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Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire” is a character who will throughout the duration of the play invoke all sorts of contrasting, even opposite emotions. To analyze one’s emotions is no easy task, and to do so most effectively one must break the play into different parts and analyze them separately. The problem with Blanche is that she presents a character so mixed up in her own motives and opinions that one never knows if it is really her or an act she’s putting on. The audience will find itself constantly readjusting its position towards Blanche and the other characters as the play unfolds and we learn more about her story and the reasons behind her inadequacies. Williams makes sure nothing is white or black but grey so that at some moments in the play we struggle to find a reason for her cool manipulation and hunger for power while at others we pity her pathetic life founded on lies and misconceptions.
Even when she tries to break up Stanley and Stella’s relationship we don’t immediately brand her as a villain, we remember that if Stella hadn’t left than maybe Blanche would have become what she had wanted to become rather than what society dictated her to become.
When we see Blanche for the very first time we know right away that she does not belong in Stella’s neighborhood, she is “daintily dressed” and her “delicate beauty must avoid a strong light”, she seems in a fairly hysterical state but we can assume that’s just normal since she is “incongruous to this setting”. She seems to be having trouble speaking normally to a black person so that we can already place the origin of her upbringing in the South, probably in one of those enormous mansions that housed rich slave owning white families. As the scene unfolds, the image of the rich, somewhat sheltered southern woman is strengthened; we immediately understand something has gone terribly wrong and already sympathize with her. We see how surprised she is that her sister lives in such place:” They mustn’t have – understood – what number I wanted…” and the story for the moment seems to be the typical tale of two sisters, one who rebelled against her family and married a poor immigrant while the other was left with the decaying family business. We soon learn that because of some terrible event she is desperate for affection, we see this by the way she assaults Stella and talks non-stop. She seems well educated and mentions “Mr. Edgar Allan Poe”. We are vaguely surprised by her apparent taste for alcohol and see that “No, one’s my limit” is a lie as she has already had one while Stella was away, however this habit was not uncommon in Southern women and we let it pass. Lying about her taste for alcohol can be considered fairly understandable given the circumstances.
We think at this point that she is, at least with her sister, quite an open person so that when she talks of the apartment she does not hide her disappointment: “What? Two rooms, did you say?”. She talks so fast and seems so nervous that we sense something is wrong, Stella says: “You seem a little bit nervous or overwrought or something.” We think we have discovered all her secrets when she blurts that Belle Reve is lost and sympathize with her since all her relations are dead and she has lost the family house.
However, her paranoia about her looks and “In bed with your – Polak!” seem to indicate some deeper problem. We genuinely believe she has old – fashioned morals as she is so bothered and impressed by Stanley taking off his shirt that she vomits, we also believe that there is some horrible part to her past when she was married to a boy who died. However, the audience can already sense that she didn’t vomit because of Stanley’s harmless flirting, his actions seem to have reminded her of some past event and this memory has bothered her to such an extent that she vomits.
In the second scene, our view of Blanche somewhat changes and her shameless flirting with Stanley marks a change from the last scene. It definitely shows that her vomiting was caused by memories that she is maybe now trying to overcome by flirting with Stanley. We have already understood that in the past she was not always the old – fashioned woman she wants to be thus do not find her conversation with Stanley too out of character. We know that there are many aspects to her and her past we have not yet met yet we sympathize with her and pity her because of her inner pain. We can already see to an extent her different sides: the real her which we can’t quite yet decipher, the person she wants to be, conservative, loved and protected and the person she was forced to be. Also in this chapter, we see an aspect of her that comes back several times during the play: the bath, which for Blanche seems to be the usual means of escape from her daily problems, we see a cheerful side to her personality and only here when she is alone are we sure we are seeing the real her and not an act she’s putting on, the audience can sympathize or relate to this. We are a bit surprised at the skill she demonstrates when she handles Stanley: “Well, you certainly did a fast and thorough job of it” or “I cannot imagine any witch of a woman casting a spell over you.” We have already seen a few of her acts and wonder how many more will turn up; we might get a bit annoyed that she flirts with Stanley, Stella’s husband, yet we understand she has got some problems.
What disappears in this scene is the illusion that Blanche is a simple person?
In scene 6 we find ourselves once again trying to attribute a motive for some of her actions. When she manipulates Mitch into thinking she is an innocent country girl who won’t go much further than a kiss we wonder whether she desperately wants to be that girl again or whether she thinks if she plays hard to get he’ll treasure her much more later on or whether she is just playing around with him. The fact that she says in French which he doesn’t understand: “Voulez – vous couchez avec moi ce soir?” suggest that she isn’t one or the other but a mix of the three; however it does seem at this point as if she’s mocking him. We also discover in this scene the sad story about her husband which does account for some of problems she has later on in her life. When she tells the story she suddenly stops being so complicated and contradictory, the story is told with dream-like quality that suggest trauma and for one of the only times in the play we actually believe what she’s saying and understand her need to go back before this event and start again in a life where her husband is not gay and does not commit suicide.
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