Amidst the pages of Tennessee Williams play, “A Streetcar Named Desire,”countless opinions and themes can be speculated upon. This can be said as
Williams is noted for his great ability to create believable characters.
Several themes present in “Streetcar” are the dependency on men, fragility
of women, and distorted senses of reality. One of the main characters,
Blanche Dubois, plays a key role in the development of many of these
From the very beginning of the movie a very noticeable characteristic
is apparent about Blanche Dubois. Looking to transfer onto the next
streetcar she is aided by a young man. The pleased look on her face and her
resulting manner makes known to the audience that she likes the attention
given by men. Following scenes then reveal just how much she seems to crave
the attention as well as affections of men.
While comments draw Blanche Dubois as a nymphomaniac, it can be argued
that perhaps her behavior was not necessarily so compulsive. In a letter to
Tennessee Williams theatre actress Jessica Tandy, who played Blanche, wrote
in response to said argument.
… I have tried to make clear Blanche’s intricate and complicated
character- her background- her pathetic elegance- her innate
tenderness and honesty- her untruthfulness or manipulation of the
truth- her inevitable tragedy. (Costanzo 32)
So with these traps it is emphasized to what lengths Blanche will go
to capture a man. Having to put so much effort into her act also shows the
desperate need she has for the affections and ultimately the protection she
feels she will regain from being with a man. This is brought out even more
in her relationship with Mitch. She sees him as an opportunity.
Essentially, the homosexual affair of her husband and his subsequent
suicide, has shattered her sense of self-worth. Dave Huong in his analysis
states, “She clung to the notion that if she can depend on someone, she can
avoid the feeling of being unlovable, which she associated with being
Corresponding with Blanche’s issues of male dependency is the
representation of her – women as whole- as being fragile. From the outset
Blanche is portrayed as seemingly delicate, plagued by the tragic death of
her husband. The memory of that event affects her so deeply it weakens her
physically. After she suffers a barrage of questions from Stanley she says,
“I think I’m going to be sick” (Scene 4). Blanche herself even admits that
she is worn out when she comments, “I am soft. I am fading now. I don’t
know how much longer I can turn the trick” (Scene 16).
Since her “woman’s charm” was her way of attracting men, the loss of
her youth and beauty no doubt signified the eventual demise of Blanche as a
persona. At one point she urges her sister Stella (who equally dependent on
men) to leave Stanley and his abusiveness while she contacted her past beau
Shep Huntleigh for “financial support” (Sparknotes). Finally, once she is
discovered of her numerous rendezvous with many men, Blanche goes into
practical hysterics when Mitch scathingly tells her, “You’re not clean
enough to bring in the house with my mother” (Scene 23). Being simply
dependent on the “kindness of strangers” meant a total breakdown in her
ability to share true love with anyone and finally, her own sanity.
Following Mitch’s rejection Blanche is seemingly at a loss at what to
do. Having put all her efforts in attaining a man to save her she’s left
with only her means of entrapment- illusion. Even before her mental
breakdown Blanche thrives on her ability to deceive – though at first
harmlessly. “Blanche has survived all this years by being an impersonator
extraordinaire” (Costanzo 72) She admits to Stanley once he is not overcome
buy her ‘Hollywood glamour,’ “I know I fib a great deal. After all, 50% of
a woman’s charm is illusion” (Scene 5). It is interesting to note how
inconsequential her lies are to her, by the way she describes with words
such as ‘charm’ and ‘fib.’
Along with using illusion as means to attract men she also uses it to
lie to herself. Her practically obsessive desire to keep away from bright
lights denotes her inability to accept truth, and certainly not to cope
with it. Instead, she hides herself, just as she hides the light bulb in
the apartment with a lamp shade. In scene 11, her comment “I can’t stand a
naked light bulb,” could be directed towards herself- she hates knowing
what she has become, and so drapes herself in finery in hopes of disguising
her fall from grace.
However, Blanche’s world of pretend is not isolated- she involves
others, and thus, her world cannot be sustained with their harsh realities.
During her confrontation with Mitch, and once cornered, she makes an even
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
truth, I tell what ought to be truth. And if that is sinful, then let
me be damned for it ….
Completely devoted to her life of illusion and distorted reality,
Blanche makes one of her stronger affirmations in the movie. In comparing
Blanche’s total delusion with Stanley’s insistent in naked truth Costanzo
Throughout the movie we watch the fixed unglossed bestiality of
Brando’s Stanley pitted against the ever-shifting faced of Blanche.
Unlike the raw corporeality of Stanley, Leigh’s Blanche amorphously
dons a series of masks, as she conjures persona after persona, as she
constructs character after character. (72)
Blanche has survived this way, and as the woman with the ‘flowers for
the dead’ chimes her imminent demise, she is trapped, no longer able to run
from the truth. Then, acting as a catalyst, Stanley violates her with the
truth- she is helpless, and has not a prince on a white horse.
All the points hence can, with some speculation, be considered
credible themes to Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” And yet,
still more will come about while the play’s spectacular humanity
endears itself to the “kindness of strangers.”