Luminosity and Insanity
“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...
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