley and Eunice in Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire
(Revised Copy)

Charley and Eunice are each neighbors to the main characters in Death of a Salesman and

A Streetcar Named Desire, respectively, and therefore they are central characters as well (though

not quite to the same degree). Both are perpetually close by, making their lives closely

intertwined with those of the Lomans and the Kowalskis, and although there are some tensions

between the families, Charley and Eunice never once withdraw their support for their neighbors.

However, while these two characters are often brimming with good advice and consistently have

a hand extended to their struggling acquaintances, both are far from being the guardian angels

that those neighbors need. In fact, Eunice is quite troublesome to Blanche and Charley is a

source of great distress to Willy, for both lead lives of relative success in spite of the fact that

their philosophies and ideals differ so vastly from the ones to which Blanche and Willy hold so

dear. Blanche and Willy both seek escape and solace in their fragile fantasy worlds, and Eunice

and Charley are the clearest manifestations of the realities that are so disturbing to these two

characters: they repeatedly and determinedly break down the fortresses of oblivion and denial

that Blanche and Willy have so carefully crafted, and ultimately the truths that Eunice and

Charley represent (as well as the ubiquity of these truths) are what drive their neighbors to

insanity.

Neither Charley nor Eunice is “well liked” by his or her neighbor; in fact, both embody

the qualities that that neighbor most looks down upon. Blanche DuBois’s values revolve mostly

around culture and class. When she first sees her sister’s humble living situation, she murmurs,
“This—can this be—her home?” (A Streetcar Named Desire, 16); in response to Eunice’s

suggestion that she make herself comfortable, she says, “How could I—do that?” (Streetcar, 16).

Her aversion to the lower class becomes clearer still as time passes, and it is never more manifest

than when she is imploring Stella to leave Stanley. In doing so says, “I take it for granted that

you still have sufficient memory of Belle Reve to find this place and these poker players

impossible to live with…You can’t have forgotten that much of our bringing up Stella, that you

just suppose that any part of a gentleman is in [Stanley’s] nature! ...There’s something

downright…bestial about him” (Streetcar, 70-71). When Stella tells her sister that she loves

Stanley, Blanche says, “I tremble for you” (71). In the same scene, Blanche states not just what

she considers anathema, but also what she finds important: “There has been some progress since

[the stone age]! 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 tenderer feelings have had some little

beginning! That we have got to make grow! And cling to, and hold as our flag!” (Streetcar, 72).

In Blanche’s mind, one who is lacking in culture, sophistication, and gentility is utterly lacking

in worth.

Willy Loman’s conception of what is important is just as strong, if quite different.

Willy’s philosophy is that one who is well liked can get anywhere, and he stands by it for as long

as possible. Willy has difficulty understanding how his son Biff, “a young man with such—

personal attractiveness” has been so unsuccessful, but he reassures himself with the knowledge

that his peers “used to follow him around in high school” (Death of a Salesman, 16). When Biff

was still in high school and stole a football, Willy turned to his son’s popularity to justify the

action: “Coach’ll probably congratulate you on your initiative! …If somebody else took the ball

there’d be an uproar” (Salesman, 30). Later, he says to his sons, “One thing, boys: I have
friends,” as though that will open any door imaginable (Salesman, 31). This idea is expanded

upon when Willy tells his sons, “ Bernard can get the best marks in the school, y’understand, but

when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of

him. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who

makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man

who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want. You take me for instance…” (33). Like

Blanche, he highly values certain qualities and tends to disparage anyone who fails to display

them.

Eunice and Charley are entirely lacking in the areas that Blanche and Willy pay attention

to. Eunice is a far cry from the elegant, cultured lady that Blanche might admire. She loves

Steve, making her the wife of an ape in Blanche’s eyes, but in her relationship with him she has a

tendency to be crude and unladylike. Because of this, in addition to her unfeminine size, she is an

object of ridicule for Stella and Blanche: once, when the two sisters are speaking to each other,

Stella says, laughing, “You know that one upstairs? One time the plaster—cracked—“

(Streetcar, 50). Charley, too, is mocked by his neighbor: he, too, sometimes appears undignified

(particularly when he wears knickers), and he does not have the charisma that is so crucial for

Willy. When Willy is talking to his boys about starting up a business, he vows that he will be

“Bigger than Uncle Charley! Because Uncle Charley is liked, but he’s not—well liked”

(Salesman, 30).

