A Look at Blanche Dubois (Streetcar Named Desire)
In the film adaptation of the well-known play, A Streetcar Named Desire, we see the transformation and inevitable deterioration of our white-wooded Blanche Dubois. This character undergoes one of the most dramatic spirals into insanity that I have ever had the misfortune of seeing. And having said that, it also leads up to one of the best reveals of personality that I have had the pleasure of seeing. Done in a way that can be described as a work of art, Blanche Dubois’ thrust through her veil of illusion is ironically her final break from reality.
We first encounter Blanche as she travels to meet her sister Stella, whom she stays with for what turns out to be quite a length of time. She’s everything you’d expect to see when describing her as a fragile southern belle, with the voice to boot. Just high-pitched enough to be classified as lady-like, Blanche coats her voice in the magical illusion of innocence. Or if not innocence, then blame. Her hands accompany her with nearly everything she says, and thus, in their gracefully and fluid movements, create a sort of personality for herself. One that she is very aware that she is in fact creating. And when she feels even for a moment that her charade is being questioned, accused, or
dismembered, her tone alters into that of accusing and degrading. Blanche is a woman of illusion. She craves magic to escape her harsh reality. The reality of growing older, alone.
Throughout the beginning of the film, we constantly see Blanche make these transitions in speech patterns. When meeting up with her sister Stella we see Blanche talk about herself in a high manner, complimenting herself subtly, and evoking such compliments from Stella as well without much effort. But then at every mention of Belle Reve, their lost home, Blanche shifts. Her tone becomes harsh – protective almost. She turns the tables on herself, as well as Stella. She accuses Stella of abandoning her and Belle Reve. She calls herself fragile, instead of dependable, she smites her teaching career that she was exceedingly proud of just a moment ago. All within what seems like an instant, she cracks, and we see through to the unstable woman beneath the twang of the southern belle.
Stella can see her sister’s increasingly unstable state. And though she questions her in the beginning about it, we see that eventually Stella leaves the issue alone, escaping into her own world of illusion. She clings to the moments she has with Blanche where they are laughing and talking as sisters do. But she is quick to dismiss any other depressing conversations. She even goes on to tell Blanch, “I never listen to you when you’re being morbid” (Streetcar). So we see that it’s not just Blanche that has tricked herself. Being in the abusive relationship that Stella is in, she has learned to block out unwanted thoughts, just as Blanche has, in order to keep going. But the dismissing of the truth from Blanche only forces her further into her world of illusions, adding more weight to her crumbling wall of sanity.
Having to deal with the loss (in more ways than one) of her late young husband, Blanche actively pursues the first possible candidate for marriage, Mitch. Desperate not to end up alone, she uses her charm to ensnare Mitch into her web of misguided knowledge, mystical innocence, and
endeavoring flirtation, hoping to use him to release her pathetic cling to her sister, and venture with a new life of her own. But this backfires, and pulls the pin on Blanche’s grenade of stability. What at first seemed like a successful hunt, soon turns into an ambush, pushing Blanche over the edge. When she is stood up at dinner by Mitch, she is overcome with worry. And when Mitch comes to see her later on, she is desperate to keep his interest – and in doing so, makes the mistake of revealing herself.
Stanley, Stella’s aggressive husband, tells Mitch everything he knows about Blanche, including and emphasizing on her stay at a hotel named “Flamingo”, from where she had several “encounters with strangers” (Streetcar). Mitch, disgusted with her, says, “I thought you were straight” (Streetcar), meaning that he had thought she was a “respectable woman”, which of course then meant only being sexually active in wedlock. Already having her illusion of appearance exposed, the world she’s been creating falling to pieces before her eyes, she snaps at the accusation of being the exact opposite of what she had been pretending to be - respectable. She denies the Flamingo, and insists that it was the hotel “Tarantula arms” (Streetcar). Mockingly, she admits to staying at such a hotel, announcing to him that she indeed had relations with strange and random men. That it was her that lured the men in and not the other way around. That she was not the ragdoll, but the tarantula on the prowl, taking her prey with skill and cunning. And all the while being scolded for it, and named such a creature as the tarantula solely because she was a woman.
Again, now more dramatized than before, and considerably the rest of the play, we see Blanche’s voice change. Once, when she is revealing her true nature to Mitch after being accused, and again when fighting off Mitch’s sudden lustful and deceiving advances. She bellows at him, her voice diving several octaves, and showing her pent up rage and anguish as she demands for him to leave,
chasing him from the property, even. Her southern belle accent is almost, if not entirely missing from her monologue, showing us that she has lost the grip on her veil of deception.
I think the way this scene was handled was incredibly masterful. And though it was done within a matter of a few minutes, it did not seem rushed at all. From the turning on of all the lights in the room to ruin the appearance of Blanche’s youth, to her enraged confessions and dismissal was all timed accordingly. Blanche realizes that her final chance at happiness has been taken from her. And not only that, the lie that she has worked so hard for has been exposed by her own hand! Her unraveling is anticipated and still as engaging as you would think.
And although her persona throughout the play is overdone and stretched to its limit, you can’t help but feel sorry for Blanche. She’s lost everything while trying to maintain just that - everything. And no matter what she does, her past keeps finding ways to sprout its ugly head in her life. I do wish, however, that instead of creating a false world, that Blanche would have just embraced her sexually active life and come into it as a woman, as opposed to a coward. Easy to say in our modern culture.