Study Guide

A Streetcar Named Desire Madness

By Tennessee Williams

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…I want to be near you, got to be with somebody, I can’t be alone! Because - as you must have noticed - I’m – not very well… [Her voice drops and her look is frightened.] (1.141)

This is the first hint we get of Blanche’s madness. Oddly enough, it isn’t solitude but rather the negative influence of other people that ultimately destroys her.

…And funerals are pretty compared to deaths. Funerals are quiet, but deaths – not always. (1.185)

We get the sense from lines like this that all these deaths – of her family members and also her husband – are really at the source of Blanche’s madness.

Yes. [During the pause she looks up at the sky.] There’s so much – so much confusion in the world… [He coughs diffidently.]Thank you for being so kind! I need kindness now. (3.215)

Notice when Blanche starts retreating into her fictional world of fantasy – at the first display of real violence from Stanley. This almost foreshadows her breakdown at the end of the play as the result of Stanley’s sexual violence against her.

Young man! Young, young, young man! Has anyone ever told you that you look like a young Prince out of the Arabian Nights!
[The Young Man laughs uncomfortably and stands like a bashful kid. Blanche speaks softly to him.] (5.116)

It’s no coincidence that Blanche describes the young man as a fictional character – it reminds us that this entire scene is part of her altered perception of reality.

I guess it is just that I have – old-fashioned ideals! [She rolls her eyes, knowing he cannot see her face.] (6.80)

Blanche’s relationship with Mitch is founded on her lies and intentionally distorted perceptions. Regardless of Stanley’s actions, the Blanche-Mitch couple is doomed from the start.

I don’t want realism. I want magic! [Mitch laughs] Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it! – Don’t turn the light on! (9.43)

Now we see that Blanche’s fear of the strong light is about more than the age showing on her face. She’s not only hiding her appearances from the world, but refusing to look at the world in a harsh light herself.

Never inside, I didn’t lie in my heart… (9.59)

What Blanche means is that she believed her own lies, too – she was as taken in as Mitch with the persona she exuded.

I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley. (11.24)

Uh-oh. Looks as though self-delusion runs in the family. And as though Stella is picking up where her sister left off. On the other hand, delusion seems to be the only option Stella really has (again, not unlike Blanche).

You know what I shall die of? I shall die of eating an unwashed grape one day out on the ocean. I will die – with my hand in the hand of some nice-looking ship’s doctor, a very young one with a small blond mustache and a big silver watch. […] And I’ll be buried at sea sewn up in a clean white sack and dropped overboard – at noon – in the blaze of summer – and into an ocean as blue as my first lover’s eyes! (11.69)

Blanche’s delusions have grown more romantic and literary as she retreats further into madness. She’s given up on trying to reconcile her visions with reality and surrendered completely to fantasy.

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