To what extent can Blanche Dubois be considered a tragic hero?

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Blanche DuBois is often referred to as a ‘tragic figure.’ How does Williams’ presentation of this

character allow her to be seen in this way?

        Aristotle defined ‘Tragedy’ around 330BC: “Tragedy, then, is an imitation of a noble and complete action; . . . and achieves, through the representation of pitiable and fearful incidents, the catharsis of such incidents.” In a tragedy, the tragic hero is tested by suffering; as a result they’re forced to face the consequences. Some will be crushed by their misfortune and may even die; others will somehow overcome their difficulties. Aristotle also states that the character must be of noble character – defined not by birth but rather by moral choice.

        This does not mean that they’re perfect. There would be a sense of outrage if the individual were not marred in some way and yet still suffered. Conversely, a tragic hero can not be completely heinous. Aristotle felt the best type of tragic hero will fall somewhere between the two extremes – “. . . a person who is neither perfect in virtue and justice, nor one who falls into misfortune through vice and depravity, but rather, one who succumbs through some miscalculation.” When the character is presented to the audience, there is empathy as their flaw (Hamartia) humanises them; a sense that it could happen to anyone because of this Hamartia, which while contributing to the character’s lack of perfection, is essentially an error of judgement, so that along with their hubris it has disastrous results.

        The outcome of the tragedy might yield an increase in self-awareness or discovery and even a reversal of fortune so although the ending is not a happy one, there is a degree of closure – not only is the experience cathartic for the tragic hero but also for the audience.

        So how far does Tennessee Williams’ character Blanche DuBois meet Aristotle’s criteria? In Williams’ essay ‘On a Streetcar Named Success’ in The New York Times on the 30th November 1947, he comments “You cannot arbitrarily say to yourself, I will now continue my life as it was before this thing.” Williams was referring to the success he had achieved in his writing but it’s easy to see how this could apply to Blanche. She lives in the past, clinging to the glamour of the family home, Belle Reve, and the life it promised her, to a time before the deaths of her parents, family and the subsequent loss of the family estate; a time of innocence when she was unaware of her husband’s homosexuality and sudden suicide. Blanche represents old fashioned values, a way of life filled with graciousness and chivalry. But when Blanche arrives in Elysian Fields, she is confronted by Stanley, and everything that he represents – a modern world, one charged with energy, hurtling aggressively towards materialism. It’s difficult for these contrasting worlds to be sympathetic to one another and it’s almost inevitable that they should clash.

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        In some respects, Blanche’s eventual fall from grace is implied from the beginning of the play, in scene 1 she says “They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and then ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields.” Williams’ use of the word ‘streetcar’ to invoke the image of a journey symbolic of Blanche’s journey, combined with desire and death – Blanche’s hope “. . . to get back on her feet” - leads unwittingly to her demise. The very name ‘Elysian Fields’ – resting place of the blessed dead ...

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This is a very well presented essay. There is evidence of sharp insight into the play, especially the contradictions and evasiveness of Blanche's inner/outer lives and her fragile self pride and delusion. Quotations and text references are well chosen and effectively used. Paragraph and sentence structure are excellent, with very few grammatical mistakes and excellent lexical resource. The argument is closely developed throughout, leading to an effective conclusion, but this could have been improved by measuring the findings against the Aristotelian definitions of tragedy introduced in the first paragraph. Nevertheless, this is a very good essay. 5 stars