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Marković Darinka EJ 82/10 Professor: Zorica Đergović-Joksimović, Ph.D. Modern American Drama November, 2011
Tennessee Williams: A Streetcar Named Desire Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski
Williams’ heroine, Blanche DuBois, is one of a kind character, not just within the milieu of drama, but in the literature itself. Although autobiographical secrets are intertwined within it (based on troubled mother-sister roles), even without that knowledge the reader will deem Blanche credible and realistic a persona. However, she is also something beyond that elevates her to the sphere of romantic and lyrical. Stanley Kowalski stands in juxtaposition, as plain, matter-of-fact character which speaks his mind, wants and gets his desires fulfilled here and now. The battle stand between them is where illusion and reality clash and where the last-standing takes all the winnings. Ostracized, lonesome and financially insecure, Blanche leaves her home town in the South. She heads towards New Orleans where her only remaining family, younger sister Stella, now married to polish Kowalski, had settled. Family DuBois was of that old aristocratic establishment which collapsed in postbellum era and after the abolition of slavery. The contrast between sordid industrial surroundings and her white cocktail dress shows she is out of place in this working-class neighborhood. Her first appearance on stage is depicted as “incongruous to this setting” (Williams 7). Like an alabaster statue, artificial and frail, she is dislocated from her original place among “white columns” of Belle Reve. According to many interpretations, DuBois’ ancestral home signifies “a beautiful dream”, which is another hint that Blanche cannot cope with outside-world grim reality. Actually, the phrase is in bad French, a corrupted form of belle rive (beautiful shore) (Londré 52). The home, once a solid shore, was destroyed by abrasive forces of “epic fornications” her ancestors were prone to. The epicurean behavior, especially
promiscuity, obviously runs in the family. Stella, (stands for a star), detaches from her constellation, to indulge in freedom of sexual behavior with her virile husband Stanley. In her adolescence, Blanche is said to be “always--flighty!” (Williams 137). She has this “unclean” trait as well. However, her sexuality turns perverse under the whip of social instructions, and especially after distorted first love with a boy named Allan Grey. Female sexuality and Blanche’s identity are one of the play’s major questions. After she walks in on her young husband cheating her with an older man, she denounces him. While they dance the Varsouviana, she subhumanizes him to the point he runs off and commits suicide. Her love for him grows into malady of her drinking habit, neurosis and deep depression caused by feelings of guilt. Blanche is prone to fits of nymhomania, with particular interest in young boys. In her desperate grasping for youth, she rejuvenates herself in contact with them. She reasserts her ego by appearing attractive to boys half her age. However, there is the tune of polka to underscore pain of a guilty conscience, and it is something that torments her throughout the play. Blanche failed to understand Allan and also failed to help him accept his sexuality. Now, Blanche may have numerous affairs with men to assume Allan’s homoerotic role. Perhaps then, she will understand why she alone was not enough. In that way she will make peace with him, but also with herself. Also, her pathetic existence without meaningful bonding to other soul can be refreshed only with each new love affair. Trainees at army camp, schoolboys, and strangers in a hotel – she gave in herself to all of them in almost a masochistic manner. Artificial love is the only way to assuage the pain of reality, reality which she stubbornly denies to accept. Our haggard Madonna feeds on nostalgia and hope. There is little of that left when she enters the kingdom of Kowalski. Ultimately, Stanley will destroy her only remaining chance of happiness. Numerous deaths in the family, and crumbling of the home estate, incited her irrational fear of death. “It was arround that time that her loneliness began to overwhelm her leading to the beginning of her search for distraction in eros, the opposite of thanatos.” (Kataria 23, 24). The opposite of death is desire. However, it also seems that unquenchable desires lead to death. The names of the streetcars Blanche takes to reach Stella’s house in French Quarter are reminiscent of her life pathway (Williams 7).
Her personality developed within the mold of typical Southern woman. Goal of creation of such icon was to fascinate others, more importantly to seduce them. They alone, weren't supposed to have desires or passion. “The Southern belle attracted scores of suitors by using her magical powers to cast her spell on them… The 'putting on the dog' by Southern women highlights the falsity.” (Smith). “A cultivated woman, a woman of intelligence and breeding, can enrich a man's life--immeasurably! I have those things to offer.” (Williams 171). She breathes only when others sigh after her. And remains shallow and pathetic, glittered with coquettish trinkets. This is obvious, especially in her relationship with Mitch. Instead of playing more games, she should let him pull her “down of them white columns” (Williams 151) and break free from that prison. Blanche is incarcerated by the ideals she was taught. Shep Huntleigh is presented as the epitome of the romantic cavalier legend. Mitch is too sweaty, plain and too much of a boy to meet those requirements. Her memories and old ideals confound her, and she is too weak and afraid to step outside. Blanche is afraid to do so on her own. She accepts to follow doctor to mental institution at the end because he appears to be kind and protective. “Whoever you are--I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” (Williams 192). Miss DuBois is dependent on others to estimate her value. This is especially emphasized in her dependence on men, “I was fishing for a compliment, Stanley” (Williams 43). When she witnesses “Stanley being at his worst” and is fearful of her sister’s safety, at one moment she is decisive to make things change. Nonetheless, this is impossible to last for a longer period of time. She comes up with infantile idea of asking for help from her former suitor, Shep. To write note with eyebrow crayon on a piece of Kleenex, to sing Paper Moon or lie her way out of unpleasant situations- Blanche’s behavior is indeed reminiscent to that of a child. She seeks protection from Mitch and fears abandonment. Stanley Kowalski mainly epitomizes Dionysian force. In Blanche’s own words he is her “executioner” (Williams 123). He crashes the bell jar in which Blanche had been hiding so far, and makes her face reality. You always know where you stand with Stanley. He speaks plainly and shows his feelings. Depicted with vivid colors of green
