, Research Paper
A Streetcar Named Desire
To state the obvious, a tragic agent is one that is the subject of a tragic event or happening. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche Dubois is this agent. She experiences numerous things, and has certain dynamics that solidify her tragic elements. Many essayists describe these elements and they give clear conceptions of her tragic nature.
Aristotle has written of many qualities one must have in order to fit in the “tragic” category. Firstly, Aristotle contends that a tragic agent must be “of the nobility”. Now this is not to say that Blanche is of a royal descent, although she acts like it, but it has been interpreted as “one who is of a noble cause or intent”. Contrary to the way it seems Blanche enters her sister’s home with a selfish, but noble action. She is there to “get back on her feet”, even though she doesn’t tell her hosts this. This is one of the reasons she fits Aristotle’s description. Secondly, Blanche has the four parts of a tragic character that Aristotle lays out. She is good. Good in the sense that what she says and does is done with conviction and careful choice. Blanche is appropriate. Her character exhibits the natural wants and needs of a woman in her disposition. Also, she is realistic. In saying she is realistic, it means that she, as a whole, is presented in a way that is not unbelievable. Lastly, Blanche is consistent. Throughout the course of the play, she continues toward the same goal. Her consistent quality lies in her insatiable appetite for attention among other things. Aristotle’s third point lies in Blanche’s “inevitable reversal”. Through the scenes, the spectator learns of her bad reputation as being somewhat of a “slut”. Soon, one learns that she has come to her sister’s place to start fresh and rid herself of a filthy lifestyle. Her reversal comes when her sister’s husband, Stanley, suddenly rapes her. Though all this time Blanche sought a smooth and new sexual lifestyle, she once again engages in a sexual deviance. These three things are what make Aristotle’s tragic agent a truth in Tennessee Williams’ play.
As if Blanche DuBois hadn’t embodied enough of one’s idea of a tragic agent, Arthur Schopenhauer finds more qualities in her that further the inclination that she was meant for tragedy. Schopenhauer alludes to two main ideas that Blanche applies to. The first being that of desire. Desire brought Blanche to Elysian Fields in two ways: literally on a streetcar named Desire, and conceptually as an escape from past horrors and the want to seek a better life. Desire is the one vice that Schopenhauer believes is the end-all be-all destruction of an agent. As long as one continues to have desires, that agent will continue down his or her path of inevitable destruction. Which brings him to the next point: Resignation. Resignation is the act of “cutting off” all desires one might have. It is a final action one completes when they completely cleanse themselves of their greedy desires. Blanche does this in her last line, “Whoever you are – I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” In the last scene, Blanche has continued to fool herself and attempt to fool others by telling stories of Shep Huntleigh coming to take her on a cruise. She obviously has not resigned the fact that she has nowhere to go, and her desire to establish a new reputation has not disappeared. When she sees the doctor’s, she is persistent and refuses to go. It is only when the doctor begins to walk her away from the home that she says her famous line, and thus resigns from her previous vices. Many think that a resignation speech must have great lengthy and wordiness to it, but in this case, it is summed up concisely.
In Arthur Miller’s opinion, Blanche DuBois was just as susceptible to a tragic end than anyone else. Miller believed that Aristotle’s idea of a character having to be “of nobility” was an error. Furthermore, Miller’s view is that any common man or woman, such as Blanche, is a victim of himself or herself, in that one’s reputation and dignity is what is the ultimate cause of their tragedy. He goes on to say that every tragic character is trying to secure them a place in the world. Their idea of rightfulness and personal dignity is what encases their tragic nature. Basically, Arthur Miller wrote his a view down according to what he believed was a misconception by Aristotle. Blanche indeed had these two characteristics. She was a common woman, of no special or royal heritage. She also was driven to Elysian Fields in order to secure herself some new reputation, so that she could walk with some dignity.
In my personal opinion, I felt that Schopenhauer had the clearest description of Blanche’s character. The irony of the title in comparison with Schopenhauer’s idea of desire being a burden was too great for me to ignore. I think Williams chose his words very carefully, and he named that streetcar Desire for a reason. In this sense, Schopenhauer seems to have the most accurate perspective on this play. If I were doing the play, special attention would be brought to Blanche’s constant ignorance of her reasons for visiting. I think this would be helpful in understanding her secret desires and would ultimately contribute to the overall understanding of her mystery. I also find great importance in her last line, as said before, and would make sure that the spectator understood that Blanche DuBois had finally changed.