Streetcar Named Desire: The Secrets of Blanche and Stanley

In ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ Tennessee Williams uses the characters of Stanley and Blanche as polar opposites who present the two sides of America: ‘the Old South vs the new America’. The character of Stanley is used as a tool to expose all of Blanche’s secrets and delusions as his blunt and primal nature does not allow him to be controlled or manipulated like Stella is. All of the secrets that are revealed in the play lead to a sequence of catastrophic consequences that ultimately results in Blanche’s mental downfall. The inevitability of death is also used throughout the play linking with the setting of the play “Elysian Fields”, the resting place of Greek heroes. Tennessee Williams portrays this through the themes of secrets, revealing of truths and impact. Stanley and Blanche are the two most important characters that embody these themes as they are polar opposites and work with each other in the culmination of the catastrophic events in the play.

 

Blanche’s didascaliae [stage directions] are used by Williams to further portray her illusory qualities. Her appearance is used to emphasise the exaggeration of her character as delicate and “mothlike”, she is illustrated in wearing all white outfits; “white suit, with a fluffy bodices”, and feathered clothing; “look at these feathers and furs that she come here to preen herself in”. This presents the theme of secrets as she is trying to be something she is no longer – a Southern Belle. Williams also uses her clothing to portray the slow decline of her mental state as the scenes go on: “crumpled white satin evening gown”. Author Philip C. Kolin draws parallels between the characters of Blanche and Hamlet which reinforces wider themes of but real and feigning madness; “Neither Blanche nor Hamlet can bear the world as it is. Both are rejected for the role (king, wife) they want”. This results in the delusions of Blanche as she talks about a rich millionaire that is coming for her; “yes, this man is from Dallas where gold spouts out of the ground!” Her delusion is further depicted through the “Blackened figure” she sees as she is being taken away to the mental hospital. This is redolent of the setting of the play being ‘Elysian Fields’, after ‘Cemetery’ which is a symbol of Greek tragedy, and now becoming a symbol of Blanche’s tragedy.

 

Both Blanche and Stanley are victims of the societal norms of Southern America. Blanche Dubois is a victim of the mythology of the Southern Belle where she is expected to be innocent, decorous and submissive. This is reinforced through her use of feminine language as she avoids the use of obscene language; “what in the name of heaven are you thinking of”. However, it is revealed by Stanley that she is actually sexually promiscuous and has been kicked Laurel out for her inappropriate behavior: “They told her she better move on to some fresh territory”. Her language is in contrast with Stanley’s heavy use of obscene language and profanities: “well, what in hell was it, give away?” Stanley is forced to be a stereotypical “brute” character as that is what was accepted of men in southern America at the time. Although Stanley is portrayed as being primitive responding to questions with one word answers such as: “Meat” and “Bowling”; he is also revealed to be a witty and educated character. He was a highly-ranked veteran and well-read enough to make allusions despite Blanche’s claim his is “caveman” and a “brute” which is exemplified through his reference to Shakespeare’s ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’ in Scene 10: “lo and behold the place has turned to Egypt and you are the Queen of the Nile!”

 

Williams uses Plastic theatre with his use of light to reveal contrasts between Stanley and Blanche. Stanley feels comfortable in the light symbolizing his honest nature whereas Blanche’s aversion to light symbolizes her aversion of the truth. Williams uses the locomotive to metaphorically represent Stanley control over Blanche as she sometimes hears the train in the background through its connotations of phallic imagery and non-diegetic aggression. In the scene where she reveals the truth to Mitch a locomotive is used to put Blanche in a state of discomfort; “[A locomotive is heard approaching outside. She claps her hands to her ears and crouches over]”. The influence of Williams’ poem ‘Lament for the Moths’ is clear with the characters of Blanche and Stanley in ‘Streetcar’. Blanche is delicate and fragile like the moths whereas Stanley is overpowering, omniscient and overwhelming, like the mammoth; “for delicate were the moths and badly wanted here in a world by mammoth figures haunted!”

 

Ultimately, Williams uses Stanley’s masculinity to overpower and reveal Blanches secrets as they present dichotomous characterisations. The catastrophic consequence of his revelations are represented in the rape scene, which was the symbolic death of her illusions, resulting in her delusions no longer a practiced art but a reality for her.

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