Apart from her sister, Blanche is alone in the world. She loved
once, and deeply, but since the death of her husband, the world
has had no love in it for her. She longs for a deep connection
with another human being. But her pathetic attempt to find love
through sexual affairs with casual acquaintances has only made
her situation worse. The attraction she feels toward very young
men (the young man who come to the apartment for newspaper money,
for example) is an attempt to reproduce the one magical, fulfilling
thing Blanche had found in life—her love for her young
husband. The more desperate Blanche becomes in her loneliness,
the more deeply she digs herself into it.
Mitch is lonely too.
He only has his mother and he is shortly to lose her. The brief
moment of hope that he and Blanche share, when it seems as if
they might find happiness together, is a poignant and tender
moment in a world that will not sustain such romantic hopes
for long. At least it will not do so for Blanche, and probably
not for Mitch either, who also seems bound for failure and continued
loneliness in life.
and loneliness is contrasted with the hearty embrace that Stanley
gives to life. He enters into male friendships with an easy
camaraderie, and he effortlessly wins and retains Stella’s
love. Unlike Blanche, he is well adapted to his environment.
So are Steve and Eunice. They belong where they are; it is only
Blanche who is rootless, unable to find her own niche.
Blanche is sufficiently self-aware to know that she cannot survive
in the world as it is. Reality is too harsh, so she must somehow
create illusions that will allow her to maintain her delicate,
fragile hold on life. “A woman’s charm is fifty
percent illusion” (scene 2) she acknowledges to Stanley.
And then when Mitch wants to switch the light on so that he
can get a realistic look at her, she tells him that she does
not want realism, she wants magic. This means that she seeks
to manipulate reality until it appears to be what Blanche thinks
it ought to be. She wants life to be lived in a permanent romantic
glow, like the light that lit up the entire world when she first
fell in love. But in this play, reality dominates. The realism
of the setting, with its down-to-earth characters and the sounds
of the busy life of this corner of New Orleans, suggests that
Blanche’s illusions are not going to be sufficient. The
fact that Blanche is probably aware of this too is what wins
her the sympathy of the audience. Eventually, her thin hold
on reality disappears altogether and she takes refuge in an
illusory world in which she is about to go on a trip with her
imaginary rich beau.
Sex and Death
The audience is given an early clue to the theme of sex and
death when Blanche in scene 1 describes the directions she was
given to reach her sister’s house. She was told to take
a streetcar named Desire, and then take another called Cemeteries.
The theme is stated
again in scene 9, when Blanche says that the opposite of death
is desire. Blanche means love as well as sexual desire—
the need for connection with another person. She does not admire
the raw desire embodied by Stanley, even though it is sexual
passion that makes Stella and Stanley (as well, in a lesser
way, as Steve and Eunice) so fully alive in a way that Blanche
is not. Stanley and Stella know how to keep the “colored
lights” going, which is their term for rewarding sexual
relations. Everything about Stanley suggests that sexual fulfillment
is the center of his life. The playwright emphasizes this in
the stage direction that accompanies Stanley’s first appearance:
“Animal joy in his being is implicit in all his movements
and attitudes.” His sexuality is the “complete and
satisfying center” of his life.
Blanche, on the other
hand, finds that her desires are continually frustrated. She
is associated with death—the death of her relatives at
Belle Reve, and the death by suicide of her husband, which still
haunts her. Reminders of death keep popping up to torment Blanche—the
inscription on Mitch’s cigarette case, the Mexican woman
who sells flowers for funerals. It was to stave off this death-impulse
that Blanche indulged in promiscuous sex after her husband’s
death. This was simply an attempt to keep life going, to stop
her from withering inside, and to try to rekindle the transforming
love and desire she had felt for her husband. But sensitive
Blanche is no healthy animal like Stanley, which is why she
is bound for failure and madness, while the final sight of Stanley
is of him comforting Stella and reaching inside her blouse.