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The Role of the Past in a Streetcar Named Desire

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Luciana Machado 23.09.04 IB English - yr 2 The Role of the Past in a Streetcar Named Desire French writer Andr� Maurois once said: "A man cannot free himself from the past more easily than he can from his own body." This quote exemplifies one of the central themes in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. The past is something that characters are locked within chaining them to secret misdeeds and shameful actions ultimately leading them to the question of reality versus illusion, revealing their weaknessess and leading some of them towards their downfall. Williams presents to the audience the first issues of dealing with the past by one of the protagonists, Blanche. Born and raised in the Southern aristocracy, she cannot free herself from her rich past. She first arrives at the Kowalsky's aparment "daintily dressed in white in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklaces and ear-rings of pearl, white gloves and hat" (pg 117) conveying the idea of a summer classic, completely contrasting with the jungle-like atmosphere of decay prevalent in the French Quarter. The author focuses on Blanche's introduction as a dramatic technique in order to emphasize the idea of someone who is drawn to the past, by simply describing her wardrobe. Her white clothing portray her similar to a moth, drawn by the light, instead of repelled by it as the audience will soon notice. ...read more.


Stanley, in a way, denies his roots by responding to Blanche as she calls him a "Polack", "But what I am is a one hundred per cent American, born and raised in the greatest country on earth and proud as hell of it, so don't ever call me a Polack." (Pg 197) Following Stanley, Mitch is introduced. He acts as a foil to Stanley, as he is clumsy, slow thinking, shy, and insecure. The jokes present at the beginning of scene 33 (pg 144) are a parallel to Mitch, implying that he has spent so much time taking care of his ill mother that he has completely lost his sexual appetite. He has lived with his mother for his entire life, and cannot get away from the comfort zone. The only way to get away is by getting married to Blanche, which at first seems like a good idea for she does everything to look as feminine as possible, trying to conceal her past. For herself, Blanche sees marriage to Mitch as her means of escaping destitution. Men's exploitation of Blanche's sexuality has left her with a poor reputation. This reputation makes Blanche an unattractive marriage prospect, but, because she is destitute, marriage is her only possibility for survival. Her will to impress Mitch is addressed by Williams through the interaction between them, where he speaks ungrammatically short and contemptuous lines, while Blanche evidently speaks with an enormous and overused vocabulary, which is artificially calculated and constructed by her in order for her achieve her aims. ...read more.


The Varsouviana, a song originally from Poland's Warsaw, is used to dramatise the influence of the past on the present. It plays whenever Blanche remembers her past in Belle Reve and especially her husband Alan, who she always refers to as a "boy", emphasising her feeling that they were too young to be married. When the music first appears, in scene one, it is because Stanley asks Blanche if she was married. This immediately shows the audience that the Varsouviana is related to Blanche's past and will be a recurring motif throught the text. The polka and the moment it evokes represent Blanche's loss of innocence. The suicide of the young husband Blanche loved dearly was the event that triggered her mental decline. Since then, Blanche hears the Varsouviana followed by a revolver shot whenever she panics and loses her grip on reality. The music plays in Blanche's brain continuously as a recording that only the audience is likely to hear. In conclusion, the past is therefore recurring as all the characters have something hid, incapacibilitating them from performing some actions. It is unveilled as the play progresses proving once more, than one cannot free itself from it, but instead have to confront it, eventually leading some of them (Blanche) to their human desingtegration. Tennesse Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire conveys the idea of the importance of ancestry and adds to the question of 'does your background affect what kind of actions you will persue in the future'? ...read more.

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