Crazy for Love

        In Tennessee Williams's 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire, and the 1951 film adaptation directed by Elia Kazan, one of the main characters, Blanche (Vivien Leigh), displays some rather peculiar behavior. Many would describe her to be insane, and there are many speculations as to how she became that way. One speculation that makes sense is that Blanche literally went crazy for love, or rather, because of it. What could cause Blanche to go crazy because of love? It is quite possible that Blanche went crazy because she had caught syphilis from the "love" that had taken place in her line of work. When the causes and symptoms of syphilis are compared with Blanche's lifestyle and symptoms displayed, it becomes quite clear that this is a very likely explanation as to why Blanche displayed abnormal behavior.

        Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease, and Blanche was a prostitute. She had had sexual relations with many men without knowing who they were or what sort of diseases they may have carried with them. She also had many men that were soldiers, and soldiers in those days often had sexually transmitted diseases because, for many of them, the only way they could have sex was to pick up strange girls in bars or visit prostitutes. Having been with all of those strange men, it is quite possible that Blanche picked up syphilis from one of them and never knew it.

        Syphilis has three stages with different sets of symptoms for each stage. For Blanche's insanity to be caused by syphilis, she would have been in the third stage, so the third stage symptoms are what will be discussed. To make a quick note, in the second stage of syphilis, one symptom is weight loss. This could be a reason why Blanche could say to Stella that in ten years she had not gained any weight.

        In the third stage of syphilis, the symptoms include gummas, which are bumps that can occur on the skin, chronic nervous system disorders, such as blindness, insanity and paralysis, numbness, and difficulty coordinating muscle movements. Though Blanche never complained of any of these symptoms, they can be observed in her behavior. Blanche was always powdering her face before anyone saw her. This possibly could have been to prevent anyone from seeing any gummas that were visible on her face. Blanche loved to take baths, claiming they calmed her nerves. Her baths could have also been to help increase circulation to help with any numbness and could have soothed any gummas she had on her skin. Blanche always kept the lights low, claiming that she wanted things to be more romantic and magical. Keeping the lights low could also have hidden any gummas that might have been in visible areas of her body. If she was going blind because of syphilis, the darkness could also have kept her eyes from being harmed by lights that were too bright. The main symptom that can be observed in Blanche is insanity. Throughout the play, Blanche displayed many signs of insanity. She was abnormally nervous, for example when she screamed loudly when her sister poured Coke on her dress. She had aural hallucinations of the song that her husband died during and the sound of the shot that killed him. She also had aural hallucinations towards the end when she heard everyone's voices echoing each time he or she said something to her. She often murmured to herself about bloodstained pillowcases and death. When she first arrived at Stella's house, she accused Stella of accusing her of losing Belle Reve before Stella had said anything, acting in an abnormally paranoid manner. At the end of the story she imagined that an old lover named Shep Huntley was going to come and get her and take her on a cruise in the Caribbean, though she had not talked to Shep in years.

         In comparing Blanche's behavior to the symptoms of syphilis, one can see that the speculation that Blanche's insanity had been caused by syphilis may be more than speculation. Blanche may very well have gone crazy for "love" and a disease that "love" caused.

Adrienne Haley

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