Steam the Sin Away

         "Out, damned spot! Out I say!" is a familiar line from Macbeth. Troubled by her guilt, Lady Macbeth begins to sleepwalk and tries to rub the blood from her hands. This is a feeble attempt to wash away her sins and indicates she is losing her sanity. Tennessee Williams' character of Blanche DuBois in his 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire and as directed by Elia Kazan in the 1951 screen version, is similar to Lady Macbeth; but Blanche tries to wash away her sins by taking hot, steamy baths.

         Blanche (Vivien Leigh) is a southern belle who is at the end of her rope. She endured many hardships: the suicide of her young husband, the deaths of many family members, and the loss of the family home, Belle Reve. To cope with the stresses of life, Blanche has turned to alcohol and looked for solace in sexual relationships with many men. When she had an affair with a seventeen-year-old male student, Blanche was fired. Humiliated and with nowhere else to go, she shows up at Stella (Kim Hunter) and Stanley (Marlon Brando) Kowalski's apartment.

         Blanche is hoping to marry Mitch (Karl Malden) as a way out of her predicament, but her presence upsets the balance between Stella and Stanley. Stella is put in an awkward position as mediator between her sister and her husband. Stanley quickly tires of Blanche and her airs and decides to find out the real story. In a short time, he uncovers the tale of Blanche's indiscretions and lies and declares it is time for Blanche to move on. This is interrupted by Stella going into labor. While Stella is in the hospital, Blanche pushes too hard; and Stanley, brute that he is, rapes Blanche. This is the final act for Blanche, she can no longer play the role she has given herself and crosses the line to insanity.

         Blanche DuBois has tried to wash away her sins with a combination of hot baths, perfume and alcohol, but her hold on sanity has been too tenuous, and reality has proven too much for her. Like Lady Macbeth, Blanche has found that the guilt caused by her actions was too much for her; and she has finally given way to madness.

Lynne Gustafson

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