Good Acting, or Reality?

     The character of Blanche DuBois, played by Vivien Leigh in Elia Kazan's 1951 movie A Streetcar Named Desire, based on Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, experienced extreme turmoil and upset in her lifetime that caused her to become a figure suffering from some serious mental problems by the end of the story, which resulted in her admittance to a mental facility. Blanche was very disturbed, and it is easy for any reader and/or viewer to mistake her cries for help as the actions of a deceitful and self-centered woman. However, being a psychology major, it is clear to me that Blanche was not in control of her thoughts and actions, and she was desperate for anyone s love and help.

     What was exactly wrong with Blanche? Well, it could have been a number of things and, more than likely, was a combination of disorders. The first thing that comes to my mind is post traumatic stress disorder, otherwise known as PTSD. This disorder occurs as a result of someone experiencing something that is outside the range of normal human experience, usually death or bodily harm. Blanche has experienced a great deal of trauma in witnessing the deaths of all of her family members, losing her home, and being raped and molested. Blanche displays many of the major symptoms of this disorder, such as avoiding reminders of the events becoming extremely upset when confronted with the events.

     Yet another disorder that could be plaguing Blanche is dissociative amnesia, which is psychologically motivated forgetting. It is characteristic of this disorder for people to lose large chunks of time, usually pertaining to relevant personal history. Blanche is constantly denying her past life to Mitch and Stanley, even though there is evidence contradictory to her claims. At first the audience might believe that this is an intentional lie on Blanche's part; but, considering her mental instability, I think it could be possible that Blanche thinks she is telling the truth. Also, this one of the causes of this disorder is extreme trauma.

     Finally, perhaps the most logical explanation for Blanche's behavior is bipolar disorder. This disorder is characterized by constant mood swings between manic and depressed states. There are several times throughout the story where Blanche displays signs of mania, such as increased exhileration and energy, excessive talking, pressured speech (where it is as if the words cannot come out fast enough), and agitation. The person can also become psychotic if these symptoms are not treated; a state I believe Blanche reaches when she begins hallucinating about going on the yacht trip with an old admirer. To counter these bouts with mania, however, Blanche also reaches very depressed points, which can also turn into psychosis if left untreated.

     This diagnosis is ironic in that Vivien Leigh herself suffered from bipolar disorder, and just maybe, she did not have to act that much in her role as Blanche.

Amberly McLimore

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