March 29th, 2010
Blanche’s perspective on the relationship between Art and “reality” in A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. Two prisoners are looking up at the cell ceiling: one sees nothing but darkness and the other sees stars. A paradox, wouldn’t you agree? Then what does “reality” represent? How can it be one-dimensional when there is no truth, only a myriad of perceptions? Perhaps, “reality” is not a tangible concept, but rather a reflection of a person’s fantasies and fears at a particular juncture in time and space. A Streetcar Named Desire written by Tennessee Williams plays with this amusing concept through the complex character of Blanche DuBois. Blanche’s emotions and past experiences heavily affect her perception of reality. It seems that in order to live, she needs to put on a continuous performance and thus shield herself from reality with a self-created persona. Blanche’s philosophy about the relationship between Art and “reality” emphasizes that the boundaries between the two are very fluid. The way that she lives her life suggests that she needs fantasy to enhance “reality”, thus making it somewhat more palatable and less harsh. In this play, Blanche is more than a character; she acts as a director of her public persona and manipulates reality through various self-staging and through a meticulous self-editing process. As the play ends, we are left with an impression that “reality” can be greatly altered through personal perceptions and even manipulated to an extent through Art. From the very beginning of the play Blanche DuBois is portrayed as an incoherent individual within the context of the social environment she finds herself in: “Blanche… is incongruous to this setting. She is daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, white gloves and hat, looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district” (688). She is a Southern belle of a certain age who lives in a state of perpetual agony about her fading beauty. Her family fortune and estate are gone, she has lost her young husband to suicide years earlier, and she is a social outsider due to her prominently indecent sexual behavior following her young husband’s death. Behind the social snobbery and sexual propriety that she projects, Blanche is an emotionally and mentally unstable individual, consciously disconnected from her environment. Blanche’s façade of elegant and frail manner is already showing cracks through her outbursts of inner calamity, and her wardrobe of faux-chic clothes cannot disguise the bleak reality of her financial misery and of social status decay. Even her name, “Blanche”, is almost a metaphor of her artificially constructed public persona. Blanche, meaning “white” in French, is like a deceptively pristine white canvas. Blanche paints on it the image she wants the society to associate with her: an image of fragility and daintiness, unscathed by her previous life experiences. Blanche feels the need to dwell in illusion and put on a performance as it is the only way that she can survive in this world. For her, fantasy is the primary means of self-defense, both against outside threats and against her inner demons. But her refusal to shed her performance mask is not a sign of malice; it is instead a sign of her powerlessness against the truth. Fantasy and performance liberate Blanche from this powerlessness and provide an impermeable shield behind which she can hide from the uncertainties of the present and from the past tragedies she has had to endure. Early in the play, Blanche tells Stanley that “a woman’s charm is fifty per cent illusion” (701). This statement resonates throughout the play and it becomes apparent it is not solely “a woman’s charm” that is subject to the transformative power of illusion and fantasy. Blanche's dependence on illusion is contrasted with a heavy dose of realism that Stanley injects into...
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