Mad for Beauty
“Solitude is impractical and yet society is fatal” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Emerson’s saying is all that embodies A Streetcar Named Desire. Williams’s Blanche is that tragic heroin hurt by the depths of society. Her tragic flaw is her pursuit of society and her madness for beauty. The Young Man’s presence in Scene 5 of Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire is essential as it illustrates Blanche’s fear of vanishing beauty and old age. Elia Kazan’s film version of A Streetcar Named Desire correspondingly to Williams’s play uses the Young Man to foreshadow Blanche’s fatal flaw. Williams’s illustration of the young man reveals innocence and naivety which ultimately contrasts with Blanche’s character. However, Kazan’s adaptation of the Young Man is significantly different as he reveals him to be a willing participant, a character that is neither innocent nor naïve. The contrast suggested in Williams’s play is altered in Kazan’s adaptation as Kazan illustrates Blanche as an exploited victim.
Tennessee Williams’s Blanche is the epitome of the bygone era of a southern belle; she embodies the classical social inequalities. As her social and cultural stances deeply diminish she develops a fear of fleeting beauty and old age. Williams conveys this idea of vanity, fear of death and old age throughout the play. In scene 5 the use of the Young man is in essence part of Williams’s exposition, he uses the Young Man to foreshadow Blanche’s fatal flaw and expose the importance of age in A Streetcar Named Desire. Elia Kazan’s adaptation of Williams’s play reflects this quintessential theme as he adopts Williams’s dialogue in Scene 5 accurately. Kazan’s film adaptation of Scene 5 is more or less true to Williams’s play as he encompasses the main themes evoked that of beauty, vanity and old age through the precise dialogue and the sequence of events. Nevertheless the similarities found in the adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire remain superficial, Kazan’s interpretation of Williams’s stage directions in regard to the Young man are poles apart. Although the original and its film adaptation aim to foreshadow Blanche’s denouement and portray the fear of vanishing beauty they are significantly different.
Scene 5 of Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire expose Blanche as a desperate character. Williams’s use of the young man is crucial as it foreshadows Blanche’s end, outlines Blanche’s fears and exposes her vulnerabilities. Furthermore, Williams’s fervent dialogue and his stage directions create a contrast between the innocence of the young man and the experience of an aging woman. Williams introduces the Young Man in the middle of scene 5 after Blanche’s horrid confrontation with Stanley. Hence, Williams’s Blanche is at the peak of insecurity and solicits comfort from a young stranger. The importance of dialogue in this encounter is that it defines Blanche’s predatory-like and desperate character. The encounter starts off with incessant flirtation on Blanches part, “Young Man: I’m collecting for the evening star, Blanche: I didn’t know that stars took up collections” (Scene 5, Tennessee Williams) Williams’s incorporation of this out-right charming flirtatious Blanche suggests her indecency and possibly her call for attention. Moreover Blanche’s charming flirtation develops into aggressive sexual harassment. Williams’s turn on the events in the Young Man’s scene is purposefully shocking as he tries to oppose these two very different worlds. Blanche’s indecent aggressiveness is seen in the following dialogue “Young man: A cherry soda, Blanche: You make my mouth water. (She touches his cheek lightly and smiles)” (Scene 5, Tennessee Williams) Williams uses Blanche’s inquisition as a lead up to the turning point: the kiss. Blanche’s desire to kiss this young man is one that stems from admiration of fairy tales and prince stories. Williams refers to the “young prince out of the Arabian nights” as a descriptor for this...
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