In the following text, I would like to discuss the presentation of the character Blanche DuBois, in act one by Tennessee Williams. At first I want to say something about her name. It is of French origin as it means “White from the woods” when it is translated. On the one hand, white stands for virginity, youth, freshness, clearness, but on the other hand also for innocence. It is also contrasting with “from the woods” as I associate woods with a dark colour. It could be that she has a good and a bad side or that she seems to be free of problems, but has loads of them.
These are the first thoughts a reader of “Streetcar named desire” might have, when he reads this name. The setting of this play is in New Orleans, in a poor quarter where many different nationalities are mixed up. The first description we are given of Blanche DuBois is in scene one in the stage directions. These are very important as they give us a first impression of Blanche: [Blanche comes around a corner, carrying a valise. She looks at a slip of paper, then at the building, then again at the slip and again at the building. Her expression is one of shocked disbelief. Her appearance is incongruous to this setting.
She is daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and ear-rings of pearl, white gloves and hat, looking as she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district. She is about five years older than Stella. Her delicate beauty must avoid a strong light. There is something about her uncertain manner, as well as her white clothes, that suggests a moth. ] At first, she seems to be just a high-strung, but refined, woman who has come to New Orleans to pay her sister Stella a visit, but then you notice that Blanche is not sure where she lives.
I think Blanche DuBois has never visited her sister before. From her gestures and her clothing you can tell instantly that she is a stranger. Tennessee Williams describes her clothes as very elegant, expensive and posh. She is obviously out of place. He gives us the impression that she has secrets aswell as he writes “Her delicate beauty must avoid a strong light. ” I link light with secrets that shall be dazzled by it. He compares her with a moth that is attracted to light. If it gets too close it will be burned by it. That is a symbol for Blanche DuBois and her fragility.
As soon as she speaks, to ask directions from Eunice Hubbell, her sister’s upstairs neighbour, you can be sure that Blanche is used to more refined surroundings. Despite Blanche’s doubts that Stella really lives in such a place, Eunice assures her that she has found the right address. She is shocked of where her sister lives and cannot believe it. When Blanche discloses she is Stella’s sister, Eunice escorts Blanche into the apartment. Eunice wants to chat, but Blanche asks her to be alone, claiming to be tired from her trip.
She wanted to talk with her about her home-place, the plantation “Belle Reve”, but Blanche does not want to talk about that. To me it seems aswell that she refuses it to talk with Eunice, because she is not posh and uneducated. Blanche clings to the manners and speech of Southern gentility. Pretending it is important to her. It makes her feel special and better than others. When Eunice offers to let her in until Stella is at home, she asks: “How could I do that? ” This question shows the posh and genteel Southern way of life, Blanche is convinced of.
In the following stage direction Tennessee Williams reveals an immense amount of Blanche’s body language, gestures and behaviour: [Blanche sits in a chair very stiffly with her shoulders slightly hunched and her legs pressed close together and her hands tightly clutching her purse as if she were quiet cold. After a while the blind look goes out of her eyes and she begins to look slowly around. A cat screeches. She catches her breath with a startled gesture. Suddenly she notices something in a half-open closet. She springs up and crosses to it, and removes a whiskey bottle. She pours a half tumbler of whiskey and tosses it down.
She carefully replaces the bottle and washes out the tumbler at the sink. Then she resumes her seat in front of the table. ] The way she sits, her behaviour when the cat screeches and the sudden impulse of alcohol to calm her nerves down, show that she is very insecure, nervous and not confident. She has problems and thinks that her sister’s home is a horrible place to live. Spying a bottle of whiskey in the closet, she suddenly breaks out of her dejected stupor. She pours a healthy shot, downs it immediately, replaces the bottle, cleans her tumbler, and returns to her original pose.
The fact that she tries to keep it a secret that she has drunk whiskey is an evidence for her insecurity aswell. She drinks on the sly in order to withdraw from the harsh reality. Her nervousness is shown in the sentence “I’ve got to keep hold myself! ” that she says. Whatever has caused Blanche’s agitation begins to unfold soon after Stella returns. They embrace and Blanche talks feverishly and seems nearly hysterical. She tells Stella to turn off the over-light, because she does not want to be seen the way she looks like at the moment.