Fantasy Is No Substitute for Reality

         A major theme of Tennessee William's 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire is pretty obvious: fantasy is no substitute for reality. This is demonstrated quite well during several occasions in the play, and it is shown quite well in Elia Kazan's 1951 film adaptation of the story as well. By close examination of both the play and the film, one can noticeably see how the characters attempt, unsuccessfully, to trade reality for fantasy of one sort or another.

         The first method that the characters use is also the most obvious--drinking. Despite her claim at the beginning that "one [drink] is [her] limit," it is easy for a reader or audience member to see that Blanche (who was played by Vivien Leigh in the film) is an alcoholic. In fact, in most of the scenes that Blanche is in (play and film alike), she either is drinking or has already drank. Stanley (portrayed by Marlon Brando) is a drinker as well, though perhaps not to the same point as Blanche. Any psychologist would note that alcoholism tends to relate to problems that the alcoholic has. Stanley's reason seems to be that he dislikes being considered common. However, in a way, he also seems to enjoy it, particularly when he reminds Stella (Kim Hunter) that his common ways had caused her to fall in love with him in the first place, so his reasons are not altogether clearly-cut. In Blanche's case, it is obvious that she drinks to escape the memories of her past--being ridiculed by the people of her hometown as a result of her sexual promiscuity (particularly with a seventeen-year-old student), the loss of Belle Reve, and the death of her husband. In the case of the play, the husband had shot himself after Blanche had caught him in bed with another man and then ridiculed him at a dance. The film mentions that Blanche had ridiculed him at the dance and that he then had shot himself but does not explicitly tell exactly why (due to the attitudes of people in the 1950s toward homosexuality). In either case, regardless of the explanation of the husband's death (or lack thereof in the case of the movie), this, coupled with the other two reasons, has become significant grounds for Blanche's depression.

         Alcoholism is not by any means Blanche's only escape. In both the play and the film, she becomes involved with Stanley's best friend, Mitch (who is played by Karl Malden in the film). It is obvious that she views Mitch as a knight in shining armor that has come to save her from her disdainful depression. In order to attract her knight, Blanche attempts to hide her age and past from him in order to be more ladylike. Such a fantasy is not uncommon when a person is on the rebound from a prior relationship--especially one who is depressed. Yet, this fantasy is short-lived due to the fact that Stanley reveals all of her secrets to Mitch. Stanley furthers Blanche's distortion of reality with the rape scene, especially since Stella refuses to believe that it ever happened. Blanche begins to believe her own lie to Stanley about a millionaire named Shep Huntleigh, an old beau, coming to take her away and marry her. The more she believes this fantasy, the more she slips away from reality (and thus, the more insane she becomes). All of this is the case in both the play and the film.

         Finally, we can also see another attempt to replace reality with fantasy in Stella, though perhaps not as obviously as the other cases. Mentioned earlier was Stella's attraction to Stanley. Throughout the play as well as the film, one can easily see that she is drawn to Stanley's violent nature. In fact, during the first poker night scene, Stanley attacks Stella, but she returns to him in no time flat. Afterward, during a discussion with Blanche, she even says that she is "thrilled" by his violent tendencies. This animal magnetism, it would seem, is very likely an escape for Stella. She obviously enjoys the adrenaline rush that comes from her body's reactions to Stanley's violent outbursts, and she refuses to see the reality of the danger that these outbursts present to both her and her child. In the film, she eventually realizes this danger at the end and decides to leave Stanley, but this is a major deviation from the play. In the play, the curtains close with her being comforted by Stanley as Blanche is being taken away to the insane asylum. This seems to indicate that, even at the end of the play, she still does not realize the danger that she and her child are in.

         Whether one examines Williams' play version or Kazan's film version of A Streetcar Named Desire, one can easily see the theme is that fantasy cannot replace reality. Blanche is the most obvious character that attempts to do so on several occasions, though Stanley and Stella both do so as well. Nevertheless, no matter which character one examines, the outcome is still the same. Neither escaping the depressing thoughts via alcoholism nor denying them through lying (either to another person or one's own self) can possibly allow the person to escape the reality. Denying a particular part of reality, such as depressing thoughts about one's past or present, will eventually lead to denying reality altogether, as Blanche does when she eventually becomes institutionalized.

Brandon Hale

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