A Streetcar Named Desire Study Guide

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^^^^^^^^^^A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE:
BLANCHE DUBOIS
Blanche is an English teacher, but she's one of a kind. You'd never forget her if you took her course. Shortly before the play begins, Blanche has lost her job. She wasn't fired for poor teaching skills, however. The superintendent's letter said Blanche was "morally unfit for her position." That's probably a fair evaluation of a teacher who seduced one of the seventeen-year-old boys in her class. Also, Blanche's sexual exploits so outraged the citizens of Laurel, Mississippi, that they practically threw her out of town. You don't know all these facts about Blanche until late in the play. At first, she seems to be just a high-strung, but refined, woman who has come to New Orleans to pay her sister a visit. But as the play unfolds, you see Blanche's past revealed bit by bit. At the end she is undone, fit only for an asylum. Nevertheless, you never see her humbled by defeat. She maintains ladylike dignity even after being raped. Perhaps she's not as crazy as she appears. In fact, there might be places where she would not be regarded insane at all. As an ambiguous character Blanche may arouse both compassion and disapproval simultaneously. She is often regarded as a symbol of a decaying way of life engaged in a losing struggle against modern commercialism. She came to Elysian Fields seeking love and help, but she found hostility and rejection. She has been scarred by her husband's suicide and by the loss of her ancestral home. She's reached a stage of life when she can no longer depend on her good looks to attract a man. Is it any wonder that she flirts and prefers dimly lit places? To compensate for loneliness and despair, she creates illusions, much like Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. Also like Amanda, Blanche clings to the manners and speech of dying Southern gentility. Pretending is important to her. It makes her feel special. She says that deception is half of a lady's charm. She calls it "magic." Unfortunately, though, she is caught in a situation with Stanley Kowalski, who not only abhors her superior airs, but seems bent on destroying her for them. Why Stanley finds Blanche such a threat is worth thinking about. Some people consider Blanche not a tragic victim but an immoral woman who deserves what she gets. Blanche tells so many lies that she herself can't remember them all. Some lies may be harmless, but others are destructive. For example, Mitch is crushed by her untruthfulness. Because of her past--town whore, liar, sexual deviate--you may agree with critics who say that Blanche is an object of derision--too degenerate to be taken seriously. On the other hand, her past behavior can be explained and maybe even defended. If you appreciate what has happened to her in life, you can understand why she acts the way she does. In the end you may see Blanche as an advocate of civilized values. She alone speaks up for the nobility of humanity, for its achievements in the arts, for progress made by civilization. Are you struck by the irony of having uplifting words come from the mouth of an ex-prostitute? It is odd perhaps, but remember that Blanche often confuses truth and illusion. Perhaps Williams may be implying that society's most illustrious accomplishments are illusions, too, and that the brutish Stanley more accurately represents our true nature. ^^^^^^^^^^A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE: STANLEY KOWALSKI You always know where you stand with Stanley. He speaks plainly, he never hides his feelings, and he hates affectations of any kind. Yet in some respects he is a mystery. Why is he so intent on destroying Blanche? What makes him so aggressive? What was he like as a young man? How did he get to meet and court Stella? How does a man as animal-like as Stanley succeed as a traveling representative of his company? In short, is there more to Stanley than meets the eye? You can only speculate. But sparse as the evidence is, you know he's a sturdy man of Polish...
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