“A Streetcar Named Desire” – Blanche’s Psychological Breakdown In Tennesse Williams’ play, A Steercar Named Desire the readers are introduced to a character named Blanche DuBois. In the plot, Blanche is Stella’s younger sister who has come to visit Stella and her husband Stanley in New Orleans. After their first meeting Stanley develops a strong dislike for Blanche and everything associated with her. Among the things Stanley dislikes about Blanche are her “spoiled-girl” manners and her indirect and quizzical way of conversing. Stanley also believes that Blanche has conned him and his wife out of the family mansion.
In his opinion, she is a good-for-nothing “leech” that has attached itself to his household, and is just living off him. Blanche’s lifelong habit of avoiding unpleasant realities leads to her breakdown as seen in her irrational response to death, her dependency, and her inability to defend herself from Stanley’s attacks. Blanches situation with her husband is the key to her later behavior. She married rather early at the age of sixteen to whom a boy she believed was a perfect gentleman. He was sensitive, understanding, and civilized much like herself coming from an aristocratic background. She was truly in love with Allen whom she considered perfect in every way. Unfortunately for her he was a homosexual.
As she caught him one evening in their house with an older man, she said nothing, permitting her disbelief to build up inside her. Sometime later that evening, while the two of them were dancing, she told him what she had seen and how he disgusted her. Immediately, he ran off the dance floor and shot himself, with the gunshot forever staying in Blanches mind. After that day, Blanche believed that she was really at fault for his suicide. She became promiscuous, seeking a substitute men (especially young boys), for her dead husband, thinking that she failed him sexually.
Gradually her reputation as a whore built up and everyone in her home town knew about her. Even for military personnel at the near-by army base, Blanche’s house became out-of-bounds. Promiscuity though wasn’t the only problem she had. Many of the aged family members died and the funeral costs had to be covered by Blanche’s modest salary. The deaths were long, disparaging and horrible on someone like Blanche. She was forced to mortgage the mansion, and soon the bank repossessed it.
At school, where Blanche taught English, she was dismissed because of an incident she had with a seventeen-year-old student that reminded her of her late husband. Even the management of the hotel Blanche stayed in during her final days in Laurel, asked her to leave because of the all the different men that had been seeing there. All of this, cumulatively, weakened Blanche, turned her into an alcoholic, and lowered her mental stability bit-by-bit. Her husband’s death affects her greatly and determines her behavior from then on. Having lost Allan, who meant so much to her, she is blinded by the light and from then on never lights anything stronger than a dim candle.
This behavior is evident when she first comes to Stella’s and puts a paper lantern over the light bulb. Towards the end, when the doctor comes for Blanche and she says she forgot something, Stanley hands her her paper lantern. Even Mitch notices that she cannot stand the pure light, and therefore refuses to go out with him during the daytime or to well lit places. Blanche herself says “I can’t stand a naked light bulb any more than ..”. A hate for bright light isn’t the only affect on Blanche after Allan’s death – she needs to fill her empty heart, and so she turns to a lifestyle of one-night-stands with strangers. She tries to comfort herself from not being able to satisfy Allan, and so Blanche makes an effort to satisfy strangers, thinking that they need her and that she can’t fail them like she failed Allan.
At the same time she turns to alcohol to avoid the brutality of death. The alcohol seems to ease her through the memories of the night of Allan’s death. Overtime the memory comes back to her, the musical tune from the incident doesn’t end in her mind until she has something alcoholic to drink. All of these irrational responses to death seem to signify how Blanche’s mind is unstable, and yet she tries to still be the educated, well-mannered, and attractive person that Mitch first sees her as. She tries to not let the horridness come out on top of her image, wanting in an illusive and magical world instead. The life she desires though is not what she has and ends up with.
Blanche is very dependent coming to Stella from Belle Reve with less than a dollar in change. Having been fired at school, she resorts to prostitution for finances, and even that does not suffice her. She has no choice but to come and live with her sister; Blanche is homeless, out of money, and cannot get a job due to her reputation in Laurel. Already in New Orleans, once she meets Stanley, Blanche is driven to get out of the house. She needs get away from Stanley for she feels that a Kowalski and a DuBois cannot coexist in the same household. Her only resort to get out, though, is Mitch.
She then realizes how much she needs Mitch. When asked by Stella, Whether Blanche wants Mitch, Blanche answers “I want to rest..breathe quietly again! Yes-I want Mitch..if it happens..I can leave here and not be anyone’s problem..”. This demonstrates how dependent she is on Mitch, and consequently Blanche tries to get him to marry her. There is though Stanley who stands between her and Mitch. Stanley is a realist and cannot stand the elusive “dame Blanche”, eventually destroying her along with her illusions. Blanche cannot withstand his attacks.
Before her, Stanley’s household was exactly how he wanted it to be. When Blanche came around and drunk his liquor, bathed in his bathtub, and posed a threat to his marriage, he acted like a primitive animal that he was, going by the principle of “the survival of the fittest”. Blanche already weakened by her torturous past did not have much of a chance against him. From their first meeting when he realized she lied to him about drinking his liquor, he despised her. He attacked her fantasies about the rich boyfriend at a time when she was most emotionally unstable.
He had fact over her word and forced her to convince herself that she did not part with Mitch in a friendly manner. Further, he went on asking her for the physical telegram to convince him that she did receive it. When Blanche was unable to provide it, he completely destroyed her fantasies, telling her how she was the worthless Queen of the Nile sitting, on her throne and swilling down his liquor. This wild rebuttal by Stanley she could not possibly take, just as she could not face a naked light bulb. Further when Stanley went on to rape her, he completely diminished her mental stability. It was not the actual rape that represents the causes for her following madness, but the fact that she was raped by a man who represented everything unacceptable to her. She couldn’t handle being so closely exposed to something that she has averted and diluted all of her life – reality, realism, and rape by a man who knew her, destroyed her, and in the end made her something of his.
She could not possibly effectively refute against him in front of Stella. Blanche’s past and present actions & behavior, in the end, even in Stella’s eyes depicted her as an insane person. All of Blanche’s troubles with Stanley that in the end left her in a mental institution could have been avoided by her. Stanley and she would have gotten along better if she would have been frank with him during their first encounter. Blanche made a grave mistake by trying to act like a lady, or trying to be what she thought a lady ought to be. Stanley, being as primitive as he was, would have liked her better if she was honest with him about drinking his liquor. Blanche always felt she could give herself to strangers, and so she did try to flirt with Stanley at first.
After all like she said to Stella “Honey, would I be here if the man weren’t married?”, Stanley did catch her eyes at first. But being brutally raped by him in the end destroyed her because he was not a starnger, he knew her, he made her face reality, and in a way he exposed her to the bright luminous light she could not stand all her life.