Vivien's Voice

     While I was viewing Elia Kazan's 1951 film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, a 1947 play by Tennessee Williams, I was impressed with the dramatic talent of the actors. I felt that Vivien Leigh was wonderful in the role of Blanche DuBois, a fading plantation belle on the brink of a nervous breakdown. An especially impressive aspect of Leigh's talent is her voice.

     Blanche is a very troubled individual. Her list of burdens reads like a mental health bulletin: alcoholism, bipolar disorder, nymphomania, grief-stricken, an unhealthy taste for young men, a sexually abused?, homosexual husband who commits suicide. On top of these problems, it must be remembered that she has played the dutiful daughter and stayed at Belle Reve to try to hold on to the family homestead. She has endured the life-draining process of taking care of ailing family members and ultimately burying them. All of this has taken its toll on the once "tender and trusting" Blanche. As she struggles to remain in control of the few lingering nerves, her voice follows the patterns of her moods.

     Blanche attempts to keep up a front, a front for Stella, Stanley, Mitch--anyone who comes into contact with her. When she has her mask on, her voice is light and musical. But when she is backed into a corner, or she does not have the energy to pretend, her voice deepens. Her pretend voice can hardly cover the tones of panic lurking over the edge. The strain of pretending adds a shrill pitch to her voice that denotes desperation. Her real voice sounds old and tired. It is heavy with despair; it is worn out with pretending.

     Vivien Leigh's voice has much to do with the realism of her character. From her voice alone, a clear picture of her character can be imagined. Vivien Leigh is definitely an English voice to be reckoned with!

Jenni Sizemore

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