Untitled Essay, Research Paper
By: Mike mcmirez
topic: blanche dubois
Tennessee Williams was once said: “Symbols are nothing but the natural speech
of drama…the purest language of plays” (Adler 30); this is clearly evident
in A Streetcar Named Desire. In analyzing the main character of the story,
Blanche DuBois, it is crucial to use both the literal text as well as the
symbols of the story to get a complete and thorough understanding of her.
Before one can understand Blanche’s character one must understand the reason
why she moves to New Orleans and joins her sister, Stella, and brother-in-law,
Stanley. By analyzing the symbolism in the first scene, one can understand
what prompted Blanche to move. Her appearance in the first scene “suggests
a moth” (Williams 96). In literature a moth represents the soul. So it is
possible to see her entire voyage as the journey of her soul (Quirino 63).
Later in the same scene she describes her voyage: “They told me to take a
streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride
six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields” (Quirino 63). Taken literally this
does not seem to add much to the story. However, if one investigates Blanche’s
past one can truly understand what this quotation symbolizes. Blanche left
her home to join her sister, because her life was a miserable wreck in her
former place of residence. She admits, at one point in the story, that “after
the death of Allan (her husband) intimacies with strangers was all I seemed
able to fill my empty heart with” (Williams, 178). She had sexual relations
with anyone who would agree to it. This is the first step in her voyage-”Desire”.
She said that she was forced into this situation because death was immanent
and “The opposite (of death) is desire” (Williams, 179). She escaped death
in her use of desire. However, she could not escape “death” for long. She
was a teacher at a high school, and at one point she had intimacies with
a seventeen year old student. The superintendent, “Mr. Graves”, found out
about this and she was fired from her job. Her image was totally destroyed
and she could no longer stay there. “Mr. Graves” sent her on her next stop
of the symbolic journey-”Cemeteries”. Her final destination was “Elysian
Fields”. Elysian Fields are the mythical resting place of the gods. This
is the place of the living dead. Blanche came to Elysian Fields to forget
her horrible past, and to have a fresh start in life (Quirino, 63). In fact
Blanche admits in the fourth scene that she wants to “make myself a new life”
By understanding the circumstances that brought Blanche to Elysian fields
it easy to understand the motives behind many of Blanche’s actions. One such
action is Blanche’s constant bathing. This represents her need to purify
herself from her past (Corrigan 53). However, it is important to note that
Blanche’s description of her traveling came before she actually settles into
Elysian Fields. The description therefore represents the new life Blanche
hoped to find, not what she actually did find.
Tennessee Williams describes this place as having a “raffish charm”, but
this eludes Blanches (Corrigan 50). She describes it as a place that “Only
Mr. Edgar Allen Poe!-could do it justice!” (Corrigan 50). From the beginning
Blanche does not fit in with neither the people of her new community, nor
the physical surroundings of her new home. One can see that she does not
fit in by comparing the manner in which women in the story handle their social
life with men. In the third scene, Stella, who is pregnant, is beaten by
her husband Stanley. She immediately runs upstairs to her friend’s apartment.
But, soon Stanley runs outside, screaming, “Stell-lahhhhh” (Williams 133).
She returns and they spend the night together. The next morning Stella and
Blanche discuss the horrible incident. Blanche asks: “How could you come
back in this place last night?” (Williams 134). Stella answers: “You’re making
much too much fuss about this” and later says that this is something that
do sometimes” (Williams 134). One sees this is a common occurrence when the
same thing happens to the neighbors a few scenes later. Later in the story,
Mitch- Blanche’s boyfriend- yells at her and tries to rape her. Afterwards,
she tells Stanley that she would never forgive him because “deliberate cruelty
is unforgivable” (Williams 184).
The person whom Blanche is most directly contrasted with is Stanley. Blanche
loves living in an idealistic world, while Stanley strictly relies on facts.
In the story Blanche makes up a good portion of her past for the majority
of the play. When she was young she lived an eloquent life in a mansion,
but she eventually lost it due to unpaid bills. She tells everyone this part
of her history but neglects to tell them what she had done during the interim
period, before she came to Elysian Fields. Ms. DuBois never told them about
the promiscuous life she lived before she came. Stanley, on the other hand,
persisted in trying to find out her true past throughout the story.
Considering that this is Stanley’s house, his domain, it is easy to see that
this spells doom for Blanche. The difference between Blanche and Stanley
would not be so bad if it were not for one of Blanche’s flaws. This harmful
trait is Blanche’s inability to adapt to her surroundings. This is seen by
noting a play on words used by Williams. In the first scene Blanche is described
as “daintily blessed” and mentions that she is “incongruous to her setting”
(Williams 96). Blanche cannot adapt to her surroundings, but instead tries
to change them. Later in the story she says “You saw it before I came. Well,
look at it now! This room is almost-dainty!” (Williams 176). By using the
word dainty in both places Williams shows us how Blanche tries to change
her surrounding to match her, instead of adapting to them. This will not
work with Stanley. Blanche deceives everyone for a good portion of the play.
