Although Williams’s protagonist in A Streetcar Named Desire is the romantic Blanche DuBois, the play is a work of social realism. Blanche explains to Mitch that she fibs because she refuses to accept the hand fate has dealt her. Lying to herself and to others allows her to make life appear as it should be rather than as it is. Stanley, a practical man firmly grounded in the physical world, disdains Blanche’s fabrications and does everything he can to unravel them. The antagonistic relationship between Blanche and Stanley is a struggle between appearances and reality.
It propels the play’s plot and creates an overarching tension. Ultimately, Blanche’s attempts to remake her own and Stella’s existences? to rejuvenate her life and to save Stella from a life with Stanley? fail. One of the main ways Williams dramatizes fantasy’s inability to overcome reality is through an exploration of the boundary between exterior and interior. The set of the play consists of the two-room Kowalski apartment and the surrounding street. Williams’s use of a flexible set that allows the street to be seen at the same time as the interior of the home expresses the notion that the home is not a domestic sanctuary.
The Kowalskis’ apartment cannot be a self-defined world that is impermeable to greater reality. The characters leave and enter the apartment throughout the play, often bringing with them the problems they encounter in the larger environment. For example, Blanche refuses to leave her prejudices against the working class behind her at the door. The most notable instance of this effect occurs just before Stanley rapes Blanche, when the back wall of the apartment becomes transparent to show the struggles occurring on the street, foreshadowing the violation that is about to take place in the Kowalskis’ home.
Though reality triumphs over fantasy in A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams suggests that fantasy is an important and useful tool. At the end of the play, Blanche’s retreat into her own private fantasies enables her to partially shield herself from reality’s harsh blows. Blanche’s insanity emerges as she retreats fully into herself, leaving the objective world behind in order to avoid accepting reality. In order to escape fully, however, Blanche must come to perceive the exterior world as that which she imagines in her head.
Thus, objective reality is not an antidote to Blanche’s fantasy world; rather, Blanche adapts the exterior world to fit her delusions. In both the physical and the psychological realms, the boundary between fantasy and reality is permeable. Blanche’s final, deluded happiness suggests that, to some extent, fantasy is a vital force at play in every individual’s experience, despite reality’s inevitable triumph.