A Characterization - Decline and Fall of Blanche DuBois In "A Streetcar named Desire" by Tennessee Williams

Seminar Paper, 2000

9 Pages


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. A first look
2.1. A closer look

3. Madness

4. Conclusion Bibliography


When we look at the drama A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams I would say Blanche DuBois is worth to have a closer look at. With her fictional past as a teacher of American literature and her former social conditions like the Old South traditions Blanche could be every human being transferring to another culture with different social and traditional backgrounds and customs she has to cope with. And still in today's society it could happen that someone is suddenly confronted with totally new and different values he has to adapt to. Or at least conforming his old values when he seeks for acceptation in his new environment. And after all that is what Blanche DuBois is looking for in this drama.

Under looking at the plot of the drama and several secondary sources I want to proof that the course of A Streetcar Named Desire not necessarily had to be decline and fall but rather rescue of Blanche DuBois. First I would like to show where she comes from and how she has grown up. After that we have a closer look at the play considering the plot structure . And finally there are given some general interpretations in connection with Blanche.

2.A first look

In several flashbacks Williams gives us information about Blanche DuBois' history. She comes from a family of French origin. She grew up on a plantation named `Belle Reve' . Later on she teaches American literature at a high school in Laurel. After her last relatives on `Belle Reve' died she only inherits a low property which she uses to pay the sumptuous funerals to preserve her family's dignity. She married Alan and later found out that he was a homosexual. Alan could not cope with his inability to help Blanche and committed suicide.

Blanche went through several relations with soldiers of a nearby camp and finally had a relation to a seventeen year old schoolboy. Therefore she got fired and moved to Elysian Fields in New Orleans where her sister Stella lives with her husband Stanley and where the play starts.

2.1 A closer look

`A streetcar named desire' brought Blanche to the last station of her decline. "Blanche's spine or leitmotif is `find Protection'; the tradition of the Old South says that it must be through another person... her problem has to do with her tradition... the thing about the tradition in the 19th century was that it worked then."1

But today Blanche can't feel save within the bounds of the Old South traditions anymore. On the contrary "...it makes Blanche feel alone, outside of her society.

Left out, insecure, shaky."2

In the exposition of the play Blanche arrives in her new environment and does not feel very comfortable when she sees how her sister lives. She probably had hoped that her sister still lives after the old traditions and after all that is why Blanche moved there. And to finally escape from the tormenting memories of the cheap sex she had with soldiers in dowdy and run-down hotels she clings to her social past and to `lady-manners'. "Blanche depends on manner, on affected little-girl innocence, to sustain her."3 That is already shown in the very beginning of the play when she seems to be disgusted by way her sister lives with her husband.

Also Blanches evasive explaining of her early arrival before the end of the spring term at the school in Laurel shows us that something went wrong with Blanche.

In the following meeting, the discriminated occasion, with Stanley it becomes quite clear that Stanley and Blanche are antagonist and protagonist. "For the second time in scene 1, a cat screeches near the window, startling Blanche and now summoning up a cat-and-mouse image for the relationship between Stanley and Blanche."4

In the following 2nd scene we get to know about Blanches pathological bathing. Just "to quite her nerves"5 like she told her sister Stella but it "is a nominal gesture of guilt and wished-for redemption."6 In a single moment of deviation from her mood of gaiety in this scene, Blanche withholds a faded, ribbon-tied sheaf of love-letters:"Poems a dead boy wrote. I hurt him that way you would like to hurt me, "7 That shows her feeling of guilt about the dead of her husband.

In the same scene Stanley reveals to Blanche that he is going to check her papers of `Belle Reve', since it is very important now that Stella is going to have a baby.

At that news, Blanche goes to meet Stella la on the sidewalk and tells her that maybe Stanley is "what we need to mix with our blood now that we've lost Belle Reve and have to go on without Bell Reve to protect us "8

"Since `belle' is the feminine form of the adjective `beautiful' in French, whereas `reve'- `dream'- is a masculine noun, it seems probable that the estate was originally called Belle Rive- `beautiful shore'-and that the corruption of the name is symbolic of the tenuousness of it's reality by the same time it has come down to Blanche's generation"9

The corruption of the name also shows the duality of Blanch.

