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The relationship between Blanche Dubois and New Orleans is one that introduces the physical aspect of her isolation. The volatile relationship between character and setting is one that sets the basis for Blanche’s ensuing isolation. In the opening scene, Blanche Dubois arrives at Elysian shocked at the state of her sister’s dwellings. The contrast between Blanche and Elysian Fields is emphasised by their respective depictions. Elysian Fields is depicted as…The title ironic…Williams’ use of stage directions emphasises the Blanche as a ‘daintily dressed’ woman of ‘uncertain manner’. She is suggestive of a moth, the metaphor hinting at fragility and wandering nature.
Blanche’s incongruence to her new surroundings is further emphasised by her reactions to elements of New Orleans life. She is easily startled by the shouts of ‘Red Hots!’ by an outside vendor indicative of her nervousness. She also fails to comprehend the nature of relationships in Elysian Fields. During a poker game, a violent row erupts and Stanley strikes Stella. Blanche is later appalled to find out Stella had returned to Stanley later that night. Blanche is oblivious to the strength of Stella’s passion to her husband, his violent behaviour seemingly an attraction for her. Blanche;s hysterical determination to take Stella away from her husband is not forgotten or forgiven by Stanley, and makes him all the more determined to be rid of the unwelcome visitor. Blanche’s confused astonishment at her the volatile scene is reflected in her conversation with Mitch seeming to confound her isolation from the customs of her new surroundings. Her conversation with Mitch is also important as it emphasises the class differences between them.
Furthermore, Blanche is constrained by a self imposed isolation stemming from her antiquated views on class and social distinctions. From the very opening of the play, Blanche’s awareness of social distinction is exhibited in the offhand manner in which she accepts both Eunice and her neighbour’s acts of kindness. To Blanche these are services naturally expected of her social inferiors. Her attitude towards these two women prepares us for her condemnation if Stella’s way of life, and implicitly, of her husband. [Blanche Stanley class]
However, it would be naïve of us to ignore the flirtatious manner of Blanche [mention foreshadows Stanley rape]. This contradiction in Blanche’s character is one that comes into full view in relation to another aspect of her isolation.
The emotional distance Blanche levels is one based on the contradictory complexity of Blanche’s character and intentions. Blanche, a figure of nervous disposition, frets to Stella over her coming date with Mitch and her desperate longing for his hand in marriage. She fears growing old alone and is comforted by the thought of matrimonial security. Yet as she awaits Mitch’s arrival, Blanch engages in an episode of casual flirting with a young boy. Tennessee Williams uses the brief episode with the young man to show the contradictions in Blanche’s character. She is seemingly desperate to marry Mitch, yet she is ready to risk her future in this flirtatious episode. In regards to the tragic elements this episode contains, it makes us seriously doubt Blanche’s true desires and destroy any possibility of a happy ending for this wretched woman. She has no real desire for the safety of married life because she is unable to commit herself to a permanent relationship with one man. The moth will flutter and not settle down.
Obviously, a risk that arises from the callous flirtations of Blanche risks is the alienation of the reader’s sympathies from her travails. It is here that the tragic story of Blanche’s young lover, Allen Grey acts to remedy. In her youthful past, Blanche, hopelessly in love with her young husband Allen Grey, caught her lover in bed with another male friend. Later that day, pretending that nothing had happened, the three of them went out dancing together. In the middle of the Varsouviana, Blanche turned to Allen and told him that she felt ‘disgust’ towards him. He ran away and shot himself in the head. The significance of this tragic episode in Blanche’s youth is reiterated by Williams’ use of the Varsouviana Polka throughout the play. The Varsouviana is the polka tune to which Blanche and her young husband, Allen Grey, were dancing to when she last saw him alive. In the play, the polka tune calls up and accompanies Blanche’s feelings of guilt and remorse over her lost love’s death. Its dramatic effect is supplied by the fact only Blanche hears this (Mitch quote). This curious variant of the aside makes Blanche’s memories peculiarly private and contributes to her isolation. In relation to the elements of tragedy, the tragic quality to her youth is one that excuses the dichotomy of Blanche’s desires and is the source for the emotional vacuum she operates in the present. We as readers modify our initial doubts on her behaviour and feel immense sympathy and pity over her story.
Another interpretation of the Varsouviana is that it is symbolic of Blanche’s loss of innocence, her husband’s tragic death triggering her mental fragilities. In ‘A Streetcar’, the most significant aspect of Blanche’s isolation is psychologically, specifically her aversion from the harshness of reality to the relative safety of fantasy. Throughout the play, Blanche relies on numerous coping methods to help her endure the pain of her past tragedies and struggles. One method is her craving for drink, a trait that doesn’t go unnoticed by others (‘Liquor goes fast in hot weather’). She seeks the solace of alcohol when nervous, as before her date with Mitch, or depressed, after her rejection from Mitch. In addition, Blanche’s Chinese lantern takes on symbolic effect in Blanche’s evocative description of her love for Allen Grey. She describes falling in love as though ‘you suddenly turned a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow, that’s how it struck the world for me’. In turn, she claims that ‘the searchlight which had been turned on the world was turned off again’ after she catches him with another man, later confronts him, and discovers his suicide. The lantern is symbolic of Blanche’s attempt to block the world from her eyes. The darkness that she was plunged into after her husband’s death has become an aid and comfort from the harshness of reality (‘The darkness is comforting to me’).
Significantly, the relationship between Stanley and Blanche is given symbolic effect when perceived through the lens of Blanche’s isolation. Stanley, a practical man firmly grounded in the physical world, disdains Blanche’s fabrication and does everything he can to unravel them.
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