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Extended Reading Response – “A Streetcar Named Desire”

Updated April 26, 2022
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Extended Reading Response – “A Streetcar Named Desire” essay

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In A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams, Blanche Dubois is a character who appears at first to be an innocent, delicate, prudish, yet cultured Southern woman. She is described, upon first being seen, as being “dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, white gloves and hat…Her delicate beauty must avoid a strong light…There is something about her uncertain manner….that suggests a moth” (p. 5). The imagery used here conveys this pure yet nervous spirit of which she is possessed. As the story progresses, however, cracks in her pristine armor are revealed, showing her to be promiscuous, vain, and – at times – even delusional, having been damaged beyond return by her past experiences. She now lives her life in constant fear of being exposed. She not only hopes to never have her past known by others (even her own sister who bore witness to her early years) but also hopes to hang onto her youthful beauty, as she feels it has been her only lure to bring people into her life, most especially men to care for her. Ironically, it is this weapon – female beauty – that was the one weapon she could not use on her own husband.

Blanche has only known love once in her life, the love she had for the young man she married many years ago. She describes this relationship to Mitch by saying, “I didn’t know anything except I loved him unendurably but without being able to help him or help myself” (p. 114). While she felt that he was the perfect young man, she came to discover that he was actually gay, did not truly return her love, and she could not do anything about it. She discovers this fact by catching him in bed with an older man and, motivated by shame, embarassment, consternation, and cruelty, tells him she is disgusted by him; this cutting remark leads to his suicide. From this moment on, Blanche has lived her life with this experience hanging over her head, never allowing her to know true love again because she is paralyzed by her guilt.

Compounding her feelings of loss being connected to love, her husband’s death is followed by multiple deaths in her family, leading to the loss of Belle Reve. She tells Stella that she “…took the blows in my face and my body! All of those deaths! The long parade to the graveyard!” (p. 21). This is telling since it shows not only the guilt she feels about losing Belle Reve, but also speaks to her need to now play the role of the martyr who needs to be appreciated for all her sacrifices. Adding to this, Blanche alludes to the fact that her beauty has been lost in the process; the imagery of being hit in the face and body as a way to describe the connection between the loss of loved ones, home, and beauty is a strong one. This loss of beauty is a horrible problem for her because this is what has allowed her to use so many people throughout her life.

It is clear that Blanche knows her beauty is waning, as she tells Stella, “You’ve got to be soft and attractive. And I – I’m fading now! I don’t know how much longer I can turn the trick” (p. 92). She knows that she has only a little bit of time left to find that special someone who will care for her in the way for has always longed for. She is constantly turning off lights, using candles, or covering the lamp with a paper lantern so that no one can get a clear look at what age and loss has done to her face. She still uses whatever she can to attract men, such as when she is undressing, visible from afar to the card playing men at the poker night, or when she throws out little coquettish comments like, “There’s so much — so much confusion in the world…Thank you for being so kind! I need kindness now” (p. 69) to Mitch. She knows how to manipulate others, and a caring and compassionate man like Mitch is a prime target.

As a way to deal with her past losses, and to try and serve penance for contributing to the death of her husband, she not only seeks solace in the company of many men (often much younger men, like the delivery boy, who reminds her of her husband) but also turns to alcoholism. She looks to have these two things numb the pain and guilt she feels and allow her to feel that she is a good person again. While she is doing these things, her upbringing is yelling in her ear to feel wrong for what she does. For instance, we see Blanche hiding her level of drinking from Stella on numerous occasions, including when she first arrives at Stella and Stanley’s flat and, according to the stage directions, she “pours a half tumbler of whiskey and tosses it down. She carefully replaces the bottle and washes out the tumble at the sink” (p. 10). This allows her to conveniently hide her drinking and allows her to play a good sister when, moments later, after one drink with Stella, she says, “No, one’s my limit” (p. 14) . She is still holding on to her reputation as a proper lady for as long as possible. She even does this to Mitch, as if there needs to be an explanation to anyone who will listen; she tells him, “I’m not accustomed to more than one drink. Two is the limit– and three!” (p. 59) as if she needs an excuse for the state she is in.

Through all of this, she has tried to maintain her air of civility and innocence because she feels this will allow those around her to perceive her as the “good” person she has always longed to be. She herself knows she is a fraud, as is seen when she tells Mitch, “I guess it is just that I have — old-fashioned ideals! [She rolls her eyes, knowing he cannot see her face]” (p. 108) knowing full well this is what he wants to hear and what she wishes were true of her. She is incapable of dealing with reality and the loneliness that she feels. She does not want anyone to know how it is that she deals with it. She especially wants to keep her indiscretions from her sister, Stella, for it is she who knows what Blanche once was and is expecting Blanche to still be that Southern belle. She is horrified when Stanley begins to hint at some knowledge of what she has been doing in Laurel; her facade begins to crack at a much more rapid pace, driving her deeper into the arms of Mitch before he, too, finds out about her many trysts.

Extended Reading Response – “A Streetcar Named Desire” essay

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Extended Reading Response – “A Streetcar Named Desire”. (2022, Apr 26). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/extended-reading-response-a-streetcar-named-desire/

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