In the 3rd scene, part of the rising action in the play, another proof of her duality is given. At `The Poker Night' Stanley and his friends, some minor characters, are sitting in the kitchen playing poker. Later on Blanche has a conversation with Mitch a friend of Stanley. She asks him to put a paper lantern over the bedroom light bulb:"I can't stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rough word or a vulgar action."10 But when the sisters arrived after a show, "Blanche's conduct is vulgarly suggestive, and a combination of her sexual gestures toward Mitch and her playing of the radio leads conclusively to Stanley's violence upon Stella."11

At the end Stella is once more within her husband's primitive embrace, to which she brings the spiritual balance that his unformed vigor demands."But Blanche sees the whole affair only as `violence,' upon her decorous sensibility and `Belle Reve.'The real violence is the forced recognition of the conflicting drives within herself."12

Scene 4 opens with the dramatic contrast between Stella and Blanche. The entire scene is a drama of misunderstanding, accentuated by Blanche's wild but purposeless effort to rescue her sister, and thus the family, from animalistic forces, which are presented by Stanley in the opinion of Blanche. But in the end Stanley triumphs over Stella when he enters the room and Stella rushes to embrace him.

"Over her head he grins through the curtains at Blanche."13

After Blanche realizes that she will not long continue to find sanctuary in Stella's home in scene 5 her last hope is a marriage with Mitch. But even when she is waiting for him to meet her she once more is defeated by the force of her habits. A young man comes to collect newspapers while she is waiting. Blanche has no money, but she flirts with the boy and longingly kisses him on the mouth. Probably reminding herself of Mitch she says to the boy:"I've got to be good-and keep my hands of children."14

Home from her late evening date , Blanche has a long scene with Mitch. Her role-playing and pretensions are etched against his good-hearted simplicity. Blanche tells Mitch about the boy she married when she was sixteen. Distant polka music is heard as she recalls how, on the dance floor, she confronted her husband with her discovery of his homosexuality:"I saw! I saw! You disgust me."15 The boy then ran outside and shot himself. Moved by her story, Mitch proposes to Blanche. And for the first time the polka music is fading out for Blanche and with Mitch she has got new hope. That is the turning point for Blanche in this drama. It is the climax of her feelings and also climax of the play.

It is on Blanche's birthday that Stella, Stanley and Blanche are sitting together at birthday supper. It is almost over when Blanche, with forced gaiety, tells a joke to cover her anxiety over Mitch's not having shown up. Later when they are all resembled in the kitchen for the birthday cake, Stanley gives Blanche a "little birthday remembrance."16 - a bus ticket to Laurel (Stanley has discovered everything about her past in scene 7) for the following Tuesday.

Later that evening, Blanche is alone, drinking to escape the polka music which once more has entered her mind. Seeing that Mitch has found out about her past, she gives him the most truthful explanation she can of her intimacies with strangers: she sought protection and to fill her empty heart after the death of her boy husband. The revelation of Blanche's sordid past seals her fate. Repressed and courtly Mitch, Stanley's one decent friend and Blanche's last chance at happiness, rejects her as insensitively as she rejected her husband. And "her uncovered sexual identity pushes Blanche over the edge; once her secret life has been revealed, Blanche stumbles into madness as the ultimate refuge."17

When scene 10 opens, it is several hours later. Blanche has retreated into her last possible refuge, the fantasy-world of her own which could be called psychological realism. But Stanley denies her even that solace; her face-saving "lies and deceit and tricks."18 Her mounting panic is given a scenic metaphor:"Lurid reflections appear on the wall around Blanche. The shadows are of grotesque and menacing form...The night is filled with inhuman voices like cries in the jungle."19 Her terror seems to challenge Stanley and while Stella is in the hospital and going to have a baby, Stanley is going to rape Blanche at the end of this scene.

Some weeks later, in the final scene, the conclusion, Stella is packing Blanche's things in the bedroom while Stanley and his friends play poker in the kitchen. Stella is going to get Blanche to an insane asylum."Blanche's disclosed sinfulness moves Stella finally to choose her husband over her sister, and she begins to think of Blanche as someone outside society."20 When the doctor arrives to fetch her Stanley is taunting her with having forgotten something: He tears the paper lantern off the light bulb to give to her. "She cries out as if the lantern was herself."21 "Symbolically, it was herself- a flimsy bit of magic endeavoring to transform the hardness of reality."22 The doctor approaches Blanche in a more human manner. He offers his arm. "Whoever you are- I have always depended on the kindness of strangers, "23 Blanche says as she allows him to lead her away.


Blanche DuBois alone uses correct grammar and varied syntax. She introduces cultural references into the French quarter dwelling just to underline her manor-born superiority. "Her vocabulary contains such Latinisms as `heterogeneous' and `judicial'."24 But when Blanche uses images, they are stale and incongruous.

