The Mental Destruction of Blanche Dubois

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Tennessee William’s play A Street Car Named Desire offers a glimpse into the harsh reality faced by single southern woman in the 1940s. The 1940s was a time when females were viewed as delicate and fragile; therefore, it was understood that a male companion was a necessity to keep them safe and secure (Cook 84). The character of Blanche Dubois embodies the 1940s distressed female as she struggles with her environment. She is battling guilt, loneliness and financial insecurity when she arrives in Elysian Fields. Critics and audiences alike have mixed reactions to Blanche and her role as the tragic protagonist. In “The Space of Madness and Desire” Anne Fleche suggests Blanche is mad from the outset of the play. Others such as Leonard Berkman in “The Tragic Downfall of Blanche Dubois” argue that she symbolizes a fallen angel who descends into madness because she is victimized by surroundings that have condemned her to become a deranged concubine. I agree with Berkman’s position on her descent into insanity and will argue that Blanche descends into madness throughout her stay at Elysian Fields; post traumatic stress disorder resulting from the loss of her husband, lies and a past that prevents Mitch’s acceptance and rescue of her, and finally, the pitiless mental torment she faces at the hands of her “executioner” Stanley, culminate in her final descent into insanity. The death of a loved one is always a stressful event, but the unnatural death of someone close is beyond the usual stress of death; this compacted stress is evident in Blanche’s reaction to her husband’s death. Blanche’s husband’s unnatural death left her with a guilty conscience. Indeed, Blanche’s response to the ordeal could quite possibly be classified as symptomatic of post traumatic stress disorder: “A psychological disorder in which a person continues to respond with distress to a traumatic event long after that event has occurred. The affected person may re-experience the event in their thoughts or dreams and exhibit a heightened state of arousal characteristic of extreme stress” (Cultural Dictionary). One night at a dance Blanche discovered her husband, Allan, was a homosexual and she responded with disgust and anger; she angrily spit out the words, “I saw! I know! You disgust me...” (115). It is the guilt from these painful words that causes her to blame herself for Allan’s suicide. Berkman also comments on Blanche’s overwhelming guilt for her “unqualified expression” (250) to her husband. Furthermore, the stress of Allan’s suicide and the guilt of having caused his suicide intensify Blanche’s symptoms of PTSD. Blanche’s inability to cope with her guilt and emotional trauma from the discovery of her husband’s homosexuality and his suicide resulted in her seeking comfort from temporary affairs with other men. It can be implied then that the circumstances surrounding the traumatic loss of her husband have weakened her mental and emotional strength so that the distressing events that occur during her stay with Stella and Stanley only further cripple her psychological condition. Blanche depends on men for financial assistance, social support and ultimately her sense of self-esteem. It is clear that Blanche and Mitch both feel attracted to one another on the basis that they both have felt pain and subsequently have a broken quality as a result of their experience with the death of a loved one. Both have experienced illness and death with family members and lovers, but they have different reactions to similar experiences. Mitch’s experiences have engendered in him a sense of compassion and sincerity; this is evident when he says about his mother, “She says to go out, so I go, but I don’t enjoy it. All the while I keep wondering how she is.” (48). Contrary to Mitch, Blanche harbours resentment towards the death of her relatives at Belle Reve. This incompatibility of reactions suggests that Blanche and Mitch are not ideally matched. During their...
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