They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and transfer to one called Cemeteries, and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!
Blanche speaks these words to Eunice and the Negro woman upon arriving at the Kowalski apartment at the beginning of Scene One. She has just arrived in New Orleans and is describing her means of transportation to her sister’s apartment. The place names that Williams uses in A Streetcar Named Desire hold obvious metaphorical value. Elysian Fields, the Kowalskis’ street, is named for the land of the dead in Greek mythology. The journey that Blanche describes making from the train station to the Kowalski apartment is an allegorical version of her life up to this point in time. Her illicit pursuit of her sexual “desires” led to her social death and expulsion from her hometown of Laurel, Mississippi. Landing in a seedy district that is likened to a pagan heaven, Blanche begins a sort of afterlife, in which she learns and lives the consequences of her life’s actions.
There are thousands of papers, stretching back over hundreds of years, affecting Belle Reve as, piece by piece, our improvident grandfathers and father and uncles and brothers exchanged the land for their epic fornications—to put it plainly! . . . The four-letter word deprived us of our plantation, till finally all that was left—and Stella can verify that!—was the house itself and about twenty acres of ground, including a graveyard, to which now all but Stella and I have retreated.
Blanche gives this speech to Stanley in Scene Two after he accuses her of having swindled Stella out of her inheritance. While showing Stanley paperwork proving that she lost Belle Reve due to foreclosure on its mortgage, Blanche attributes her family’s decline in fortune to the debauchery of its male members over the generations. Like Blanche, the DuBois ancestors put airs of gentility and refinement while secretly pursuing libidinous pleasure.
Blanche’s explanation situates her as the last in a long line of ancestors who cannot express their sexual desire in a healthy fashion. Unfortunately, she is forced to deal with the bankruptcy that is the result of her ancestors’ profligate ways. By running away to New Orleans and marrying Stanley, Stella removed herself from the elite social stratum to which her family belonged, thereby abandoning all its pretensions, codes of behavior, sexual mores, and problems. Blanche resents Stella’s departure and subsequent happiness. In Blanche’s eyes, Stella irresponsibly left Blanche alone to deal with their family in its time of distress.
Oh, I guess he’s just not the type that goes for jasmine perfume, but maybe he’s what we need to mix with our blood now that we’ve lost Belle Reve.
In Scene Two, Blanche makes this comment about Stanley to Stella. Blanche’s statement that Stanley is “not the type that goes for jasmine perfume” is her way of saying that he lacks the refinement to appreciate fine taste as Blanche can. She suggests that, under normal circumstances, he would be an inadequate mate for a member of the DuBois clan because of his inability to appreciate the subtler things in life, whether material or spiritual, jasmine perfume or poetry.
Yet the second half of Blanche’s comment acknowledges that the DuBois clan can no longer afford luxuries or delude themselves with ideas of social grandeur. Since financially Blanche and Stella no longer belong to the Southern elite, Blanche recognizes that Stella’s child unavoidably will lack the monetary and social privilege that she and Stella enjoyed. The genteel South in which Blanche grew up is a thing of the past, and immigrants like Stanley, whom Blanche sees as crude, are rising in social status. Like Stanley, Stella’s child may lack an appreciation for perfume and other fineries, but Stanley will likely imbue him with the survival skills that Blanche lacks. The fact that Blanche’s lack of survival skills ultimately causes her downfall underscores the new importance such skills hold.
4. I am not a Polack. People from Poland are Poles, not Polacks. But what I am is a one hundred percent American, born and raised in the greatest country on earth and proud as hell of it, so don’t ever call me a Polack.
Blanche makes derogatory and ignorant remarks about Stanley’s Polish ethnicity throughout the play, implying that it makes him stupid and coarse. In Scene Eight, Stanley finally snaps and speaks these words, correcting Blanche’s many misapprehensions and forcefully exposing her as an uninformed bigot. His declaration of being a proud American carries great thematic weight, for Stanley does indeed represent the new American society, which is composed of upwardly mobile immigrants. Blanche is a relic in the new America. The Southern landed aristocracy from which she assumes her sense of superiority no longer has a viable presence in the American economy, so Blanche is disenfranchised monetarily and socially.
These words, which Blanche speaks to the doctor in Scene Eleven, form Blanche’s final statement in the play. She perceives the doctor as the gentleman rescuer for whom she has been waiting since arriving in New Orleans. Blanche’s final comment is ironic for two reasons. First, the doctor is not the chivalric Shep Huntleigh type of gentleman Blanche thinks he is. Second, Blanche’s dependence “on the kindness of strangers” rather than on herself is the reason why she has not fared well in life. In truth, strangers have been kind only in exchange for sex. Otherwise, strangers like Stanley, Mitch, and the people of Laurel have denied Blanche the sympathy she deserves. Blanche’s final remark indicates her total detachment from reality and her decision to see life only as she wishes to perceive it.
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