Only the Dirty Need to Bathe

         In the 1951 film adaptation and the 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire, two of the main characters are the only ones to bathe throughout the story. Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) and Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando) are the only characters that feel the need to scrub away their dirt.

        Blanche, the love-scorn sister-in-law, is covered with the dirt from her past love affair, while Stanley is covered with the dirt from his current actions and consequences that come from his defensive rages. These two characters are the only ones who feel their "dirt." Stella (Kim Hunter), the other main character, is content in her lifestyle. Although, she is living with an abusive husband, she does not feel shame towards her husband choice; rather she seems proud of the fact that he is so "manly." In the film, she points with pride at which one of the fighting men is her husband.

         Blanche is constantly bathing because psychologically she is trying to rid herself of her past. She always has a sense of delusion by making up stories and playing the sweet innocent youth, when in actuality she is an older woman. By bathing, she is psychologically ridding her body of the past, and starting "fresh." But in her case she wants to start over, back to when she was a youth (before her first husband), but she only starts fresh, not over, because the bath does not bring back time, it just makes the memories vanish temporarily. In my opinion, she knows that the bathing is just a temporary release from her memories, because she says the bath "calms her nerves." It is as if she understands the bath will never erase the memories, just give her the temporary relief she needs to continue with her delusions.

         Stanley's "bathing" is seen in scene three. After he hits Stella in a violent rage, his poker buddies contemplate what they should do to him to bring him back to normal. Mitch suggests laying him in the bed with a wet towel, Pablo suggests coffee, and then Stanley tells them he wants water, to which Mitch concludes that they put him in the shower. With this "bathing," Stanley wakes out of his rage to find his "baby doll" gone. In Stanley and Stella's view, the bathing can be seen as a way to wash away the sins of his abuse. When Stanley runs outside and begs for his baby doll (i.e. "STELLLAHHH!"), she returns to him, forgiving him. Like Blanche, Stanley's abuse is never washed away permanently. He continues to show his abusive nature through his rough talk and eventually his rape of Blanche.

         Blanche and Stanley are the only two characters that show shame for their actions and choices. Blanche shows shame in her past choices in actions regarding her homosexual first husband and her actions regarding his suicide. Stanley shows shame for his abusive actions towards his wife, but not towards Blanche. When they feel their shame and remorse, they immediately feel the need for a bath, in order to wash away their sins and begin fresh with their lives, whether it is with delusions or starting again as a good husband.

Susie Shircliff

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