Fantasy/Illusion

         The Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire hit theatres in 1947. Streetcar helped William's reputation and eventually placed him among the greatest of American playwrights, winning him a New York Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize. The play, later filmed in 1951 by Elia Kazan, challenges some of the conventions of naturalistic theatre. Williams broke away from didactic depictions of the working class life and sought to give his blue-collar characters a more psychologically developed aura.

         Blanche Dubois (Vivien Leigh) dwells in illusion; fantasy is her primary means of self-defense. She concocts all sorts of elaborate stories of past events, where she has been. She talks of suitors that have bought her things like furs and dresses when in fact she has probably bought them herself. Her deceits do not carry any trace of malice; rather, they come from her weakness and inability to confront the truth head-on. Only when she is confronted with such deceits does she tell even a small bit of the truth. She tells things not as they are, but as they ought to be. For her, fantasy has a liberating magic that protects her from the tragedies she has had to endure. Blanche creates a fantasy world for herself so others will think her younger, saner, and even a better person. She will not go out until dark and keeps the lights dim during the day because everyone looks better in low light. She deceives everyone, especially herself, for a time until Stanley (Marlon Brando) catches onto her. In her madness, I think she even went so far as to believe her own lies.

         Unfortunately, this defense is frail and will be shattered by Stanley, who exposes to Stella (Kim Hunter) and Mitch (Karl Malden) her hidden promiscuous life back in her hometown. Stanley kicks her while she is down by raping her, which eventually leads to her madness and her being committed to the insane asylum, crashing her fantasy world. In the end of the play but not in the movie, Stanley and Stella (Kim Hunter) will also resort to a kind of illusion: Stella will force herself to believe that Blanche's accusations against Stanley are false. Tennessee Williams is brilliant in painting this picture to where we almost believe Blanche for a short time. He helps create the illusion of her as a decent person with nothing to hide. In the end the fantasy/illusion is broken down in the play and with Blanche.

Josh Coffey

Table of Contents