Street Car Named Desire Essay
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“These fingernails have to be trimmed. Jacket doctor,” utters the Matron in the final scene, a sorrowful conclusion to the previously doomed fate of Blanche DuBois. Imagine living a lie, an illusion; afraid of coming out of the dark past and into the warm, bright light of present reality and the not-so-distant luminous future. In the play A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, the eccentric protagonist Blanche manages to do just that. The play begins in New Orleans, where Blanche DuBois, a schoolteacher from Laurel, Mississippi, arrives at the apartment of her sister, Stella Kowalski.
Blanche’s social condescension and mysterious loss of her family’s prized plantation wins her the instant dislike of Stella’s husband, Stanley Kowalski. Blanche wins the affections of one of Stanley’s closest friends, Mitch, but as tensions between the residents of the small apartment rise, turmoil ensues, including the abuse of Stella by her husband, the unearthing of Blanche’s darkest secrets, the end of her relationship with Mitch, and Stanley’s most savage act, rape.
Throughout all of the commotion in the play Blanche’s fragile character is evident by many of her uneasy quirks and delicate yet disturbed nature.
The cited passage focuses on two significant functions such as developing the motif of light and characterizing her gradually declining mental state, consequentially leading to complete insanity. Trough the whole of the play, Blanche’s life seems to be heading in a downward spiral and the final image at the end of the play is a sad culmination of her vanity and total dependence upon men for happiness, as she is lead away to a mental institution by the kindness of a stranger; kindness she had always depended on.
One function of the cited passage is to reinforce the light motif. Throughout the play, Blanche Dubois constantly avoids bright light and appears to be fearful of it, going as far as to buy Chinese paper light shades to cover the exposed light bulbs in the Kowalski apartment. While Blanche is confiding in Mitch about her young ‘boy husband,’ she exclaims, “It was like you suddenly turned a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow…” (95 ll. 11-13).
Blanche has finally chosen somebody to reveal her dark, troubled past to. This scene serves as a bonding experience for the two singles. “-Don’t turn the light on! [Mitch crosses to the switch. He turns the light on and stares at her. She cries out and covers her face],” Blanche shrieks at Mitch later on in the play after he confronts her about her lies (117 ll. 10-12). Blanche continuously eludes direct, bright light, especially in front of her suitor, Mitch. Therefore, the light motif is frequently illustrated throughout Streetcar.
She also refuses to reveal her age, and it is clear that she avoids light in order to prevent Mitch from seeing the reality of her slowly fading beauty. She refuses to go on dates with him during the day too and eventually in scene 9, Mitch points out her avoidance of daylight. Furthermore, he confronts her with the stories Stanley has told him, concerning her turbulent past. Mitch explains that he doesn’t mind her age, just her deceitfulness, and Blanche responds by saying that she doesn’t mean any harm. She sincerely believes that magic, rather than reality, represent life as it ought to be.
Her inability to tolerate direct light foreshadows that her grasp on reality is nearing its end. Additionally, during the conversation Mitch and Blanche share about the tragic death of her husband, Blanche “claps her hands to her ears and crouches over. The headlight of a locomotive glares into the room as it thunders past…” (95 ll. 31-33). Not only is the light motif evident in this passage, but also Blanche’s inevitable spiral into a mental breakdown. On top of her extreme dislike of light, her nerves and shakiness make her more vulnerable.
Previously in the play, Blanches faces her sister Stella and explains, “I can’t stand a naked light bulb any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action” (55 ll. 15-16). Throughout the play, Blanche persistently attempts to avoid luminosity. Blanche even covers the bare bulbs in her sister’s home with paper lanterns. In general, light symbolizes the reality of Blanche’s past. She is haunted by the ghosts of what she has lost, including her first love, her purpose in life, her dignity, and the gentile society, whether real or imagined, of her ancestors.
These losses contribute to her fear of light and permanently transform her into an unstable character. In dim light, Blanche can create her magical illusions, hiding behind her past and avoiding present reality. Lastly, while confiding in Mitch, Blanch expresses, “And then the searchlight which had been turned on the world was turned off again and never has there been any light that’s stronger than this-kitchen-candle…” (96 ll. 21-24).
This conversation between Blanche and er suitor once again reveals her strong aversion to the light, due to the fact of a painful tragedy in her young, naive life. When Blanche discloses, “I like it dark. The dark is comforting to me” later in the play, she furthers the development of the light motif (116 l. 7). In scene 6, Blanche confides in Mitch, that being in love with her husband, Allan Grey, was like having the world revealed in bright, vivid light. Since Allan’s suicide, Blanche explains that this bright light she had experienced in her youth, has been missing from her life and soul.
Through all of her inconsequential sexual affairs with other men, she has experienced only dim light. But during her conversation with Mitch, the two lovers grow closer through her honest admittance of her tumultuous past to a man she believes she can trust, and therefore Blanche states that never has there been another light as luminous as the one the two had shared. For the duration of the play, bright light represents Blanche’s youthful sexual innocence, while poor dim light portrays her sexual maturity and disillusionment.
