How important are illusions and fantasy as themes in 'A Streetcar Named Desire?'

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By Daniela Mc Donough                                  Page

How important are illusions and fantasy as themes in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire?’

        ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, by Tennessee Williams, explores many important themes and issues in the book. The main theme Williams investigates and explores to the audience, is illusion and fantasy. Each character in the book contributes to creating, adding to and destructing fantasies and illusions, and I feel it is a very important theme in the book, as it represents and symbolises other issues Williams explores with the audience.

The play ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ revolves around the character Blanche Dubois; therefore, the main theme of the drama concerns her directly. In Blanche, the audience is shown the tragedy of an individual, caught between two worlds – the world of her past and the world of her present, unwilling to let go of the past and unable, because of her character, to come to any sort of terms with her present. The final result at the end of the play is the deterioration of her mind and character and her self-destruction.

             Blanche dwells in illusion; fantasy is her primary means of self-defence against her weaknesses and shortcomings. The story begins with Blanche going to New Orleans to stay with her sister Stella and her husband Stanley. Straight away, we are introduced to Blanche’s illusions and the battle between the illusions and the characters begins. We are introduced to Blanche, who immediately reveals to us her deceptive nature, as “she pours herself a half tumbler of whisky… she carefully replaces the bottle and washes out the tumbler at the sink”, yet she tells Stanley, regarding the drink: “I – rarely touch it.” Already, we see that Blanche is creating illusions about her alcohol and refuses to acknowledge her problem with it.

Blanche also creates an illusion about her image and appearance, and the symbol of a paper lantern used to cover the light, creates this illusion to the audience, and she even tells Stella “the soft people have got to – shimmer and glow – put a – paper lantern over the light” i.e. illusions need to be created to survive. Throughout the play, light is used as a symbol of the truth, so Blanche uses a paper lantern to hide from the light and from the truth – “ Turn that over-light off! Turn that off! I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare!”

However, as the play progresses, the audience realises the reality of Blanche’s life, and we get an idea of Blanche’s turbulent past, and we discover how her illusions were created.

What initially leads to her illusions is love. When she was young, "sixteen, I made the discovery - love.  All at once and much, much too completely".  She met Allan Grey, the perfect man - he had "a nervousness, a softness and tenderness which wasn't like a man's, although he wasn't the least bit effeminate" However, as we are eventually are shown, this illusion wouldn't last forever. Allan turns out to be gay, and Blanche soon realises that all along he had been trying to let her know and get "the help he needed but couldn't speak of!  He was in the quicksands and clutching at me - but I wasn't holding him out, I was slipping in with him!"  She was falling further into the illusion with each passing second with her love, because she couldn't really believe that he was with her and was for real. Allan was in fact an illusion himself, by trying to appear straight to everyone.  At first, they would try to deny it but the illusion would soon be totally destroyed when Blanche let it slip while they were dancing that "I saw!  I know!  You disgust me..." Because of all this, Blanche falls into an illusion, and she truly believes that if she were loved again, she would be happy – “after the death of Allan-intimacies with strangers was all I seemed able to fill my empty heart with. …You’ve got to have your existence admitted by someone, if you’re going to have someone’s protection.” However, the audience learns that these intimacies got out of control, and she was told to leave her town as a result. When Blanche arrives in New Orleans, she creates more illusions, trying to convince herself and everyone around her that she is on vacation. From this point on in the play, Blanche’s lies and illusions spiral out of control, and even she cannot keep control of what she has said: “Was this before or after the telegram came / What telegram? No! No” when Stanley is interrogating her about Shep Huntleigh’s contact with her.

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Throughout the play, Blanche seems constantly to be in the bathroom, which annoys Stanley greatly - “Hey, canary bird!… Get OUT of the BATHROOM!” and in scene seven, when Stanley is finally revealing to Stella and to the audience about Blanche’s past for the first time, Blanche is singing to herself while she is bathing. The lines to the words she sings are ironic and reveals her illusions, and it is ironic in the sense that to the reader, it seems that Blanche is singing in response to what Stanley is saying about her  – “Just as phony as it can ...

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