A Streetcar Named desire: Decent into Insanity
Cooper Nugent”A Streetcar Named Desire”, a theatrical work by Tennessee Williams, follows a complex character named Blanche Dubois for a brief stint of her life. This work of literature has an overlying theme of madness as it “depict[s] the mental decline of the fragile Blanche DuBois through her desperate cries for human affection, her loss of sanity deriving from the constant struggle between male society’s prescriptions for female behavior, and her own internalization of these roles.” (Maiman, 1). Williams is able to reveal the lunacy of Blanche by forming a trail of poorly built lies and deceit that the character herself creates.
She eventually falls pray to these lies herself and puts her in an unstable place of mind. Finally, Williams solidifies her madness with a final traumatic sexual experience and, “sexual violence serve as catalysts for the female madness” (Maiman, 1). Williams artfully and masterfully builds up Blanches final tumble into insanity with thoughtful symbolism and well thought out dialogue, as well as the use of music. Some wonder if Blanche is really insane, or if it is all just an act. Foucault states that madness simply “takes the false for the true” (Maiman, 4).
Blanche clearly exemplifies the latter statement as she is frequently the victim of her lies, saying,”Never inside, I didn’t lie in my heart” (A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams). When Blanche exclaims this to her lost lover, Mitch, the audience realizes all the lies she told from her taking a break to teaching to be prude she truly believes are true. Williams symbolizes Blanches’ lies by having her always prefer darkness and staying in the shadows as opposed to being in the light. This universal symbol ismost directly used when Blanche hangs the paper lantern on the light in the bathroom. This shade is up for the entirety of the play until one of the last scenes when all the lies come out from under feet and Mitch rips the shades lantern off which exposes the light both physically and metaphorically. Williams starts to show the overlying theme of madness by spreading a web of deceit around Blanche that is bound to break and hurt her.
Williams gives ample reasons for Blanche to lose her sanity for those who doubt she truly lost her mind. Hyde, in her article on the Psychology of women states that, “female madness frequently occurs when women find themselves in uncomfortable new situations” (Hyde, 8). This uncomfortable situation becomes Blanche’s reality as she begins to live with her little sister, Stella, and her husband, Stanley. Many of Stanley’s brusque and rough characteristics make Blanche uncomfortable, such as taking off his shirt ( Shmoop, Blanche Dubois). Also, in many literature works and film sexual abuse is the stem from which madness of female characters stem, as stated by Libman, “Many of the films about female madness situate sex and sexuality as the primary catalyst in the heroine’s illness.” (Leiban, 1).
As Blanch was raped by Stanley this serves as the final breaking point for Blanche’s already loosely held onto sanity. Williams uses symbolism to create and illustrate his point of Blanches’s madness. A reoccurring symbol in the play is the use of shadows and how Blanch constantly seems to be avoiding light. This symbol the light represents the truth and the shadows/darkness represent the fantasy which Blanche deludes herself into believing. Blanche constantly avoids direct light and makes up excuses such as, “‘And turn that over-light off! Turn that off! I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare!” (“A Streetcar Named desire”).She constantly hide in the shadows until Mitch, a man she had a stint of a relationship with, forces her to face the truth.
In this scene, he confronts her about her lies and he consequentially rips off the lantern on the light and forces the truth and direct light unto Blanche for the first time. Although the shadows have a metaphorical side they also provide a further physical factor of Blanche’s descent. Her constant residing in the shadows suggest that she is not come to terms with her aging. A study conducted by Leiban claims that women are very sensitive of their age and appearance, and insecurity of these aspects can cause mental Stability. (Leiban, 6). All throughout his theatrical piece Williams strewsbits and pieces of factors of insanity causing the catastrophic downfall and effects of madness.
Williams certainly takes advantage of this work being performed on a stage as he uses the music as a device which is not available to a lot of writers. He is able to exemplify the struggle of Blanches mind with the association of music. As stated by Maiman in her study of”a Streetcar Named Desire” “Musical Madness, “employs music throughout Streetcar to provide the necessary expressive links from reality to madness” (Maiman, 15). The music serves as a reminder of where the unstableness all started. The music reminds her of the death of her husband who killed himself after Blanche said some derogatory comments to him after finding out that he was a homosexual and was cheating on her. The music that only Blanche and the audiencecan hear serves as a reminder and a link to her rocky past.
Music, “exists which stimulates all types of emotions” (“Music and Emotions”) and Williams uses the reoccurring Polka music to stir her emotions making her mentally unstable. Williams, “A Streetcar Named Desire”, is developed with an overlying theme of madness. This is a theme due to the fact the book follows Blanche Debouis and her descent into madness. The author of the play is commenting how madness can be cause by neglect and that, “Female sexual experiences play an important role in their development of psychological disorders” (Parry, 7). This theme is also supported through dialogue, symbolism, and the startling use of music.