“We’re All Mad Here”

         “’But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.”

         “’Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all made here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’”

        In Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), a girl with a vivid imagination named Alice takes a trip down a rabbit hole. On the other side she finds herself in a bizarre world filled with over-the-top characters, characters that she could not quite understand and who did not seem to understand her. Partway through the story, she encounters the Cheshire-Cat, who tells her that all of the people in Wonderland are mad, including herself.

        In Tennessee Williams’ 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire and Elia Kazan’s 1951 film of the same name, a woman with a vivid imagination named Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) finds herself having a similar experience. Rather than a rabbit hole, Blanche takes a streetcar into a wonderland of eccentric characters, the city of New Orleans. The people in this story all seem normal at first. However, during the course of the stories, the people in New Orleans show that they are all mad, themselves, Blanche included.

        Blanche’s sister, Stella (Kim Hunter), and her husband, Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando), seem to be a loving couple. They both appear to be happy. As we see more of Stanley, his need for control comes to light. When he finds that Blanche has lost her family estate, he feels that it hurts him, when Stanley ransacks Blanche’s clothing, he believes she is hurting Stella, which by his Napoleonic code, hurts him. Stanley’s madness shows more and more as Stella begins to act against him, he loses control of her, and he loses control of himself. His anger becomes explosive, and ultimately, he takes it out on Blanche and rapes her, Stanley’s way of taking control of her.

        Stella’s madness is her attraction to Stanley, which almost seems to be an addiction. Stanley abuses her, mentally and physically, and when she runs away, she returns to him not long after. Even after Stanley traumatizes her sister, in the play, Stella still cannot leave Stanley.

        The madness of Mitch (Karl Malden) seems trivial to the others, but it is there. Mitch is a desperate man; he needs something to hold onto. For a long time, it appears that this was his mother, but now she is dying, and he has begun to pursue Blanche. Despite his desperation, Mitch seems to have control of himself and behaves as a gentleman. When the truth about Blanche comes out, Mitch loses himself as well. He is angered that she rejects his advances when she has taken so many others in. In the end, when Blanche is being taken, Mitch shows that he still has feelings for Blanche when he cries during the events.

        Blanche’s madness is the focal point of the play. Like Alice, Blanche’s madness is related to her vivid imagination. Blanche, however, has reached a point of delusion, constantly imagining herself a debutante. She attempts to hide a sordid past from the people around her. When they begin to probe into her life, Blanche breaks down. Stanley encounters Blanche, and she begins to tell him stories about a rich man wanting to take her as a wife, that she even seems to believe. She seems to believe that she is above what Stanley is, setting him off. The story closes with Blanche being taken away, lost in her own delusion. Meanwhile, Stanley and his friends go back to their everyday lives, pretending there is nothing wrong.

Jeremy Workman