A Streetcar Named Desire
Later the same evening, Blanche sits tensely in the bedroom. On a nearby table are a bottle of liquor and a glass. The Varsouviana, the polka music that was playing when Blanche’s husband killed himself, can be heard. Williams’s stage directions state that the music we hear is in Blanche’s head, and that she drinks to escape it.
Mitch, unshaven and wearing work clothes, comes to the door. The doorbell startles Blanche. She asks who it is, and when he gruffly replies, the polka music stops. She frantically scurries about, applying powder to her face and stashing the liquor in a closet before letting Mitch in with a cheerful reprimand for having missed her birthday celebration. She expects a kiss, but Mitch walks right past her into the apartment. Blanche is frightened but continues in her light and airy mode, scolding him for his disheveled appearance and forgiving him in the same breath.
Mitch, a bit drunk, stares and then asks Blanche to turn off the fan, which she does. He plops down on the bed and lights a cigarette. She offers him a drink, fibbing that she isn’t sure what the Kowalskis have on hand, but Mitch says he doesn’t want Stanley’s liquor. Blanche retorts that she’s bought her own liquor, then changes the subject to Mitch’s mother’s health. Mitch is suspicious of Blanche’s interest in his mother, so she backs off, saying she just wants to know the source of Mitch’s sour mood. As Blanche retreats into herself, the polka music again begins in her head, and she speaks of it agitatedly, identifying it as the same tune that was playing when her husband, Allan, killed himself. She breaks off, then explains that the usual sound of a gunshot, which makes the music stop, has come. Mitch has no idea what Blanche is talking about and has little patience for her anxiety.
As Blanche rambles on about the birthday evening Mitch missed, she pretends to discover the whiskey bottle in the closet. She takes her charade so far as to ask what Southern Comfort is. Mitch says the bottle must be Stan’s, and he rudely rests his foot on Blanche’s bed. Blanche asks Mitch to take his foot off the bed and goes on about the liquor, pretending to taste it for the first time. Mitch again declines a drink and says that Stanley claims Blanche has guzzled his liquor all summer on the sly.
At last Blanche asks point-blank what is on Mitch’s mind. Mitch continues to beat around the bush, asking why the room is always so dark. He comments that he has never seen Blanche in full light or in the afternoon. She has always made excuses on Sunday afternoons and has only gone out with him after six to dimly lit places. Blanche says she doesn’t get Mitch’s meaning, and he says that he’s never had a good look at her. Mitch tears the paper lantern off the lightbulb. She begs him not to turn the light on, but he says that he wants to be “realistic.” Blanche cries that she doesn’t like realism and “want[s] magic.” She explains that her policy is to say what “ought” to be true. Mitch switches the light on, and Blanche lets out a cry and covers her face. He turns the light off.
Mitch says he doesn’t really care about Blanche’s age, but he cannot stand the way Blanche lied to him all summer, pretending to be old-fashioned and morally upright. Blanche tries to deny Mitch’s charge, but Mitch says that he has heard stories about her from three different sources: Stanley, Shaw, and a merchant from Laurel named Kiefaber with whom Mitch spoke on the phone. Each man presented the same facts about Blanche’s shady past. Blanche argues that all three men are liars, and that Kiefaber concocted stories about her as revenge for her spurning his affection.
Finally, Blanche breaks down and admits the truth through convulsive sobs and shots of liquor. She says that she panicked after Allan’s death and looked to strangers for human companionship to fill her loneliness. She did not know what she was doing, she claims. She eventually ended up in trouble with a seventeen-year-old student from Laurel High School and was forced to leave her position. She thought she had nowhere to go, until she met Mitch. He gave her hope because he said he needed her as she needed him. But, says Blanche, she was wrong to hope, because her past inevitably caught up with her. After a long pause, Mitch can say only that Blanche lied to him, “inside and out.” Blanche argues that she didn’t lie “inside . . . in [her] heart.”
A blind Mexican woman comes around the corner selling bunches of tacky tin flowers to use at funerals. In Spanish, she says, “Flowers. Flowers for the dead.” Hearing the vendor’s voice, Blanche opens the door, and she is terrified when the woman offers her funeral flowers. She slams the door and runs back into the apartment as the vendor continues down the street. The Varsouviana polka tune resumes.
Blanche begins to think out loud while Mitch sits silently. Every so often, the Mexican woman’s call can be heard. In her tortured soliloquy, Blanche discusses regrets, and then legacies. She speaks about pillowcases stained with blood, and seems to be recalling a conversation she had with her mother about not having enough money to pay a servant. Blanche then begins to speak about death, saying that it once seemed so far from her. She says that “the opposite [of death] is desire.” And she begins to reminisce about camp of soldiers that used to be near Belle Reve. On Saturday nights the drunken soldiers would stumble onto Blanche’s lawn and call for her while her deaf mother slept. Occasionally, Blanche went outside to meet them.
The polka music fades. Mitch approaches Blanche and tries to embrace her. He says that he wants what he waited for all summer. Blanche says he must marry her first, but Mitch replies that Blanche isn’t fit to live in the same house as his mother. Blanche orders him to leave, rapidly collapsing into hysterics. When he does not move, she threatens to scream “Fire!” He still does not leave, so she screams out the window. Mitch hurries out, and Blanche falls to her knees, devastated. Piano music can be heard in the distance.
Mitch’s act of turning on Blanche’s light explicitly symbolizes his extermination of the fake persona she has concocted. Mitch recognizes that Blanche’s deceptions have relied on darkness to obscure reality, thereby giving Blanche the freedom to describe things as she feels they “ought to be.” For example, in Scene Six, Blanche revises reality by lighting a candle, claiming that she and Mitch will be bohemian and imagine they are in Paris.
Mitch behaves with resignation rather than anger when he confronts Blanche, showing that he holds genuine feelings for her. He initially bides his time, getting up the nerve to say what he has come to say. Sadness over lost love tempers his anger and frustration. When Mitch turns on Blanche’s light, he violates Blanche’s false dignity, but he does not violate Blanche sexually when she refuses him. However, his advances demonstrate that the only way he knows how to express his frustration over the relationship ending is through sexuality.
Whereas Mitch faces his breakup with Blanche with resignation, Blanche becomes desperate and unhinged. She sees marriage as her only means of escaping her demons, so Mitch’s rejection amounts to a sentence of living in her internal world. Once Mitch crushes the make-believe identity Blanche has constructed for herself, Blanche begins to descend into madness. With no audience for her lies, which Blanche admits are necessary when she tells Mitch that she hates reality and prefers “magic,” Blanche begins performing for herself. Yet Blanche’s escapist tendencies no longer manifest her need to live in a world full of pleasant bourgeois ease. Instead of fancy and desire, her new alternate reality reflects regret and death. She is alone, afraid of both the dark and the light; her own mind provides her with a last bastion of escape. Her fantasies control her, not the other way around, but still she shrinks from the horror of reality.
Scene Nine fails to tell us conclusively whether Blanche is responsible for her fate or whether she is a victim of circumstances beyond her control. Mitch claims that it is Blanche’s lying, not her age, that bothers him. Indeed, it is likely Mitch figures out that Blanche is past her prime in Scene Six, when she evades his questions about her age. Given Mitch’s statement, it seems that Blanche’s sexual duplicity and romantic delusions have been the source of her fall. Yet Blanche is also the victim of social circumstances. She was born into a society that required the suppression of desire, and her sense of entitlement, to wealth and social status, elicit the anger of new Americans in an increasingly diverse social landscape. Additionally, Blanche is Stanley’s victim. His investigations of her past and his disclosure of his findings contribute directly to Blanche’s fate.
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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