The multiple remarks Blanche makes about her aversion to light, combined with the knowledge of her misfortunate, sorrowful past and her nervousness around light, aid in the development of the light motif in A Street Car Named Desire. An additional function of this cited passage is to characterize Blanche’s gradually declining mental state. During the play, Blanche’s fragile psyche may be observed through her jumpy nervousness, the continuous polka music that plagues her mind, her separate imaginary world and aversion to light, and also through her various make-believe stories and deceits.
While Blanche reveals her darkest secrets to her suitor, Mitch, she admits, “I loved someone, too, and the person I loved I lost” (95 l. 6). It is through the death of her young ‘boy-husband’ that all of Blanche’s woes arose. The death of a man she loved unconditionally, initiated a permanent unstable psyche in her, foreshadowing an inevitable breakdown. Later on in the play, such characterization of a dilapidated mental state is clear in Blanche’s panicked shriek: “A cat screeches near the window.
Blanche springs up. ‘What is that’” (31 ll. -6). Throughout the play, Blanche displays her mental instability. Her nerves are frayed and she is easily flustered. Her sensitive state is a result of a chaotic past, the constant reminder of her deceased love, the loss of Belle Reve, her multiple intimacies with strangers, and her sexual scandal at school all wear on Blanche like guilty weights upon her shoulders; a dark cloud continuously hovering above her head. It is known that a guilty conscience can sometimes drive an individual over the edge and such is the case with Blanche.
Furthermore, Blanche’s compulsive lying leads her to begin believing imaginary ideas, including a cruise to the Caribbean. Her retreat into her own personal fantasies enables her to partially shield herself from the harsh realities of life. Consequently, Blanche’s insanity emerges as she retreats fully into herself, leaving the objective world behind. Additionally, during the discussion that Mitch and Blanche share about her past, she exclaims, “…when we’d run away and come back and all I knew was I’d failed him in some mysterious way and wasn’t able to give the help he needed but couldn’t speak of” (95 ll. 9-22).
Blanche had experienced a serious blow to her sanity through the death of her first husband. Her unhinged psyche developed through her innocent yet immature, naive relationship with Allan Grey. The traumatic experience that she had encountered with him led to her instability and ultimately foreshadows her breakdown. Later in the play, Blanche turns to Mitch and shouts, “-pretend I don’t notice anything different about you! That-music again…the Varsouviana! The polka tune they were playing when Allan-wait” (114 ll. 18-23).
The Varsouviana is a melody that constantly plagues Blanche. During unnerving and troubling situations, this musical tune resonates in Blanche’s head and unceasingly fades in and out her unstable mind. The music also plays whenever she feels remorse for Allan’s death. The polka makes its second appearance in scene six, while Blanche tells Mitch the story of her first true love and from that point on, the polka plays increasingly often, driving Blanche to complete distraction. The polka is always consecutively followed by a gunshot that killed Allan.
Constant mental turmoil eventually drives Blanche over the edge. The music is exceptionally distracting in scene nine, as Blanche is confronted about all of her deceitfulness by Mitch. The polka and the moment it evokes represent Blanche’s loss of innocence and the suicide of her young husband, who she loved dearly, was the event that triggered her mental decline. Since then, Blanche hears the music whenever she panics and loses her grip on reality.
The protagonist’s characterization of her mental unraveling is clearly illustrated throughout the play, developed by her nervous nature and er turbulent past. It is vividly clear, then, that this cited passage was incorporated into A Streetcar Named Desire for two important purposes. The excerpt primarily focuses on evolving the motif of light, which Blanche has a strong aversion too and which symbolizes multiple aspects of her shady past, and also characterizes her gradually declining mental state, consequentially leading to complete insanity. Again, William’s employs the motif of light in the play and this is evident through Blanche’s constant dislike of light.
The characterization of her insanity is illustrated by various aspects including her troubled past and nervous nature. The passage employs both the light motif and characterization of insanity to further develop the plays themes and effectively add to the dynamics of the characters and play. Light is present in everyday life. It brightens the dark and may even serve as a beacon of hope. However, for some it is a scorching spotlight directed towards the soul, forcing individuals to shun away and hide in their dark secrets and pasts just as Blanche DuBois did.
This aversion of light may be experienced by anybody, hiding from the reality of truth. Furthermore, insanity unfortunately, is present amongst people and society. Many are either born handicapped but others may mentally devolve and become psychologically unstable because of harsh or traumatic pasts, influencing their later actions, such as the case with Blanche. Not only was the motif of light and characterization of insanity illustrated in the passage, but also relate to life. The strong potency of the functions of this cited passage from A Streetcar Named Desire, transform the play into a relatable and dynamic work.