Is Blanche a sympathetic character?
Blanche DuBois is a complex character, and the audience’s view of her shifts throughout the play. In many ways, Blanche commands sympathy. From her first appearance, she seems vulnerable, frightened, and alone—as indeed she is. She has lost her home, money, property, and loved ones. She is a sensitive soul, “tender and trusting,” as Stella says, helpless in the face of cruelty. Also appealing is Blanche’s appreciation of beauty, literature, art, and culture, as epitomized in her eloquent Scene Four soliloquy. She attempts to awaken others’ interest in these finer things, too. In fact, when she leaves the apartment for the final time, the play suggests that civilization itself goes with her.
However, Blanche also has unattractive qualities that stir antipathy. Dishonest, self-dramatizing, and vain, she can appear snobbish and pretentious at best and a hypocrite at worst. For someone who cares so much about consideration and politeness, Blanche is a remarkably inconsiderate houseguest. For example, she hogs the bathroom, taking long baths that make the small, stifling apartment even hotter; she constantly drinks expensive liquor, and she luxuriates in Stella’s waiting on her. She snubs kind-hearted but lower-class Eunice, and personally and ethnically denigrates Stanley—who is providing her with free room and board—to Stella, stirring up discontent as she does so. Eventually, Blanche’s sexual past comes to light, and her seduction of one of her students, a 17-year-old boy, remains highly troubling. Yet Streetcar provides an explanation—if not exactly a justification—for Blanche’s behavior: the trauma of discovering her teenage husband’s homosexuality and her guilt over his suicide. In effect, Blanche is trying to recreate and make restitution to the husband she feels she failed and killed.
Considering this subconscious drive to revisit her failed marriage and the misfortunes she has undergone throughout her life, Blanche’s various faults and questionable behaviors seem to result more from internal pain and weakness of character than any evil intent or desire to hurt others. She may deserve Stanley’s dislike, but she does not deserve her eventual destruction at his hands, and nothing she did or said warranted his violent and unjustifiable rape. As Stella puts it: “You needn’t have been so cruel to someone alone as she is.”