, Research Paper
In the time that Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire transpires, depression is not recognized as a valid mental illness. People that were depressed, or suffered from various other chemical imbalances were called crazy and carted off to insane asylums by friendly strangers. Depression is now recognized as a valid mental illness worldwide, for the most part in countries that are developed. While poor countries suffer from ill physical health, struggling with meningitis and malaria, people in developed countries who have their physical needs attended to fall back onto a rickety mental structure, which doctors predict will lead to depression being the second highest cause of death in the world by the year 2020.
In A Streetcar Named Desire several of the characters suffer from apparent mental illness or imbalances. These are obvious to our 21st century, but in the 1940’s, the time that the play was written, would have simply passed for eccentricities. Mental illness went untreated to most people and those that were “treated” were simply locked away and not given effective care.
Mitch is a character in the play who seems to be suffering from a form of depression and likely childhood trauma which has prevented him from progressing into normal adult life. He obsessively concerned about his mother, who perhaps was not even as sick as he let on. Mitch may have an Oedipus complex trailing him, despite the fact that his father is out of the picture, he simply wants love from a women and he sees his mother as someone who can do that unconditionally. Mitch could have used the help of a psychiatrist to guide him towards independence and self realization, but this was not available to him. He simply had bowling, poker-nights and a self-enforced curfew.
Stanley, on the other hand does not suffer from the low energy, mildness that inflicts his friend. Stanley is obviously subject to the condition known as “super-male”. He was born with an extra X chromosomes, which we know today results in: higher levels of testosterone, easier ability to become angry, strong sexual drive and a more “manly” build. Stanley has all of these. Today someone living with an extra X chromosomes and acting irrationally as an affect of it would likely find themselves in counseling learning anger management exercises and attend sensitivity classes. Stanley did not get his care and attention. He did what he pleased to do and it was those around him who had to learn how to live with his condition. When Stanley threw the radio out the window, Stanley’s physical build and his rape of Blanche all point to him as a super-male. He was a super-male running amuck and ruining lives.
Finally, there is Blanche. Blanche is a picture of what the world will come to if it continues on it current path. Blanche was raised similar to how everyone in the western world is raised today. Blanche was born into the world with all the worldly things one could desire. She grew accustomed to that life. She didn’t think, she did. In her youth, she was beautiful and she had power and money to go with it. As she aged, the looks faded and so did the money. Blanche’s expenses were more than she had. She needed what her youth had brought her and she reached out to get it. She found a 17-year-old boy, and that led to the loss of her job, on top of the loss of her estate, the Belle Reve. She began creating images and memories in her mind in order to make up for the life that she didn’t have. She sunk into depression. She became a liar and an alcoholic and as she tumbled down this path she began to lose the ability to tell what was the truth and what was not and the glasses of whiskey blurred the two. Blanche could have been treated. With counseling and Prozac she could have learned to live a normal life, but before these things were known as valid health problems they would be left untreated until the person reached such a state that they could no longer live in society. After Blanche was raped any shards of sanity crumbled. She was taken away, to be put in a straight-jacket and locked in a padded room, not to be cured, but to be forgotten.
Knowledge of mental health has come very far in the past 50 years. Depression and other mental illnesses are now recognized as valid diseases. However, with this ability to diagnose comes an abundance of diagnoseses. They are growing. Many characters in A Streetcar Named Desire were affected by these ailments, but only one was even dealt with, and when she was it was in a brutal manner. The future will bring change and progress. We have so many cures and vaccines for the germs and viruses that once plagued mankind, but clearly with these problems conquered, room has been left room open for a new enemy to move in.