Character Analysis of Blanche DuBois
Tennessee Williams himself claimed that his purpose in writing plays was to examine and probe deeply such men and women whose desires have remained unfulfilled and feel the external factors responsible for it; such people who have chosen to withdraw into an inner world of their imagination since interacting with the outside world is either impossible or simply futile and meaningless, and feel some sense of security in that make-believe world. Most of the playwright’s protagonists show a form of dual existence, a life of day-to-day transactions with the near relations in family and friends and another life of their dreams and ambitions that can be lived in reality but provide them full spiritual sustenance and vigour. In some plays these two levels of existence are neatly discernible.
In The Glass Menagerie Tom has to master enough will to handle the stressful developments in family in order to find a solution to his sister’s and mother’s problems. But he wants time and freedom to handle his personal questions also, which to him ever remain more pressing and urgent, but which no one else understands with the same anguished sense of urgency. So is Laura and Amanda, showing to us their own respective worlds of illusory life where eternal sun of cheer and glory shines and each one of them becomes symbol of great accomplishment Such a split-level existence is a deliberately devised pattern in order to show what modern civilization has done to the young people of that era. A life of discontent brings to the fore the basic spiritual drought which appears to be the destiny of everyone of them.
Blanche duBois also appears to live a dual life the source of which is in her own split personality. Essentially an uprooted person, she is in search of a stable life where she can be assured of love, protection and comfort. She comes to her married sister’s home to live but is unable to find all that her heart desired. This is mainly because she tries to project herself as someone who is a cut above the level at which others live, behaving and speaking and generally giving impression of belonging to upper class.
This is not just a girlish playful act; it is a deliberate creation of another world of illusions far removed and often contrary to harsh realities in which she not only wants others to believe but begins herself to live. Out of the bright landscape of her fanciful imagination peep the brutal facts of life- her intense emotional suffering when one by one the family elders at her native Belle Reve died, rendering her lonely. Belle Reve glimmers in the distance like an inaccessible past, where she suffered something she cannot share with anyone else. There is also that unsuccessful marriage of hers with the young man Allan who turned out to be a homosexual, caught in the act by her and felt such humiliation that he killed himself on the spot. Such knocks as she received from fate sent her scurrying for help and shelter which were not coming. She was totally exposed to the inner devastation and wanted to be saved. Here at her sister’s place she finds living conditions “unbearable”:
“It is really a pretty frightful situation. You see, there’s no privacy here. There’s just these portieres between the two rooms at night … A teacher’s salary is barely sufficient for her living expenses. I didn’t save a penny last year and so I had to come here for the summer. And he has to put up with me, apparently so much against his wishes” (Scene 6).
His problems are compounded by the fact that she lost her job as a teacher and her frayed nerves are not much Stanley’s obdurate attitude making him stand dead against determined to expose her to the world.
So we see that at one level Blanche’s life presents a picture of devastation, desolation, loneliness and hunger for emotional attachment. Her coming to this placed called ‘Elysian Fields’ where she hoped to find happiness and stability only precipitates her troubles.
In a typical Tennessee Williams formula Blanche’s succour lies in creating illusions about herself by hiding the truth and living on imagined things. She puts on expensive clothes to give a false impression that she lives comfortably and has money, while the fact is that she has lost the family property, has, been rendered penniless and has come to her sister’s because she cannot go anywhere else. What she did about the property is mystery; she even hides the facts about her job. She keeps them all in dark about her personal life, thinking that simple lies told innocently will solve her problems. We must understand here that in telling lies she serves two purposes : concealing reality, thus temporarily finding a safely measure to save herself, and then creating a world of illusions which she thinks will not only elevate her image in others’ eyes, but provide a source of wish fulfilling wherein she can live according to her own desire. This is the second level of existence. But these two levels don’t remain neatly separated, tragically they overlap and create greater bewilderment in her mind.
The frightful mix-up which occurs insanely in her as the play progresses and even Mitch spurns her, drives her to greater terror of desperation at the end of which stands Stanley cruel and unrelenting as fate. One such imaginary character she fabricates for herself is Mr. Shep Huntleigh of Dallas, a multi-millionaire celebrity. She herself falls victim to these illusions to the extent that she believes them to be real. So, in Scene 10 when she is practically cornered by Stan before he criminally assaults her, Blanche rushes to phone to this imaginary man.
This scene, and prior to it the one in which Mitch refuses to marry her shows his desire to possess her physically and reveals in full measure to what extent has Blanche’s mind become disoriented as a result of repeated assaults on her inner world of dreams and ambitions. The barriers which keep the world of illusory, self-gratifying existence apart from the cruelties of real life somehow crumble at the time of these scenes, causing in her benumbed mind a ‘frightful mixture of the two where she herself is unable to identify what is what. This also signals her tragic loss of the capacity to lead like others a ‘normal’ life and her journey to the mental asylum.
It must by now be clear that Blanche’s problems are prominently rooted in her own dual personality. Psychologists may contest whether it is exactly a case of “split” personality in strict technical terms but there should be little doubt that her personality is not a single integrated whole.
Unlike others, especially her own sister, Blanche shows early in the play strong tendency to differentiate between the real world as she finds herself in, and the one as she would have it-moulded to her heart’s wishes. This denial of the real, or inability to cope up with the diverse kinds of reality in life leads her to create in her a compulsive habit of living in imaginary, fanciful world. In this sense she can be said to possess a “split personality”, a character who simultaneously exists on two opposite planes, and faces the more harrowing challenges from a clash between these sides. What Tennessee Williams wanted to portray is this battleground that a person turns into in which hidden urges and motives surface in confused hordes to get locked into bitter fight for dominance. That precisely is Blanche’s problem at bottom.