Blanche and Willy’s lack of respect for their neighbors is quite apparent, especially in

Willy’s case, but, remarkably, it never pushes the neighbors away: both display amazing

understanding, astuteness, and generosity throughout their respective plays. Both characters are

helpful and accommodating; Eunice houses Stella when she needs to be away from Stanley, and
even chases him off at one point (“Quit that howling an’ go back to bed” (Streetcar, 59).). She

also takes care of Stella and Stanley’s newborn, and—perhaps most notably—she offers Stella

moral support and advice at the end of the play, when Stella’s world is falling apart and she is

ridden with feelings of guilt and doubt. Of the rape, she tells Stella, “Don’t ever believe it. Life

has got to go on. No matter what happens, you’ve got to keep on going” (Streetcar, 133). In

addition to being quite wise, this is exactly what Stella needs to hear; she cannot go on in

constant doubt of her husband. Similarly, when Stella is being torn apart with culpability for

having Blanche taken away, Eunice calmly says, “You done the right thing, the only thing you

could do. She couldn’t stay here; there wasn’t no other place for her to go” (141). Without

Eunice there, Stella would have been devastated; it is not unlikely that she would have fallen into

a deep depression, which is no state for a new mother to be in. By uttering those simple words,

Eunice—apparently so crude and unrefined—made her neighbor’s life infinitely easier.

Charley also has a knack for saying what people need to hear. He is astoundingly

reasonable, even-tempered, and empathetic. He understands that Willy needs to feel superior,

and rather than taking this as a personal affront, he humors him; for example, he compliments

Willy on his work putting a ceiling in, saying, “Yeah, that’s a piece of work. To put up a ceiling

is a mystery to me” (44). Even when Willy insults him directly, he takes it in stride; when Willy

says that he is disgusting, he calmly replies, “Don’t call me disgusting, Willy,” without losing his

temper even for a second (44). Furthermore, his kindness is genuine: after Willy’s death, Charley

gives an impassioned and insightful speech:

Nobody dast blame this man. You don’t understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a
salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you
the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and
shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake. And then you get
yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you’re finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A
salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.
He and Willy may not have been friends, but Charley certainly did his best to be a remarkable

acquaintance.

However, what most would consider Eunice and Charley’s most positive attributes—their

generosity and support, to be precise—were the attributes that were most distressing to Blanche

and Willy, because accepting any assistance from them, or watching their loved ones accept

assistance from them, meant seeing them in the light of superiority—and seeing them in the light

of superiority meant abandoning their philosophies on life entirely. When Blanche arrived at

Elysian Fields and found Stella’s house she was shocked, but the shock must have been

magnified when she heard Eunice say hospitably, “We own this place so I can let you in”

(Streetcar, 16). Blanche, who longed to be self-sufficient (“Yes I want Mitch…If it happens! I

can leave here and not be anyone’s problem…” (81).) struggled enough with being dependent on

Stella and her husband; to see that Stella was beneath this woman who posed such a sharp

contrast to her and her values could easily have turned her world on its axis, for it meant that

Blanche was not one, but two steps below someone whom she likely thought unfit to shine her

shoes.

In the same way, Willy struggled tremendously with Charley’s job offers and other

triumphs of all magnitudes. Even in his refrigerators, Charley is superior—says Willy, “Charley

bought a General Electric and it’s twenty years old and it’s still good, that son of a bitch”

(Salesman, 75). And not only is his refrigerator superior, so is his son; while Willy took so much

pride in Biff, he ended up an unsuccessful wanderer, and Bernard grew into a successful (but

modest) lawyer. When Willy last spoke to Bernard, he was about to argue a case before the

Supreme Court, but he said nothing about it to Willy: “He don’t have to [mention it]—he’s

gonna do it” (Salesman, 95). With Willy, it was the opposite: a lot of talk about Biff despite the
fact that he had done little to warrant the bragging. However, perhaps nothing was so hard for

Willy as hearing Charley offer him a job. Willy is fine with borrowing money from Charley,

because then he can tell himself that he is not dependent on the man; over and over, he insists

that he is “keeping strict accounts” (98). Of course, this is not the case, but he cannot work for

Charley; it would be too difficult for him to be in a subordinate position to this man who has

always struck him as rather unpopular and inept. Like Blanche, he is being forced to realize that

well liked is not synonymous with successful (“Them things don’t mean anything” (Salesman,

97)), and that his entire view of the world has been shrouded in an entirely false idea.

Blanche and Willy are crazy in the sense that the worlds they live in do not correspond

perfectly with the world everyone else lives in. Both are stuck in the past, and to protect the

defining moments that they so often relive, they need to maintain a certain mindset. Blanche

needs to stay young, delicate, attractive, admired, rich, and cultured, just as she was the night that

Allan killed himself. She needs to find the love she felt for him once again, hence her rampant

and dangerous desire that brings her into so many frightful situations. Willy needs to maintain

some degree of hope that he will be successful, that sales will start picking up, that Biff will find

a good job that pays well and is respectable for a man of thirty-four. For this to be possible he

needs to believe that being well liked is the ticket to success; otherwise, he has no way to

improve his situation. In spite of their good intentions, Eunice and Charley and their successes

make it increasingly difficult for Blanche and Willy to go on believing in the memory-truths they

have spun for themselves—unless they retreat further into their own worlds, where there is

nothing but memory and imagining.