“Blanche as a Southern Belle represents all that is dead and decaying about the Old South, whereas Stanley stands for the dynamic, vibrant future.” To what extent do you agree?
From the early stages of the play it is clear that Blanche and Stanley are polar opposites in terms of their personality, upbringing, and social outlooks. Stanley interprets Blanche to be a threat to his wife and home, although she sees herself as the protectionist and sees Stanley as an “ape” who has dragged her dear sister down into squalid living conditions. At the time the play was written, the notion of a Southern Bells had faded, and the Old American South had lost allot of its old grandeur through the war and was not only reeling from it but also having to deal with a wave of civil rights campaigners. The world has moved on around it, including mass European immigration that catalysed a new era for America. The immigration levels peaked in 1907 when well over a million people entered the country. The characters of Blanche and Stanley not only are significant in terms of the plot but also display a microcosm between the clash of the old and new America.
When the play begins, Blanche is already a fallen woman in society’s eyes. Her family fortune and estate are gone, she lost her young husband to suicide years earlier, and she is a social pariah due to her indiscrete sexual behavior. She also has a bad drinking problem, which she covers up poorly. Behind her veneer of social snobbery and sexual propriety, Blanche is an insecure, dislocated individual. She is an aging Southern belle who lives in a state of perpetual panic about her fading beauty. Her manner is dainty and frail, and she sports a wardrobe of showy but cheap evening clothes. Stanley quickly sees through Blanche’s act and seeks out information about her past. The notion of death is apparent through Blanches maiden name, Grey, which suggests bleakness and unhappiness. Indeed we are introduced to the fact that behind the magnificent veneer of Belle Reve, lies a very unpleasant truth of abuse, “the blood on the pillowcases”. Belle Reve translates into ‘beautiful dream’ in French, which is fitting in the sense that Blanche lives in a dream world of a time that has long passed, which she of course denies. It is as if on coming to New Orleans she has for the first time entered the ‘new America’. Her upbringing in the picturesque Belle Reve seems like a dream in comparison to her harsh urban surroundings. In this way it is easy to see why Williams refers to her as a “moth” in the stage directions, she is vulnerable and delicate in her new surroundings.
It does not take long for Blanche to blame Stella for leaving Belle Reve in a time of desperation, it is almost as soon as they return home she says “But you are the one that abandoned Belle Reve, not I!” The fact that Stella migrated north from Belle Reve in search of a better, less abusive life away from the oppressive traditions of her family is perhaps representative of the Great Migration, which took place between the 40’s and 70’s. It comprised of mainly African Americans who went North to escape the inequality and violence they faced in the South. Many historians agree that a contributing factor was the invasion of the boll weevil, which resulted in the devastation of crops in the South. This can be drawn back to Stella’s situation in the way that she sought for a more yielding life, which wasn’t accessible to her in Belle Reve. Just as the drain of labour resources led to dire consequences for the Southern economy, Stella’s decision to move led to a collapse in the family home. Here Blanche represents the Old South in the way that she “fought for it, bled for it, almost died for it”, it’s as if the death of the South almost dragged Blanched to its grave with it. In Blanches speech to Stella soon after blaming her for leaving Belle Reve, she talks about how “the grim reaper had put up his tent on our doorstep” and how “Belle...
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