In Tennessee Williams' 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire, the character Blanche obviously has several psychiatric disorders. In the 1951 movie A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan, Vivien Leigh does an excellent job of expressing the mental illness of her character Blanche.

     The first and most obvious disorder Blanche experiences is bipolar disorder. Vivien Leigh knew firsthand how to play a person with bipolar disorder because she had experienced this disorder in real life. This disorder is expressed by different phases of mania and depression. Blanche's past is surrounded with many traumatic events that could have been the precipitating factors leading to this disorder. Blanche obviously feels guilty for the suicidal death of her homosexual husband. Blanche seems to think that the only thing to ease her depression of death is the desire for other men.

     There are many symptoms of bipolar disorder found in Blanche's character. One that stands out in my mind is the fact that Blanche is very promiscuous. She goes through all of the men in one town; and, after she is finished, she moves on to a larger city with innocent victims. This behavior is associated with the manic phase in bipolar disorder. The disease causes people to become hyperactive and strive to be the center of attention. It also causes people to indulge themselves in pleasurable activities such as alcohol abuse and promiscuity, also found in Blanche's character.

     Another part of bipolar disorder is having grandiose feelings, delusions, and a flight of ideas. From the very beginning of the play it is obvious that Blanche thinks she is better than anyone she talks to, including her sister, Stella (Kim Hunter). This would fall under the category of being delusional and having grandiose feelings. Another example of Blanche's delusional behavior is that, at the end of the play, she believes that her rich suitor is coming to take her away. Finally, Blanche experiences a flight of ideas in many of her conversations. She skips from one subject to another without making much sense.

     Although bipolar disorder is the most obvious of Blanche's mental problems, I also felt as though Blanche could fit into a few more categories of mental illness. I felt that bipolar disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder were are all tied together to make up Blanche's character.

     People with histrionic personality disorder dramatize all events and draw attention to themselves. They also express silly, colorful, frivolous, and seductive behavior; and their speech is vague, descriptive, and over-embellished. Many times they overreact to minor events and use somatic complaints to avoid responsibility. When thinking of histrionic personality disorder, I find that a picture of Blanche pops into my mind. Blanche fits the description perfectly, and her character could be used as a textbook example.

     The last disorder Blanche suffers is obsessive compulsive disorder. Blanche is completely obsessed with her appearance. Blanche cannot walk past a mirror without looking into it or combing her hair; she takes entirely too many baths during the day; and she is always fishing for some kind of compliment. Finally, Blanch is afraid to go out during the day because her appearance may give away her actual age.

     Overall I feel that Tennessee Williams did a great job at creating the character of Blanche. I was shocked to find that many of the disorders I am studying in psychiatric nursing fit Blanche's personality. I think this film did a good job of showing a realistic view of mental illness, unlike other films that make mental patients seem like monsters.

Kimberly A. Hunt

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