Gerascophobia: The Fear of Growing Old

        In the 1951 film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire, Vivien Leigh played the part of Blanche DuBois, Stella’s sister (Kim Hunter). Blanche was a woman uncomfortable in her own skin. Many personal problems continuously chewed at her throughout the movie, which ultimately consumed her both physically and mentally, therefore affecting her relationships with others. However, the main, recurring issue circulating within Blanche was her inability to accept age progression.

        The first indication of this is the way Blanche prances around in pretty dresses, furs and tiaras. She relies on these inanimate objects to make her feel better about herself; as if they make her more desirable to herself and others. Little girls play dress-up, and Blanche is falling directly into this genre. Also, it is quite evident to audiences that Blanche takes more baths than any other character in the movie. It is a known fact that baths soothe little ones, which is the reason many parents bathe their children before putting them down for the night. Blanche appears to be reliant on this bathing routine in order to calm her nerves. Granted, many adults enjoy long, relaxing baths to unwind; but they can also find relaxation in other ways, while Blanche seems to be incapable of.

        Blanche was asked several times throughout the film regarding how old she was, but she never gave any indication of her true age. Many people bottle up their emotions, worries, and the truth hoping they will subside or disappear, and Blanche followed suit. Perhaps, by not saying her exact age forthright, she could avoid the truth. Maturing frightens her, and by not letting others know her age, she could be as young as she portrayed herself to be. Also, one important aspect of the film was Blanche’s avoidance of direct light. She never let Mitch, played by Karl Malden, truly see her face. This proved she was both embarassed and reluctant for him to know the truth.

        Blanche’s promiscuous behavior was the last clue in which gave audiences, including me, indication she feared aging. Her actions towards men throughout the entire movie were greatly overbearing, which led to her character’s downfall. Her constant need for approval, compliments and attention quickly escaladed into mere annoyance. Even in the beginning of the movie when she first arrived to her sister’s apartment, she instantly fished for attention and second glances from Stanley, her sister’s husband, played by Marlon Brando. She flirted with Stanley’s poker friends, the young man going door-to-door for donations, and when her secret of having an affair with one of her seventeen-year-old students escaped, the audience discovers Blanche’s true nature. She flaunts herself to men of all ages, hoping they will see her as a desirable, young woman. Blanche believes this will mask her age, and delay her maturation into an older woman. Be that as it may, many men seeking marriage perceive her and her actions irresponsible and unattractive once aware of her reputation.

        Blanche, as protrayed by Vivien Leigh, is undoubtedly an attractive woman, but her reckless actions and the sheer presentation of herself is offensive and somewhat of a nuisance. She is too in-touch with her innerchild and she wants to remain in “little girl fairyland,” mixed with a side of “girl-gone-wild.” She is convinced that by keeping secrets, putting on a mask and prohibiting others to truly see her for who she is, that she will appear young, sensual, pure and desirable towards men. She lived in a fantasy world, hiding and fearing her age and others’ acknowledgment of it. But, the only thing to result from it all was an extended invitation to a mental institution, and frankly, I was glad to see her go.

Alicia Cassady

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