Exam Question: A Streetcar Named Desire
How does Williams suggest that Blanche Dubois represents the faded grandeur of the American past?
Explore the ways in which Williams presents conflict between the worlds of Blanche Dubois and Stanley Kowalski.
There are a number of ways that Blanche seems to represent the faded grandeur of the American past. Perhaps the most obvious one is her difficulty fitting in with life in New Orleans. From the beginning we see Blanche does not fit in with the people of her new community, nor her physical surroundings in her new home. This is shown at the start of scene one when it is easy to see that she disapproves of her sister living there. This can this be her home? This is perhaps Blanche being subtle as later when the place is described as having raffish charm, Blanche does not even recognise that and she describes it as, Only Poe! Only Edgar Allen Poe! could do it justice!
Blanche represents a deep-seated attachment to the past. She has lived her whole life in Laurel, a small southern town; her family had aristocratic roots and taught Blanche about some of the finer things in life. Unfortunately she cannot cope with life outside Laurel. Her refusal to come out of the time warp makes her unrealistic and flighty. When Blanche appears, she is described in detail, not only her clothes but also the impression she gives of delicacy and vulnerability. There is something about her uncertain manner, and the way she drinks as soon as she reaches the apartment shows that she is extremely nervous and uncomfortable. Her white clothes, that suggest a moth. There is an irony about the clothes Blanche wears and the way she dresses. She is glamorous and always appears wearing light, and white clothes although it is a desire to be pure, which we learn she is definitely not. Her name Blanche also means white. Whats more she bathes constantly throughout the play. This represents her need to purify herself from her past.
Blanche could easily be described as very vain. In her first meeting with Stella in scene one she says, you havent said a word about my appearance. We learn that Blanche is very concerned with appearance despite the fact that her good looks are fading. There are a number of occasions where Blanche does not want to be viewed in the light, as she does not want people to see her faded looks. This also parallels with her being describes as a moth moths are attracted to bright lights but often get hurt or damaged by them, a lot like herself.
Blanche is an escapist who says, I dont want realism. She hides from bright lights, just as she hides from the truth. Her delicate nature simply cannot bear the reality of present-day existence; she finds it too painful. She, therefore, convinces herself that she has remained pure because inside, I never lied. She knows her sole, or inner self, remained uninvolved in her physical encounters. As a result, she dismisses them and sees herself as virtuous, prim and proper. Examples of where Blanche is diffident around bright light is when she asks Mitch to put this adorable little coloured paper lantern on the light bulb because she cant stand a naked light bulb, any more than a rude remark or a vulgar comment and in scene eight when she states her dislike of bright lights, electric light bulbs go on and you see too plainly. As well as hiding her advancing age, dim candle lights are also perfect for her make believe world that has no pain or memories.
The plantation Belle Reve on which Stella and Blanche grew up has a name with in French means beautiful dream. When they lived there they obviously had a lot of money and lead a wealthy life. Stella seems to have come to terms with or may even be happy with the way she is living now, even though it is not to the same standards as she once lived. When Blanche wonders how Stella copes living in the conditions, Stella replies, arent you being a little intense about it? Its not that bad at all! New Orleans isnt like other cities. This shows a clear difference between the sisters and illustrates that Blanche still wants to live how she did in Laurel, which is clearly the past. The loss the loss
As we know Blanche and Stella grew up on a plantation, which, being in one of the Southern states, probably used slavery although it may have been before the birth of the sisters. However it is fair to assume that interacts with coloured people daily. In the opening scene Eunice and a Negro woman seem to be chatting in a relaxed atmosphere. This is not to say that Blanche does not communicate with the Negro woman, but it gives the impression from the way Blanche acts in other situations that she is not as modern as the people who live in New Orleans.
Tennessee Williams infuses Blanche and Stanley with the symbols of opposing class, historical periods, ways of life and differing attitudes towards sex and love. It is hard to say whether one character is wither completely good or bad, because the main characters are themselves internally torn by conflicting and contradictory desires.
There are two types of music used throughout the play that symbolise the world worlds of Stanley and Blanche. These are the blue piano music, which is first apparent right at the beginning of the play in the introduction to the scene. From a tinny piano being played with the infatuated fluency of brown fingers. This Blue Piano expresses the spirit of the life which goes on here. This gives us the idea that music (especially blues) is very important in the play as it represents the character and atmosphere of the rundown quarter of the city. This music is also heard when Stanley is the victor in scene four when he hears Blanche condemning him, and realises he has his wifes support, he laughs and clasps her head to him. Over her head he grins through the curtains at Blanche. They both seem to want to be close to Stella and at times it seems that Blanche is jealous of the relationship between Stella and Stanley. Blanches music contrasts with the blue piano. This clear distinction is one of the conflicts between Blanche and Stanley as well as Blanche and that area of New Orleans. The polka music is first heard at the end of scene one when Blanche tells of how she was once married, but the boy died. This music reoccurs when Blanche mentions this incident later on in the play.
