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Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire Essay


Character Sketch of Blanche Dubois

In Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire, we are introduced to Blanche Dubois. Blanche is a misplaced southern belle who as a last resort, comes to live with her sister Stella and husband Stanley for the summer in their modest home in New Orleans. Blanche arrives in a fragile state of mind, but maintains her aristocratic faade nonetheless. To an onlooker she is a walking paradox to her surroundings. Looking polished and proper in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, Blanche appears to be a striking contrast to the city that is noticeably decayed, rickety and grey (13). Blanche is tormented by her past, but rather than facing it, she chooses to live in a fantasy world of half-truths and delusions. Throughout the play we see two sides to Blanche: the person who she wants people to think she is, and the person who she really is. Her actions throughout the play portray a woman franticly chasing her youth and attempting to regain the power she has lost in her life. The theme of loss is important in understanding the motivations of Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. The choices Blanche makes when dealing with the loss of her job, Belle Reve, her young husband, her youth and her power shape her character and eventually lead to her into self-ruin.

When Blanche arrives in New Orleans, she is immediately forced to confront her loss. Although overjoyed to see her sister, Stella questions Blanche as to what brought her all the way to New Orleans in the middle of the school year? Blanche is a high school teacher in Laurel, where Stella and Blanche once lived together at their family estate, Belle Reve. In her first apparent departure from the truth, Blanche explains to Stella that her nerves broke and the school superintendent Mr. Graves suggested that she take a leave of absence (21). She scoffs at the idea that Stella may have thought she was fired from her job. This is a telling sign of her dishonesty since Stella had not once suggested such an idea. Later in the play, Stanley suggests that he has some new information about Blanche. He tells Stella that Blanche was fired from her job for having an inappropriate relationship with a young boy that she taught. The suspicion is confirmed later in the play when Blanche attempts to seduce a young paper boy. She asks him for one kiss and then stops herself because she has got to be good and keep her hands off of children (84).

When Blanche attempts to tell Stella about the loss of Belle Reve, she uses a guilt trip tactic. She first reminds her that it was she who abandoned Belle Reve while Blanche stayed and fought for it, bled for it, almost died for it!(26). Blanche expresses her guilt for the loss of the mansion by lashing out at Stella, accusing her sister of blaming her for the loss. Blanches anguish over the loss becomes even more apparent when she launches into a long, dramatic tirade about the deaths of their family members and the things she had to endure after Stella left. She judges her sister for having only come home in time for the funerals because funerals are pretty compared to deaths (26). Her tirade serves as an explanation to Stella of how Belle Reve was lost, although Stella never asked Blanche to explain. The drama induced by Blanche climaxes when she calls out Stella for not being there when the family was in need, but rather being in bed with her polack (27). Blanche needs to place some of the blame on Stella because she is not strong enough mentally to bear the burden of the blame herself. The loss of Belle Reve was devastating to both Stella and Blanche because it was their family home, where they grew up and shared fond memories. However, for Blanche the loss signified more the loss of her aristocratic upbringing. Blanche strongly identified herself with the southern genteel way of life, and Belle Reve was the last thing Blanche had to hold on to that gentility.

When Stanley questions Blanche further about the loss of Belle Reve, quoting the Napoleonic code, he asks her to show him the papers from Belle Reve. While rooting around in her truck they come across another stack of papers, yellowing with antiquity (41). Blanche tells Stanley that they are love letters, and poems a dead boy wrote (42). We are for the first time introduced to Blanches young, late husband Allan, who committed suicide one night after Blanche discovered him with another man. Blanche told Allan that he was disgusting to her, and a short time later he took his own life. Throughout the play we learn that the loss of her husband haunts her, and has left her riddled with guilt. It is one factor that drove her to turn tricks at the Flamingo hotel back home in Laurel. Blanche blames herself for Allans death because he came to her for help and she failed him in some mysterious way and wasnt able to give the help he needed but couldnt speak of (95). We find out later that a supply man down at the plant where Stanley works has heard stories about Blanche from back in Laurel, and that she is as famous in Laurel as if she was the President of the United States (99). When he confronts her about the stories, Blanche dances around the subject, neither denying nor admitting to his accusations. When confronted later by Mitch, Blanche finally admits the truth about her past, reasoning that she is still so disturbed by what happened to Allan, that intimacies with strangers have become all she can fill her empty heart with (118). She begs Mitch to understand, but his opinion of Blanche is spoiled and his mind is made up. The loss of Blanches young husband pushes her to commit shameful actions to escape the pain and guilt she feels. Her actions lead to the loss of her reputation and the loss of her hopeful relationship with Mitch.

Blanches attempts to hide from her past and cover up who she really is, are shown by her desperation to hold on to her youthful innocence and her struggle for power. He physical beauty is fading and she is fighting to hang on to her youthful image. Her outward appearance is an obvious reflection of this. When she arrives in New Orleans, her appearance is incongruous to (the) setting (15). She is carrying a valise and is dressed looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district (15). This is how Blanche wants to be seen; aristocratic with a high class air about her. The reality is that Blanche is past her prime, and she seeks sex with younger men to help her feel young again. The incident at her school in Laurel, and then later with the young paper boy are her attempts at holding on to her sex appeal that has been lost with her age. They also give her a regained sense of power. Through her actions, Blanche finds herself alone and unemployed, and basically at the mercy of her sister and Stanley. The loss of power over her own life scares Blanche, and drives her to seek out power through lies and manipulations. She soaks in the bathtub while her sister waits on her, and she makes up far-fetched stories about Shep Huntleigh, the oil millionaire (125). She also uses seduction to feel powerful. She flirts with her own sisters husband when he seeks to make her feel threatened. Her sex appeal is all she feels she has left to bring her power and her youth back.

Blanche comes to New Orleans with everything she owns in a trunk. She has lost her husband, her job and her family estate. Her youth is fading and she has lost all power and control in her life. Upon her arrival she meets Mitch, a man who seems to love her despite her age and what he knows of her past. However, Blanche continues to lie and carry on under false pretenses. She is so desperate to escape her past and the pain and guilt she associates with it, that she arguably begins to believe the lies and half-truths she tells. When eventually called out by Mitch, Blanche tells him that she didnt lie in (her) heart (119), but admits that it was panic, just panic, that drove (her) from one to another, hunting for some protection (118). Her act is over and she is exposed as a lying, manipulating, and delusional woman. While desperately seeking to escape the losses of her past, by lying and carrying on under false pretenses, Blanche loses that which is most essential to her existence: her sanity.

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