“Human kind cannot bear much reality” (Eliot 14). Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” is an artistic demonstration of T. S. Eliot’s observation. In Streetcar, Blanche, a woman in crisis, visits her sister Stella and brother-in-law Stanley in New Orleans. Blanche is from an upper-class background but has fallen on hard times, both economically and emotionally. Stanley is from a lower-class background with a cruel streak a mile wide. What ensues is a conflict of epic proportions between Stanley and Blanche, with Stella torn between the two.
Each character operates within his or her own alternate reality. Through Stella, Stanley and Blanche’s self-deception within this conflict, Williams demonstrates how and to what extent individuals create their own realities in order to maintain the facade of an existence they deem acceptable. Blanche, more so that any of character demonstrates an individual’s ability to live in an alternate reality. Blanche creates an illusion that helps her cope with the type of person she has become because of tragedy she experiences.
Blanche’s husband commits suicide after she makes a cruel statement to him when she discovers his affair with a man. Blanche deals with her guilt and loneliness with destructive behavior: she drinks excessively and engages in sexually promiscuous behavior. Ultimately, Blanche is run out of town and comes to live with Stella with nowhere else to go. The facts behind Blanche’s story are sordid. But she does not acknowledge them or even live in a reality where they exist. “After all, a woman’s charm is fifty percent illusion” (2.129).
Blanche creates an illusion where she remains a proper Southern lady who is wanted by rich gentlemen. She arrives at Stella’s house wearing pearls, white gloves and a hat, “looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district” (1. 14). She clings to her Southern aristocratic roots and labels Stanley a “brute” because of his social status (4. 2). She will not acknowledge that she has fallen on hard times, but instead adopts a reality as it “ought to be” (9. 43).
She strives to convince others to adopt her reality to reinforce her fantasy world (“I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be truth”) (9. 43). For Blanche, an alternate reality is not just desirable or more acceptable, it is necessary. Blanche needs the illusion because she cannot exist without it. She cannot see herself as she truly is and go on. When Stanley shatters the illusion, Blanche is destroyed along with it. Like Blanche, Stella also creates a false reality to make her existence acceptable.
Stella’s alternate reality does not permeate her life like Blanche’s. But, it is equally destructive. Stella creates an illusion of Stanley as a loving husband to maintain her illusion that everything is fine in her marriage. Stella’s illusion of Stanley is evident on two occasions—when she returns to Stanley after he beats her and when she refuses to believe that Stanley has raped Blanche. When Stanley beats Stella, Stella’s self-deception becomes evident. It is clear at that point that Stanley’s cruelty extends to Stella in their marriage.
Blanche tries to convince Stella to leave Stanley. Ironically, Blanche, who clings to illusion herself, tells Stella that she must, “Pull (her)self together and face the facts” (4. 48). Stella, however, opts for her illusion. She returns to Stanley and maintains the illusion of her happy marriage. Stella again opts for her alternate reality when she refuses to believe that Stanley raped Blanche. Stella recognizes that she cannot maintain the illusion of what her marriage is if she believes Blanche. So, she makes a conscious decision to reject Blanche’s story and maintain her illusion.
At the end of the play, Stella explains her decision to her friend Eunice: “I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley” (11. 40). In reply, Eunice states, “Don’t ever believe it. Life has got to go on. No matter what happens, you’ve got to keep going. ” (11. 41). Eunice’s reply suggests that she recognizes that Stella is deceiving herself about Stanley in order to maintain the illusion of her marriage. Stella’s statement also suggests a degree of awareness that the illusion of her marriage would be destroyed if she accepted Blanche’s story.
Stella is only able to maintain her false reality by rejecting the truth about a brutal rape against her sister. Through Stella actions, Williams demonstrates the extent that an individual will go to in order to maintain an illusion. Both Stella and Blanche’s lives are mired in illusion. Williams suggests that perhaps Stanley’s is as well to a lesser degree. Williams betrays Stanley as a forthright man who speaks truthfully and plainly. From the time he meets Blanche, Stanley is obsessed with revealing Blanche’s lies and deceptions.
But, ironically, even Stanley creates an alternate reality that he is better able to accept. After he has driven Blanche insane by his brutal rape, Stanley goes to his family and presents the image of a loving husband and father as Blanche is taken away. Stanley’s alternate reality mirrors the one that Stella has created. In his illusion he is a loving father and husband rather than a cruel bully. So, through Stanley, Williams demonstrates that even those who are firmly seated in reality engage in self-deception to maintain an acceptable facade.
Williams’ message in Streetcar seems to be that humans tend to make their own reality when the real one is not to their liking. Blanche, Stella and even Stanley to a lesser degree create false realities. Their illusions cloak actual realities which they are unable or unwilling to bear. The illusions they create allow them to adopt an existence that is acceptable to them—one that is in no way similar to the truth of their lives. Works Cited Eliot, T. S. “Burnt Norton. ” Four Quartets. New York: Mariner Books, 1968. 14. Print. Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: Signet, 1974. Print.