True Illusion

†††††††† In Tennessee Williamsí 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire, filmed in 1951 by Elia Kazan, Blanche (Vivien Leigh on screen) dwells in illusion; fantasy is her primary means of self-defense. Her deceits do not carry any trace of malice. They come from her weakness and inability to confront the truth head-on. 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. Unfortunately, this defense is frail and will be shattered by Stanley (Marlon Brando).

†††††††† In the end, 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, until the very end in the movie, when she runs away upstairs with her baby. Stella and Blanche come from a world that is rapidly dying. Belle Reve, their family's ancestral plantation, has been lost. The two sisters, symbolically, are the last living members of their family. Stella will mingle her blood with a man of blue-collar stock, and Blanche will enter the world of madness.

†††††††† The only unforgivable crime, according to Blanche, is deliberate cruelty. This sin is Stanley's specialty. His final assault against Blanche is a merciless attack against an already-beaten foe. On the other hand, though Blanche is dishonest, she never lies out of malice. Her cruelty is unintentional; often, she lies in a vain effort to plays. Throughout Streetcar, we see the full range of cruelty, from Blanche's well-intentioned deceits to Stella self-deceiving treachery to Stanley's deliberate and unchecked malice. In Williams' plays, there are many ways to hurt someone and some are worse than others.

†††††††† Closely related to the theme above, desire is the central theme of the play. Blanche seeks to deny it, although we learn later in the play that desire is one of her driving motivations; her desires have caused her to be driven out of town. Desire, and not intellectual or spiritual intimacy, is the heart of Stella's and Stanley's relationship. Desire is Blanche's undoing, because she cannot find a healthy way of dealing with it: she is always either trying to suppress it or pursuing it with abandon.

Misty Hays

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