The Blackness of Blanche

         Blanche Dubois is quite a character. To the average onlooker, Blanche is an aging southern belle representative of a southern society that is slowly dying away. However, by first reading the 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams and then watching the 1951 movie, directed by Elia Kazan, I see past her fake fur clothes and rhinestone jewelry and realize Blanche for what she really is--a fraud. She might have had her bouts with a difficult life and difficult men and dying relations, but she is not quite as naïve and helpless as she would like or her onlookers to think. I find that Blanche tries to exhibit the same type of childlike innocence as Miles and Flora in Henry James's 1898 The Turn of the Screw. Blanche arrives in New Orleans with the same smile on her face as the children at Bly. They try their best to suppress the demons that live within them, but eventually their true colors emerge.

         When she arrives, the movie shows us a very prim and proper Blanche, as depicted by Vivien Leigh, but we first get a glimpse at her ulterior way of thinking when she gawks at a shirtless Stanley, portrayed by Marlon Brando. Blanche further tries to tempt Stanley and the other men around her by fabricating stories about her many admirers or by exaggerating real-life events. Stanley is a survivor and is not at all stupid. Although he may not have the background of Blanche, he always remembers what he is told and uses that information to ensure his and Stella's (Kim Hunter) safety. He always has a quick retort to Blanche's comments, and in the end he exposes her as a fraud who is regarded by most as a degenerate--ironically similar as to what had happened to her late husband. For a person that thrives on the admiration and accolades of others, this is very detrimental, as well as embarrassing; and no "Southern belle" should have to endure such an onslaught.

         So what does Blanche do? She seeks refuge in liquor and in the bathtub and dresses in very outlandish outfits as a last effort to gain back some of the attention she has desired. I feel that the play depicts Blanche as being more mentally sound at this point than the movie does. I tend to agree with the play. Blanche may be wavering mentally; but she still realizes that, if she does not do something very quickly to try and salvage her tarnishing reputation, she will end up as dead as Belle Rêve. Where the movie is effective is in the showing of her frame of mind during her desperation. Although she appears crazy, she still makes certain that her hair is fixed and that her makeup is fresh. This is not very characteristic of a truly insane person and, obviously, the play cannot show this.

         What the play can do for the reader, however, is to provide extra insight into Blanche's turbulent past. She desperately loved her husband; and I tend to think that his death was not as much of a shock to her as was her learning of his homosexuality, or bisexuality, as the case may be. Certainly, news as scandalous as this spreads far and wide; and, to avoid imminent humiliation, Blanche had left Belle Rêve and fled to whoever would accept her. She has been given the impression that she will be accepted only if she maintains a clean reputation. The only problem is that she does not have a clean reputation! Therefore, she must use her charisma and clever abilities to fain one, but Stanley is one male that is not going to be charmed by the siren that is Blanche DuBois.

Jeff Hampton

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