The character of Blanche DuBois in 'A Streetcar named desire'

Term Paper, 2008

14 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Content

0. The importance of Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

1. Short biography of Tennessee Williams

2. Summary of the play

3. Caracterization of Blanche DuBois
3.1. Focus on the “outside world”
3.2. Blanche DuBois –incarnation of human loneliness
3.2.1. The reasons of Blanche’s loneliness
3.2.2. Blanche’s efforts to fight her loneliness
3.3. Blanche’s inner conflict – sexual desire of the body vs. transcendent aspirations of the soul
3.4. Blanche’s world of illusions

4. Blanche as an illustration of the antagonistic nature of each human being

5. Bibliography

0. The importance of Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

„A Streetcar Named Desire is a lyrical drama about the decline and fall of Blanche DuBois.“ (Londre, 1979: 78). In this quotation Felicia Hardison Londré indicates that both the character and the inner development of the protagonist Blanche are the focus of attention in “A Streetcar Named Desire”.

At first glance, Blanche DuBois may seem superficial, even a bit ridiculous on account of the importance she attributes to her looks and to her former social status. However, in my way of thinking, the protagonist’s behaviour is in a certain way symptomatic of society itself, even of humanity as a whole. That may be why “Walcott Gibbs referred to A Streetcar Named Desire as ‘a brilliant impacable play about the disintegration of a woman, or if you like, of a society.’” (Nelson 1961: 121). Therefore, I consider it crucial to allow insight into the multiple facets of Blanche’s personality. All the same, before approaching the caracterization, it is in my opinion necessary to provide you with some basic information about the writer of the play and its contents.

1. Short biography of Tennessee Williams

“’I am Blanche DuBois,’ Tennessee Williams has said on more than one occasion.” (Londré 1979: 21). This citacion highlights the importance of turning to Williams’ biography in order to fully grasp the meaning of his famous play. Therefore let us take a look at the life “[…] of one of America’s major mid- 20th century playwrights” (Internet source 1). Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, Mississippi, on March, 26, 1911. His father was an international shoe salesman who suffered from alcoholism and compulsive gambling. At the age of seven, Tennessee was diagnosed with Diphteria – a disease which caused his legs to be paralysed for the following two years. Since his mother did not permit him to waste his time just sitting around, she encouraged him to read a lot and make up stories by means of his vivid imagination. Besides, his inclination towards literature was fostered by the typewriter she offered him at thirteen. Consequently, when Tennessee turned 16, he published his first story (see Internet source 2).

In the early 1930s Williams entered the University of Missouri but was forced to leave before taking a degree because his father disapproved of his son’s devotion for literature and therefore urged him to work in the shoe business. However, Tennessee’s original desire for becoming an author persisted and made him pursue his writing education. Thus, in 1938 he finally received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the State University of Iowa. Around the time he received his bachelor degree his beloved sister Rose who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia got a Frontal Lobotomy to cure her mental illness. This form of psychosurgery handicapped Rose for the rest of her life – an incident which may have played its part in the developpment of both Tennessee’s alcoholism and his dependence on various kinds of drugs (see Internet source 3).

Nevertheless, Williams’ most successful years were still to come. While the playwright lived in the French Quarter in New Orleans he wrote the play with should become his first real success, “The Glass Menagerie” (1944), shortly followed in 1947 by the drama “A Streetcar Named Desire” for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. During the following decades Williams’ gay relationship with Frank Merlo which lasted from 1947 until Merlo’s death from cancer in 1961 provided a certain balance to his life marked by depression and addiction (see Internet source 4).

In the course of the 1970s and 1980s he continued to write for the theatre although “[…] he was unable to repeat the success of most of his early years” (Internet source 5).

On February 25, 1983 Williams died at the age of 71 after choking on an eyedrop bottle cap. It is, however, probable that his use of drugs and alcohol contributed to his death (see Internet source 6).

2. Summary of the play

Now I would like to give a brief survey about the contents of Williams’ famous play. In order to lay the foundation for the following main part of my term paper I will hereby focus on the internal development of the protagonist Blanche. During scene 1 she arrives at the home of her sister Stella who lives with her husband Stanley Kowalski in a fairly run-down dictrict of New Orleans. The circumstances which the Kowalskis live in are a total shock to the snobbish Southern Belle. In the following conversation with her sister Blanche explains that she has taken a leave from the school where she normally teaches on account of her upset mental state. After the warm reunion of the two sisters Blanche discloses that the family mansion “Belle Reve” is lost. It was in this estate that Blanche cared for the dying members of the family whereas Stella opted for an autonomous life at the side of her less wealthy husband Stanley. He embodies the absolute opposite of Blanche which creates an atmosphere of discomfort and animosity right from the beginning.

The problematical relationship between the two main characters becomes even more evident when Stanley manifests his distrust of Blanche in the course of scene 2. He is persuaded that Blanche has swindled them about the reasons for the loss of the family plantation. The situation gets even worse by the time Stanley discovers some old love-letters which reveal Blanche’s young marriage to a boy who eventually died.

Stanley’s roughness finds its full expression during the poker night held at his apartment. After being disturbed by the two women Stanley ends up beating Stella who a few hours later forgives him and spends the night with him. Besides, scene 3 depicts the first meeting of Blanche and Mitch whom the elegant woman considers “[…] superior to the others” (Williams 1947: 50). Thus, it becomes apparent that the two are mutually attracted to each other.

Throughout the summer mutual affection rises between Mitch and Blanche. During one of their conversations Blanche entrusts Mitch with further details about her marriage shattered by discovery of her spouse’s homosexuality and by his subsequent suicide. Furthermore tensions build in the flat between Stanley and Blanche. Blanche, on the one hand, totally despises Stanley’s sensual, even animal orientation. Consequently, she tries in vain to persuade Stella to leave the flat along with her. Stanley, on the other hand, qualifies Blanche’s cultured and refined behaviour as hypocritical. Thus, he aims at proving his conviction of Blanche being a liar about her past. Through a co-worker who frequently travels to Laurel, Blanche’s ancient hometown, he learns about her past full of one-night stands with strangers culminating in an affair with a seventeen-year-old pupil. Accordingly, it was her permissive way of life that resulted in her dismissal.

As he passes this information on to Mitch, Stanley deliberately destroys Blanche’s relationship because Mitch does not want to marry her any longer. That is why in scene 7/8 Mitch stands her up at her birthday party. Furthermore, Stanley offers Blanche a bus ticket back to Laurel for birthday present. During a heavy fight with her husband Stella suddenly requests to be taken to hospital because the baby is coming.

In scene 9 Mitch arrives at the apartment and confronts Blanche with the rumours about her indecent past. As a result, Blanche admits her failures but justifies her behaviour explaining that the loneliness on account of her husband’s death prompted her to seek physical affection. After having stated that he won’t marry her any longer Mitch is kicked out of the apartment by Blanche.


Excerpt out of 14 pages


The character of Blanche DuBois in 'A Streetcar named desire'
Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt  (Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaftliche Fakultät)
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ISBN (Book)
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Blanche, DuBois, Streetcar
Quote paper
Melanie Skiba (Author), 2008, The character of Blanche DuBois in 'A Streetcar named desire', Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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