A Streetcar Named Desire
It is a few hours after Mitch’s departure. Blanche’s open trunk sits with clothes hanging out of it in the middle of the bedroom. Blanche sits before the mirror, places a tiara on her head, and speaks out loud, flirting with imaginary suitors. She speaks of boozing and carousing after a late-night party. A closer glance at herself in a hand mirror quickly upsets her, and she angrily smashes the mirror.
Stanley enters the apartment, slamming the door behind him and giving a low whistle when he sees Blanche decked out in an old white satin evening gown and jeweled party shoes. Like Blanche, Stanley is drunk, and he carries several unopened beer bottles. Blanche asks about Stella, and Stanley tells her the baby won’t be born until the following day. They will be the only two in the apartment that night.
With mock politeness, Stanley asks why Blanche is all dressed up. She tells him that Shep Huntleigh, a former admirer, has sent her a telegram inviting her to join him on his yacht in the Caribbean. She explains that she has nothing suitable to wear on a cruise. Stanley seems happy for Blanche. As he takes off his shirt, Blanche requests that he close the curtains before finishing undressing, but Stanley says that he’s done for the moment. He opens a bottle of beer on the corner of the table, then pours the foam on his head. He suggests that he and Blanche each have a beer to celebrate their good news—his new baby and her millionaire. Blanche declines Stanley’s offer, but his good spirits persist.
In anticipation of good news from the hospital, Stanley goes to the bedroom to find his special silk pajamas. Blanche continues to talk about Shep Huntleigh, feverishly working herself up as she describes what a gentleman he is and how he merely wants the companionship of an intelligent, spirited, tender, cultured woman. Blanche claims that though she is poor financially, she is rich in spirit and beautiful in mind. She asserts that she has been foolishly lavishing what she has to offer on those who do not deserve it—“casting [her] pearls before swine.”
At the word “swine,” Stanley’s amicable mood evaporates. Blanche continues, recounting how Mitch arrived earlier that night to accuse her of the slanderous lies that Stanley told him. Blanche claims that after she sent Mitch away, he came back in vain, with roses and apologies. She says that she cannot forgive “deliberate cruelty,” and that the two of them are too different in attitude and upbringing for their relationship to work.
Stanley disrupts Blanche’s story to ask if Mitch came by before or after her telegram from Shep Huntleigh. Blanche is caught off guard and forgets what she has said about Shep’s telegram, and Stanley jumps on her mistake. He launches an attack, tearing down her make-believe world point by point. It turns out that Stanley saw Mitch after his encounter with Blanche, so Stanley knows that Mitch is still disgusted with her. All Blanche can say in reply is “Oh!” Stanley finishes his accusation of Blanche with a disdainful laugh and walks through the bedroom into the bathroom.
Frightening, sinister shadows and reflections begin to appear on the walls, mimicking Blanche’s nervous movements. Wild, jungle-sounding cries can be heard. Blanche goes to the phone and desperately tries to make a call to Shep Huntleigh for help. She does not know his number or his address, so the operator hangs up on her. Blanche leaves the phone off the hook and walks into the kitchen.
The back wall of the Kowalskis’ apartment suddenly becomes transparent, revealing the sidewalk, where a drunkard and a prostitute scuffle until a police whistle sounds and they disappear. Soon thereafter, the Negro woman comes around the corner rifling through the prostitute’s purse.
Even more panicked, Blanche returns to the phone and whispers to the operator to connect her to Western Union. She tries to send a telegraph saying that she needs help desperately and is “[c]aught in a trap,” but she breaks off when Stanley emerges from the bathroom in his special pajamas. He stares at her, grinning, while the phone begins to beep. He crosses the room and replaces the phone on the hook. Still grinning, he steps between Blanche and the door. The sound of the piano becomes louder and then turns into the sound of a passing train, disturbing Blanche. When the noise ends, she asks Stanley to let her pass by, and he takes one step to the side. She asks him to move further away, but he stays put and laughs at Blanche for thinking that he will try to prevent her from leaving.
The jungle voices swell as Stanley slowly advances toward Blanche, ignoring her cries that he stay away. She grabs a bottle and smashes its end on the table, threatening to smash the remaining fragment on Stanley’s face. He jumps at her, grabs her arm when she swings at him, and forces her to drop the bottle. “We’ve had this date from the beginning,” he says, and she sinks to her knees. He picks her up and carries her to the bed. The pulsing music indicates that Stanley rapes Blanche.
Williams mimics classical tragedy by not showing Blanche’s rape, the play’s climax and most violent act. The omission of the rape heightens our sense of its offensiveness and also reflects the notions of acceptable stage behavior held by Americans in 1947, when A Streetcar Named Desire was first produced. Our sense of the rape’s inevitability is another reason why it seems unnecessary that the act take place onstage. Stanley’s final statement to Blanche that they have “had this date from the beginning” suggests that his rape of her has been fated all along. Instead of an act of force, he casts what happens as the endgame of their elemental struggle against each other.
The way Stanley terrorizes Blanche by shattering her self-delusions parallels and foreshadows his physical defeat of her. Increasingly, Blanche’s most visceral experiences are the delusions and repressed memories that torment her, so that her physical rape seems an almost inevitable consequence of her psychological pain. The rape also symbolizes the final destruction of the Old South’s genteel fantasy world, symbolized by Blanche, by the cruel but vibrant present, symbolized by Stanley. In the New South, animal instinct and common sense win out over lofty ideals and romantic notions.
Williams indicates the impending rape through Stanley’s macho, imposing, animalistic body language. Like a snake, Stanley flicks his tongue at Blanche through his teeth. He corners her in the bedroom, refusing to move out of her way, then “springs” at her, calling her a “tiger” as he captures her. Blanche’s silent resignation as Stanley carries her to the bed indicates the utter defeat of her will.
Our opinion of Stanley has changed greatly by this second-to-last scene. At the start of the play, Stanley is more likable and down-to-earth than Blanche. He lacks her pretension, and he represents the new America, where reward is based on merit and good work, not on birth into fortunate circumstances. But Stanley’s rape of Blanche just before his child is born, when he is at his most triumphant and she at her most psychologically vulnerable, is the ultimate act of cruelty. If rape is realism, then surely Blanche’s world of dreams and fantasies is a better alternative. To confirm the terrible nature of reality, the back of Blanche’s make-believe world falls away, and the world of the street, with its prostitution, drinking, and thievery, impinges upon her surroundings. Each of these three characters—the prostitute, the drunkard, and the thief—reflects to Blanche an aspect of her personality.
by PoeticProclivity, September 03, 2012
I don't understand your view of how Blanche's rape, In which you stated, "Blanche's most visceral experiences are illusions and repressed memories that torment her, so that her rape seems an almost inevitable consequence of her psychological pain." How exactly, in anyway, is Blanche's rape inevitable? Did she appeal weak stimulating Stanley's carnal desire to conquer Blanche's threatening, bourgeoisie personality?
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