It has been said that the character of Blanche from “A Streetcar Named Desire” is one of the most difficult characters to analyze and portray. It is certainly the case that she is a complex character. It is difficult to know exactly what her past was. It is evident by the end of the play that Blanche has lost her mind and readers cannot really be sure about what in reality happened to her. Because some things are unsure about Blanche, she as a character is controversial and difficult to take the persona of. Blanche appears to be in a suspended state, half realizing that she is aging and trapped and half believing that she is still the popular southern belle she used to be.
Let us start with what for certain is fact about Blanche. She is Stella’s younger sister and they grew up on a southern plantation. Stella left and married Stanley, and Blanche stayed at Belle Reve to keep everything together (Williams, 8). A lot of her family died in front of her eyes and many expenses began to pile up. Her family died in horrible, loud, painful ways (Williams, 12). After all of this, she was alone trying to deal with these problems, watching her land being taken away. She worked all alone to try to pay if off, but as a high school teacher, it was impossible. All of the stress just accumulated and was added on to when she lost the plantation. She did not have money, nor any family around, and she did not have a job (Williams). As a young girl, she was extremely social and fell in love. She married very young and he died very young (Williams, 15). Clearly, Blanche had a trying life. There are also many stories about Blanche that did not help her reputation, whether they were in fact true or not. At the very end of the play, after Blanche has been with Stella and Stanley for about five months, Stanley investigates the city that Blanche came from. Apparently Blanche had a reputation with many men in an establishment that had a bad reputation (Williams, 74). She was trying to maintain the persona of a social butterfly, and she did not have a minimum age limit to the men she pursued. According to Stanley, she was fired from the high school because she made advances toward a 17-year-old boy and when confronted by the school board Blanche utterly failed to explain herself (Williams, 75). It is no wonder, with all of the stress at her home, and with the accusations at the high school, that Blanche started losing her sense of self.
Blanche DuBois has every trait of the southern belle. She is extremely talkative, as can be easily seen throughout the entire play. Also, as already made clear, she was a very “flighty child” and was extremely social. It is known that is fact because Stella was aware of this fact long before she and Blanche grew up (Williams, 76). She was always completely intent on being put together. She exclaimed “not til I’ve bathed and rested” (Williams, 5). Blanche is an extremely vain individual. While drinking with Mitch, she acts very ladylike and maintains her charm (Williams, 36). Even while traveling she is dressed as if going to afternoon tea or a cocktail party (Williams, 7). She is so vain, that she worries about her age. She asserts that people like her have “got to put on soft colors, the colors of butterfly wings, and put a – paper lantern over the light…. It isn’t enough to be soft. You’ve got to be soft and attractive,” and she maintains she is fading (Williams, 56). She also makes advances at young men, such as her student, and the delivery boy near the end of the play. Blanche’s self-image must also have been greatly affected by her marriage. She married young, and the marriage seemed to be a good one. Blanche loved him a great deal and her personality was one of a romantic. One day, she walked in on her husband and a friend of his, and it became clear that her husband was not completely heterosexual. She shouted at him and made a scene, he left the party, and committed suicide (Williams, 70). How could that make a woman feel? What does that do to her sense of awareness, her self-esteem, and her idea of reality? Stella is very aware how much Blanche cares about her appearance and how easily upset Blanche gets. Blanche appears to be just as dainty and fragile as any southern lady.
For someone who clings so hard to being a southern lady, why does Blanche go to where Stella lives? Stella and Stanley live in an environment where they yell quite a lot. During the main fight of the play, Blanche must have felt so overwhelmed. He sister is pregnant and she does not handle yelling well (Williams, 39). To her, Stanley is a brute and the only way to deal with men like Stanley is “to go to bed with them” (Williams, 49). She also sees the environment that they live in as a place where they have to have alcohol. She sees Stella’s house as extremely different from where they grew up and she is very vocal about it. She bluntly says “You must have liquor in this place” and looks around and asks “What are you doing in a place like this” (Williams, 5). She assumes that her sister would also have “sufficient memory of Belle Reve to find this place and these poker players hard to live with” (Williams, 49). However, with all of that, there is the fact that Blanche has very little money, no home, no job, and more than likely a bad reputation in Laurel. Stella appears to be Blanche’s only relation left. She loves her sister and undoubtedly wants to be near her again. Her motives also go deeper. Blanche has been truly alone for a long time, Blanche wants to understand what Stella loves so much about the life she has. It is “Desire! – the name of that rattle-trap streetcar that bangs through the Quarter… It brought me here. – Where I’m not wanted and where I’m ashamed to be” (Williams, pg. 51). Blanche is looking for a life. When she gets there, she sees a new life that is possible. She sees new kinds of men. Upon her arrival, she says to Stanley “I have an idea she [Stella] doesn’t understand you as well as I do” to which Stanley responds “If I didn’t know that you was my wife’s sister I’d get ideas about you” (Williams, 25). She wants these men, and more importantly she wants to be wanted. She wants Mitch because she wants to have a place to rest and to be in a place without enemies or a reputation (Williams, 58). On some level she wants Stanley because the small carnal part of her calls out to his animal and brutish personality. She also wants to continue being loved by her sister. She does not want to annoy her and she keeps promising that she will leave soon (Williams, 57). It is important to really consider what the word “Desire” means in this play.
The main reason that Blanche is such a controversial character is the rape scene at the end of the play. The act is seen as inevitable and it is a violent act. Blanche is seen as extremely vulnerable and unable to fight off an attack. With everything else in Blanche’s life, even though it is never stated in the play, it would not be surprising if Blanche had been sexually abused before. Blanche was then taken to some sort of asylum shortly after (Williams, 106). From the beginning of the play, when Blanche’s “uncertain manner suggests a moth” (Williams, 7) to the end of the play when she has her major breaks from reality to attempt to preserve herself, it can be seen how fragile Blanche continues to become (Williams, 94-98). Blanche’s character is one that continues to crumble. To consider Blanche’s life, even to take only what is known for a fact, is quite awful to see. It is also a great amount for an actor to take in and incorporate. In order to play Blanche, the actor must show a woman that feels a great deal, tries very hard, but still falls completely.
Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. Digital image. The Acting Professor. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2013. <http://www.theactingprofessor.com/downloads/files/A%20STREETCAR%20NAMED%20 DESIRE.pdf>.