A Streetcar Named Desire, a play by a Southern playwright Tennessee Williams, presents the problems of the United States after both wars and Great Depression. It also touches the issues of immigrant families and the old settlers. Although the play is situated in the South but the compelling manner in which he provides themes makes it rather universal. A Streetcar Named Desire has two strong characters – Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski – that are concurrently similar and different. Both try to hide their own weakness but in a different way and try to get rid of their inner and also outer problem, but in a different way.
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Blanche DuBois arrives to her sister’s apartment, which is located in New Orleans’s part called Elysian Fields, to escape from her unpleasant reality. She and her sister Stella Kowalski are descendants of the old Southern aristocracy and they are descendants of the old immigrants. Even at the beginning of the play Blanche DuBois is considered to be a fallen woman in the eyes of others. She lost all family fortune and family estate Belle Reve, she was present her husband’s suicide, her history of sexual relationships is very rich and she also has a serious drinking problem which she tries to cover up. Blanche is an opposite character to her sister Stella. According to their individual past they symbolize dark and light, dirty and clean characters. Blanche, who has very rich personal history which is a heavy burden to her and in fact forces her to leave a family estate behind and leave her hometown, in the play undertakes a process of cleaning herself and she tries to brush her life from every mistake she made and start new life. Underneath all the “dirt” and sins, there is an insecure, dislocated individual. In A Streetcar Named Desire there are several processes and action for that purpose. The “cleaning” does not include only personal history, reputation, her body but also relationships and the way she is treated.
Blanche’s problems with men started when she got married too young a hidden homosexual, who committed suicide after the confrontation with his sexuality. During her carrier as a teacher she seduced or was seduced by many men including her student. Although she probably never was alone in her hometown but certainly she was lonely. Because of all her dirty and bad history of her, she wants to make a relationship in a right way. For Blanche a vision of marriage with Mitch means to escape from dirty and sinful past, to clean herself from the other men. In this case, the wearing of white dress, which is a colour of innocence, as a bride would symbolically clean her history with men. Men’s exploitation of her sexuality has left her with a very poor reputation and with that came destitution. She believes she is an honorable lady of South who deserves to be treated that way but with all the gossips she cannot be. She tries to find a typical Southern gentleman who can save her and take care of her. This chivalric man is in the play represented by non-existing millionaire Shep Huntleigh. Blanche is depending on sexual admirations of men for it brings her almost lost self-esteem. In spite of every attempt for gaining normal marriage and dignity she fails again. Blanche will never be able to clean herself from the past and men because of her relying on them and putting her fate in their hands. The dependency and inability to see thing realistically leads to inevitable downfall rather than to purge.
The strongest motif of the cleaning processes is bathing. Blanche bathes throughout the whole A Streetcar Named Desire. She claims that the hot water calms her nerves and in the Scene Two she says, “â€¦all freshly bathed and scented, and feeling like a brand new human being!” So the cleaning is taken as a physical symbol on the one hand metaphorically and on the other hand literally. Her sexual experiences made her a “dirty” person and subconsciously she wants to get rid of her odious history. Her efforts to forget and clean herself cannot erase her past and because of that her bathing takes a long time, it is almost never done. Blanche’s constant bathing starts in the Scene Two. Stanley and Stella are talking about the lost of Belle Reve. Stella is satisfied with the Blanche’s answer that it had to be sacrificed. However, pragmatic Stanley wants to see all the papers concerning the family estate. He seemed to always hope of owning the estate or take an advantage from its sale. Stanley checks clothes in Blanche’s trunk and accuses Blanche that money from the sale is in her wardrobe now instead of in his pocket. While Blanche is bathing first facts about her history is revealing. She baths as she would like to wash her guilt of losing the Belle Reve. And behind her back others are deciding of her future. During bathing Blanche is singing.
In Scene Two and Seven there is a popular ballad “It’s Only a Paper Moon”. The lyrics “It’s a Barnum and Bailey world / Just as phony as it can be / But it wouldn’t be make-believe / If you believed in me,” describe the world where love is turn from reality into a phony fantasy. Love dos not exist in the real world and it is only imagined. It narrates Blanche’s life and her strong believe that her future happiness with Mitch lies in her behaviour. Blanche thinks that if she would try hard enough the hope would have become reality. The song very well accompanies the process of cleaning herself during bathing. Tennessee Williams use a juxtaposition of Blanche’s perception of her love life and the cruel reality, Blanche’s optimistic interpretation of the song with Stanley’s mischievous revelations about her. Williams creates an ironic dramatic situation where Blanche is singing about, in fact, nonsense. As Blanche takes a bath Stanley tells Stella about her sister’s sexual history. Other important thing is taking place behind Blanche’s back. Stanley tells Stella that he also told the whole history not only to her but also to Mich. Stella is now sure that Mitch will never marry Blanche because of that. While Blanche is bathing other important information about her reveals. On the outside Blanche appears to be fresh and temporarily renewed. However, she fails the process of cleaning herself from past and her reputation again. Stanley has objections against Blanche’s constant bathing. On a metaphorical level he shows his rejections towards Blanche’s processes of cleaning and purification.
There is other song Blanche is using for getting rid of her past and becoming as innocent as she was when she has been still married. The Varsouviana Polka is the tune which she hears in her head. It is also a tune which she was dancing with her husband and when she last saw him alive. The song reminds Blanche times of innocence and the time when the decline of her life became. The day when Allen Grey committed suicide she saw him with other male friend in bed and pretended that nothing happened. However, during dancing on the tune of Varsouviana Polka she told him that she found him disgusting. The polka represents Blanche’s longing for innocence which is already lost. First Blanche hears it during the meeting of Stanley in the Scene One. Other appearance of the tune accompanies Blanche’s narration of her young husband’s death. Since her mental decline begins she can hear the Varsouviana Polka constantly. For the purposes of process of cleaning she tires to move her miseries out of reality and focuses on her imaginary dream past world, she focuses on the becoming innocent again. In fact, her insanity is a token of regression to ideal imaginary environment.
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In conclusion, Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire tries through various ways to get rid of the past, sins, mistakes, memories and reputation. She arrived in Elysian Fields, which is the place where souls come before they can come back to our world, we can assume that her journey will start all over again. So from the beginning it is clear that Blanche is going to fail. Her problems go hand in hand. Her troubles with man would be cleaned by a wearing of a white dress at her wedding with Mitch, Blanche’s obsessive bathing resembles plunging of souls, the processes of cleaning are very psychic because she hopes to get away her “habitual sins”, alcohol does not wash away memories and also the songs which accompanied washing of the sins away do not help. Blanche is forced to leave with all her mistakes back to the rough reality but from the fresh new start but to the same stained history and reputation.
Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire . New York: Signet, 1974.
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