The past on the present Essay
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She sits very primly and waits for her sister’s return. Williams also tells us that she has had a troubled past, and has trouble with alcohol: “I’ve got to keep hold of myself”, said to herself after she drinks some whiskey from a drinks cabinet, then wipes her glass as if to show that she hasn’t drunk any, as if wanting people to think of her as pure and untouched. Her trouble with alcohol is reflected several times through the play, as she drinks a lot, while pretending not to do so.
This shows us that she has something to hide from her friends and family.
And she is also very nervous, probably since she’s in new surroundings, as she jumps when the “cat screeches”. It is interesting how Williams uses music and sound effects to support the scene, like the Varsouviana or the cat screeching. In this case, this accentuates the tension and nervousness in Blanche, and shows the audience that she is close to a nervous breakdown. Blanche’s long monologue to her sister is a sign to us of her mental breakdown, exhibiting to us her increasing burden over the years.
She seems to be overly selfish, by implying that she was some sort of angel, when she knows she’s not: “I did not lie in my heart”, a line that is uttered later in the play to Stanley. Blanche paints a very grim picture of her dying relatives, but this morbid recollection gives us an idea of her suffering and sorrow in the past at Belle Reve. Belle Reve, in French, literally translates as ‘Beautiful Dream’, and this beautiful dream was shattered for Blanche. Another way that Williams dramatises the past is through the taking apart of Blanche’s trunk by Stanley.
We can establish that Stanley believes that the Du Bois were extremely well off, shown by the high-class accessories that Blanche owns: “The treasure chest of a pirate! ” We realise that Blanche used the “stuff” in her games of seduction in her home town, but only as the play progresses, and we also realise that these games don’t work on Stanley, since he isn’t taken in by her wiles, as he later says, “Some men are took in by this Hollywood stuff, some men are not. ” Even though Blanche is not the topic of conversation, we can deduce that Stanley is directly referring to her.
When Williams first introduces the boy, Allen, we are left in thought, since he tells us nothing other that the boy and Blanche were married, and that he died. But when Stanley rips open a stack of Allen’s poems, we are shown Blanche’s history all in a rush. She says that “I hurt him the way you would like to hurt me, but you can’t”. This is directed at Stanley, and shows the audience that Blanche not completely stupid, and knows that Stanley is out to break the bond between herself and Stella.
She even refers to herself, indirectly, unbeknown to Stanley, when saying that Belle Reve was lost piece by piece through “epic fornications”, or to her male relatives and ancestors. Williams could be suggesting that women were victims at Belle Reve, while the men were the rulers, which also relates to Stanley’s old-fashioned ideas about the superiority of men. The Poker Night is very significant, since it shows the audience the complete contrast between Blanche and Stanley and his gang.
We know that Blanche is portrayed dressed in white, while the men all flaunt bright, primitive colours. The brightness shows the men as full of life and zest, as compared with a sombre and pure white, as worn by Blanche. And when Mitch talks to Blanche, she is reluctant initially to open up to him, but when she does, she tells him everything about her past, about the boy, and Belle Reve. This slow opening up is symbolic, since it shows that Blanche is closed up at first, until she thinks she can trust someone.
Blanche is always taking baths, since she still believes herself to be unsullied and pure, and wants to maintain this. She thinks that by bathing, she can get rid of the ‘dirt’ that she collects on herself while in contact with Stanley, i. e. all his slandering against the Du Bois family name, and whom she believes to be lower than herself. But even she knows that everything she does is a fai?? ade, as she herself sings, “It’s a Barnum and Bailey world, Just as phony as it can be-But it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me!”, which is contrasted by dialogue between Stella and Stanley, when Stanley takes apart her story.
Even Blanche realises that she is living a lie, but doesn’t think that anyone else realises that, and that she can continue living in her dream world. Williams tells us that since Blanche couldn’t deal with the death around her at Belle Reve, she turned to sex, to the “kindness of strangers”. She has always relied on this to get her through, to make sure that she has a “warm bed to sleep at night”.
But her past association with many men have given her a reputation in her home town, and this is dramatised by the gradual decay of her mental facilities, as she realises that her act doesn’t work any more on men. So unless she finds some permanent shelter, she will be left without anyone who will acknowledge her, “everyone needs to be acknowledged”. A Streetcar Named Desire is a very interesting play, in which the playwright, Tennessee Williams, successfully dramatises the influence of the past on the present through the use of music, stage directions and the actions of the characters.