Stanley is also a direct contrast to Blanche with the clothes he wears. At the poker night in scene three, he is wearing a solid coloured shirt, as are the other players. Stanley is in charge and dominates the group. Whereas Stanley seems to like bright colours around him, the kitchen now suggests that a sort of lurid nocturnal brilliance, the raw colours of childhoods spectrum, Blanche is never associated with bright colours.
Stanley represents contemporary social values driven by male dominance. He is a new urban immigrant. Blanche gives the impression that she thinks Stanley is in a lower class to her and is in places derogatory towards his background, In bed with your Polack! Nevertheless Stella seems to have adjusted to living with someone that is very different to her background, but is aware that her sister may not think the same as her, Im afraid you might not think they are lovely. The setting of the play makes this fact exaggerated because of the small apartment and quarter of New Orleans that it is set in which soon turns into a battleground. Besides not getting on with Stanley, Blanche does not seem to be able to associate with other people from the quarter. This is demonstrated when she is rather rude to Eunice when she first arrives, What I meant was Id like to be left alone.
Stanley feels Blanche has invaded his territory, despite this fact he welcomes her into their home; however, that acceptance requires Blanche to acknowledge his authority. Conversely, he does nearly reduce her to tears in their first meeting by asking about her marriage. Stanleys desire to dominate everyone around him finds its ultimate expression in his relationship towards Blanche. Stanley attempts to intimidate Blanche into giving him the information he wants he wants concerning the loss of Belle Reve, Dont play dumb. You know what! Wheres the papers? Initially Blanche responds to this with flirtation and laughter, but Stanley does not take lightly to this and shoves the trunk roughly open. Stanley believes according to the Napoleonic code whatever belongs to my wife is also mine and vice versa. Stanley has become suspicious about Blanche because when he looks through her clothes he discovers a lot of costume jewellery and in his ignorance believes the jewellery is real and expensive. He thinks Blanche must be lying about the loss and Belle Reve and that Blanche has been living an extravagant lifestyle since the loss of the family home and believes he should receive some of this money, even though there isnt any really.
Early on in the play we become aware of Blanches class arrogance when she sets aside the black neighbours kindness and of Eunices company. Blanches behaviour in the company of men is also very interesting. She constantly flirts even with Stanley, who is not impressed with her behaviour and replies to it with the blunt comment, If I didnt know that you was my wifes sister Id get ideas about you! This comment also shows Stanleys ungrammatical speech, which he often uses and which is very dissimilar to Blanches poetic, educated speech. Stanleys frank tone is often aggressive, which is a notion that we never she is Blanche. This gives him the upper hand to Stanley and is brutal towards Blanche and Stella in the play. Stanleys brutality is shown in several places during the duration of the play. For example, his first array of brutality is evident at the poker night when he throws the radio out of the window. Nevertheless it is Blanche who turns on the radio back on while chatting to his best friend, Mitch, after Stanley has turned it off during his poker game. This does not give him the right to act in this violent way, but Blanche seems to be aggravating him slightly and he likes to dominate. He then hits Stella, which is another example of his brutality. As a result of this incident Stella leaves to go to Eunices. From Stanleys point of view, Blanche has simultaneously robbed him of his wife and his best friend in the same night, so he sets about to ruin both these relationships. He doesnt like her personally and they have nothing in common, but also he sees her as something of a threat. She has disrupted his and Stellas relationship in the physical sense since all three have been living in the small apartment, but whats worse in Stanleys eyes is that Blanche is part of Stellas past, and Blanches influence revives old prejudices and ways of thinking Stella that threaten Stanleys dominance. For example when Stanley eats the remains of a chop with his fingers, Your face and your fingers are disgustingly greasy. Stanley takes real offence to this issue, because he does not like Stella telling him what to do and he definitely does not like the idea of the two sisters thinking that they are better than him. When we first met, me and you, you thought I was common. How right you was, baby. I was common as dirt. You showed me the snapshot of the place with columns. I pulled you down off them columns and how you loved it.
It does seem that each time Blanche and Stanley meet there is a massive dramatic tension, ending in Stanley domineering. He does not like her living in her idealistic world, as he relies strictly on facts. Perhaps the most dramatic part of the play involves both Blanche and Stanley. Stanley attacks Blanche in violent passion and she seems which is the ultimate domination on his part sexual domination.