"The very name Blanche DuBois suggests her duality. In the play, she herself translates it for Mitch as White woods. Like an orchard in spring. But even her translation is a fantasy. Blanche is past her spring, and the purity of Blanche-white is undermined by the thicket of DuBois-woods. Anglicized, Blanche's name is DuBoys, and under her chaste surface, Blanche lusts for boys"25

Comparably, her clothes reflect her divided nature- mothlike white for day and red satin robe for intimacy. More pointedly the two streetcars- Desire and Cemeteries- suggest the opposing forces that claim Blanche. And for all upper refinement, Blanche is drawn to Stanley's emphatic virility at the same that she is petrified of his brutish aggressiveness." Her schizoid personality is a drama of man's irreconcilable split between animal reality and moral appearance, or as Freud put it figuratively, a mortal conflict of id against ego and superego."26


Blanche and Stanley are protagonist and antagonist in Streetcar, and yet Williams' play is not a simple picture of victim and villain. Blanche is cruel to her husband, rude to Eunice, patronizing to Stella, and arrogant to Stanley. Though Stanley is finally cruel to Blanche, he is a faithful friend to Mitch and a satisfying husband to Stella. Especially played by Marlon Brando, Stanley hides vulnerability beneath taunts and boasts; his cruelty defends his world.

Blanche DuBois' fall and decline hadn't necessarily gone so far. Somebody, Stella for example had had to realize earlier that something went wrong with her sister. I would say that a psychological therapy in the middle of the play had rescued Blanche from her final disaster. But everyone in Blanche's new environment had too much to do with his or her own egoism. And so nobody could realize that somebody next to him or her is deeply mentally injured.

When they did it was too late so that Blanche has to go to an insane asylum. Everyday-life in our society depends so much on our ego. We should rather have a look at our neighbor and help him when he needs help. Then it could not happen that you are disgusted by a smell in your flat and you have to realize that your neighbor is dead for two weeks.


Primary Sources

-Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. Stuttgart: Phillipp Reclam, 1988.

Secondary Sources

-Bloom, Harald (ed.). Tennessee Williams. New York: Chelsea House Publishers,1987

-Hirsch, Foster. A Portrait of the Artist-The Plays of Tennessee Williams. London:

Kennikat Press Corp., 1979.

-Donahue, Francis. The Dramatic World of Tennessee Williams. New York: Frederic Ungar Publishing Co., 1964.

-Londre, F.H. . Tennessee Williams. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.,1979.


1 Francis Donahue, The Dramatic World of Tennessee Williams (New york: Frederic Ungar Publishing co., 1964).

2 Francis Donahue, p.32.

3 Foster Hirsch, A Portrait of the Artist-The Play of Tennesse Williams (London: Kennikat Press Corp., 1979).

4 Felicia Hardison Londre, Tennessee Williams (New York : Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1979).

5 Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire (Stuttgart:Phillipp Reclam jun., 1988).

6 Harald Bloom(ed.), Tennessee Williams (New York:Chelsea House Publishers, 1987).

7 T.Williams, p.41

8 T.Williams, p.44

9 F.H.Londre, p.89

10 T.Williams, p.56

11 Harald Bloom(ed.), p.18

12 Harald Bloom(ed.), p.19

13 T.Williams, p.76

14 T.Williams, p.89

15 T.Williams, pp 103

16 T.Williams, p.122

17 F.Hirsch, p.33

18 T.Williams, p.142

19 T.Williams, p.143,144

20 F.Hirsch, p.33

21 T.Williams, p.157

22 F.H.Londre, p.93

23 T.Williams, p.159

24 H.Bloom(ed.), p.62

25 H.Bloom(ed.), p.60

26 H.Bloom(ed.), p.62

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A Characterization - Decline and Fall of Blanche DuBois In "A Streetcar named Desire" by Tennessee Williams
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Characterization, Decline, Fall, Blanche, DuBois, Streetcar, Desire, Tennessee, Williams
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Benjamin Möller (Author), 2000, A Characterization - Decline and Fall of Blanche DuBois In "A Streetcar named Desire" by Tennessee Williams, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/97747


  • guest on 3/16/2003

    Super charakterisierung!.

    Danke,dass du jemals diese Hausarbeit gemacht hast,schreibe morgen eine Abivorklausur über die gute Blanche und deine Anregungen haben mich sehr viel weitergebracht!

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