However, Stanley is continually trying to find her true history. Blanche!
says “I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, Magic! I try to give
that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I
tell what ought to be the truth.” (Williams 177). Stanley does not enjoy
“magic”, he says that “Some men are took in by this Hollywood glamour stuff
and some men are not” (Williams 114). Stanley never believes Stella’s act
(i.e. her “Hollywood glamour”) he only likes the truth. This difference of
philosophy creates much tension between the two. The climax of the tension
between them is in the seventh scene. While Stanley is revealing to Stella
Blanche’s promiscuous life, Blanche is singing the following song: “Say it’s
only a paper moon. Sailing over the cardboard sea- but it wouldn’t be
make-believe if you believed in me!
The louder Stanley gets on insisting on the undeniable facts about Blanche,
the louder Blanche sings (Corrigan 53). This is a symbolic collision of their
two philosophies. Stella, the link between the two, must listen to the facts
given to her by Stanley, and the virtues of idealism given to her by Blanche.
Light plays a crucial part in the struggle between Blanche and Stanley. From
the beginning Blanche insists “I cannot stand a naked light bulb, any more
than I can a rude remark” (Corrigan 54). She then puts an artificial lantern
on the light bulb. Light represents truth, and Blanche wants to cloak the
truth by covering it up. Later in the play Stanley “brings to light” the
true facts of Blanche’s life (Corrigan 54). When Mitch, Blanche’s boyfriend,
is “enlightened” by Stanley about her history he proceeds to rip off the
paper lantern from the light bulb, and demands to take a good look at her
face (Corrigan 54).
The scene when Stanley rapes Blanche is the beginning of the end for Blanche.
Sex is her most obvious weakness. That is the reason why she ran to New Orleans
in the first place. Since she had come to New Orleans she had tried to avoid
it. But, once again, Stanley is in direct contrast to this.
Williams describes him: “Since earliest manhood the center of his life has
been pleasure with women, . . . He sizes them up at a glance, with sexual
classifications, crude images flashing into his mind and determining the
way he smiles at them.” (Corrigan 57). It is only fitting that he destroys
her with sex because sex “has always been her Achilles heel. It has always
been his sword and shield” (Corrigan 57). After he has sex with her, she
is taken to another asylum, a psychiatric hospital (Quirino 63). The cycle
is started again. “Desire” has once again sent her off to “Cemeteries”.
Throughout the book it is possible to describe the confrontation between
Blanche and Stanley as a poker game. The importance of the poker game in
the play is proven by the fact that Tennessee Williams was thinking of calling
the play “The Poker Night”. In the first four scenes of the play, Blanche
plays a good bluff. She tricks everyone into believing that she is a woman
of country-girl manners and high moral integrity (Quirino 62). Stanley asks
her to “lay her cards on the table”, but she continues her bluff (Adler 54).
However, Stanley then goes on a quest for the truth. He then discovers and
reveals Blanche’s true past. Once he knows her true “cards” he then has the
upper hand. Stanley caps his win by raping her. It is interesting to note
that in the last scene of the play, when Blanche is being taken away, Stanley
is winning every hand in a poker game he is playing with friends. This symbolizes
his victory over Blanche. The card game can be viewed as f!
ate, in which skillful players can manipulate his cards to his advantage
The music in the background, plays a key part in the play, in describing
Blanche’s emotions. In fact at one point it says of Blanche that “The music
is in her mind” (Corrigan 52). The Blue Piano represents Blanche’s need to
find a home. She is always extremely lonely and needs companionship. This
music is apparent during scene one when she is recounting the deaths of her
family at Belle Reeve, and when she kisses the newsboy in scene five. The
music is the loudest during the scene when Blanche is being taken away to
the asylum. The Varsouviana Polka represents death, and to Blanche immanent
disaster. This music is heard as she explains the suicide of her husband
in scene six. It is also in the background when Stanley gives her a Greyhound
ticket to go home (i.e. back to cemeteries) in scene eight. It also fades
in and out of the scene where Mitch confronts Blanche about her true past
In studying the main character of A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois,
it is necessary to use both a literal translation of the text as well as
interspersed symbolism to have a complete understanding of her. Tennessee
Williams the author of the play wrote it this way on purpose. In fact he
once said that “Art is made out of symbols the way the body is made out of
vital tissue” (Quirino 61). This is a wonderful quotation to show just how
necessary it is to incorporate symbolism in an interpretation of a story.