and scarlet, he contrasts with Blanche’s bleakness. He loves to bowl, play poker and to drink. He is also hypersexual and has a violent streak. Every man is a king – that is the motto according to which he behaves. Now that Blanche invaded his kingdom and corrupted Kowalskis marital bliss, he sees her as an opponent. Blanche not only interferes with his greatest pleasure of sex, but also lures Stella away from him. The tangled triangle is unnatural, and there is competition for love, just like in The Ballad of Sad Café, by McCullers, Williams’ friend from the South. The name Stanley can be etymologically traced back to the name of polish king Stanislaus. It comes as no surprise that he should be the one giving out the orders in the house and making sure he got his territory marked. The apartment at Elysian Fields also evokes something pagan, a sphere where Stanley feels at home. He is born under astrological sign of Goat, which relates him to the Greek god Pan, he is the “gaudy seedbearer” (Williams 28). Blanche is the Virgo, nymph whom he will destroy (and she made it easier for him following her self-destructive drive). Obviously this story portrays patriarchal ideals. Stanley was accustomed to having his way with women, and is annoyed by his “hoity-toity” sister-in-law. Blanche lavishes him with attributes of savagery, animalism and commonness. In return, Stanley despises everything Blanche represents. Stanley’s identity is also shaken near intruder from the Old South. She must be put down and shown her place. Stanley senses her immoralism, suspects her of stealing away Stella’s part of inheritance and starts investigating her murky past. The tension heightens reciprocally with outbursts of his violence. Blanche takes long hot baths to fight this stress, but more importantly tries to wash away her past and memories. Stanley acts in similar fashion, he turns to element of water to wash away guilt of beating his wife. Eventually he rapes Blanche, to bring her down to his own level and “to show her which sex is the master sex.” (Bedient 36) He is interested in women who lay their cards on the table. Seduction of Miss DuBois can make him weak, strip him of his manliness. “Who do women think they are” exercising this advantage over men? It cannot be denied, though, that Blanche flirted with him. But, for her, this was make-believe and play, a new victim to practice her charm on. Stanley could have taken that signals for what they truly appeared, a “date” they had from the beginning.
Blanche’s illusory game of “to play saint, to ponder satan” (Smith) is doubleedged sword because she cannot fight inherent forces of human nature, or her own identity for that matter. She lusts for Young newspapers boy, for Mitch and perhaps, subconsciously for Stanley. The mocking of his animal drives both revoke repulsion and attraction. Blanche would not mind to settle with a similar “wolf” from pack of Stanley. The question is would she tolerate his stormy moods as submissively as Stella does. Stanley is a charming, down-to-earth character. He genuinely loves his wife and this love is ever-kindled with sexual passion. Nevertheless, he is an abusive husband. By pattern, he feels provoked to act violently, and after the irrational beating of his wife he is remorseful and redeems with sexual gratification. The similar domestic scene is portrayed in the Hubbells' apartment only as a comic relief. After all, they are a loving couple who can resolve their squabbles easily. Also, Stella is “thrilled” with Stanley’s passionate trait. In the interim, Blanche continues to pretend being something she is not. Blanche is a performer who hides under the cloak of white purity and innocence. She at all costs avoids bright light or to be seen without makeup and fine feathers. Her language is sodden with metaphors and hyperboles. To which audience she directs her fibs? In new environment, she should make a fresh start (with Mitch as her protector), but her detrimental upbringing has a hold on her, it tells her who she is is not right. She rebuilds the mothlike façade to try it out in new surroundings. Another problem is that Blanche does not realize there are many social roles to which everyone must adapt. Her cards, Queen of Hearts and Queen of Diamonds, cannot alone win the game. Likewise, haggard costume of snobbish Southern belle does not fit an aging woman. The possibility of happiness with Mitch, who also “needs somebody”, is ruined when Stanley reveals to him her sordid past. In Mitch, Blanche hopes to find “a cleft in the rock”(Williams 160) which Allan was looking for in her. Now, that taken away, her degradation (which began at Belle Reve) speeds up. The hologram she stubbornly tried to project around herself can now be retrieved to one place only, her psyche. The moth is once again in a secure cocoon as “an antenatal tomb / Where butterflies dream of the life to come” (Ferber 50).
1. Bedient, Calvin "There Are Lives that Desire Does Not Sustain: A Streetcar Named Desire". Tennessee Williams's A streetcar named desire. Harold Bloom: Chelsea House Pub. 1987.eBook. 2. Ferber, Michael. A Dictionary Of Literary Symbols. 2nd. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.eBook. 3. Kataria, Gulshan Rai. "The Hetairas (Maggie, Myrtle, Blanche)". Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. Harold Bloom: Chelsea House Pub. 1987. eBook. 4. Londré, Felicia Hardison. "A streetcar running fifty years." The Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams. Ed. Matthew C. Roudané. Cambridge University Press, 1997.eBook 5. Smith, Nicholas A. "Idealism and Insanity: The Subversion of the Southern Belle through Blanche Dubois." Smack! 1.1 March/April 1999. University of Iowa's Undergraduate Online Literary Journal. Web. 6 Nov 2011. <http://www.uiowa.edu/~smack/archive/smack1.1/ess1.htm>. 6. Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: Signet Book, 1974. eBook.
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