The Amazing Dichotomies of “A Streetcar Named Desire”
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Light and dark, kindness and cruelty, realism and fantasy, all of them dichotomies used by Tennessee Williams in A Streetcar Named Desire. Tennessee Williams uses many dichotomies, clear cut divisions, to illustrate main points. The most prominent dichotomy is the sweet and fragile Blanche opposed to the cruel and savage Stanley. The play also highlights other dichotomies such as strong and delicate, hidden and open, and purity and filth. Basically, Tennessee Williams uses dichotomies to show main points of theme, and Tennessee Williams also use dichotomies to show that viewing life in clear cut options with no grey area is a cause of many problems.
One of the main of the themes shown by Tennessee Williams is the fragile balance of delicate people and his or her shaky mental ground. For example, the dichotomy of shadows and lights in the play illustrates the fine line of sanity and insanity. For instance, the point in the play where Mitch and Blanche are speaking and Mitch abruptly rips off the paper lantern is a perfect example of Blanche’s sanity. The light, representing truth in general, is too much for Blanche to handle and she quickly draws back into the shadows. Blanche’s example shows how delicate people are incapable of viewing the complete and absolute truth about his or herself, and use the shadows, or lies, to maintain the fine balance of sanity and insanity. Second, yet another theme supported by a dichotomy is the theme of difference of social classes. Blanche is an aristocratic, arrogant woman while Stanley is a common Polish person. The spilt shows that the once rich Blanche is quick to judge and look down on people while Stanley is more likely to give people a chance before judging him or her.
For example, Blanche’s is proven quick to judge when she states,” Well if you forgive me he’s common.” However, Stanley while not a saint is shown to be more understanding because of his Hispanic friend Pablo. If Stanley were quick to judge like Blanche he surely would not befriend a minority. Getting back to the main point, the dichotomy of class division clearly shows there are differences between the rich and the middle class, and they way they judge and act toward others. A final theme, which is revealed by a dichotomy, is the kindness of strangers reveled by the contrast in behavior between Stanley and Mitch in relation to Blanche.
For example while Mitch is kind to Blanche, Stanley is cruel to Blanche. Mitch shows complete kindness to Blanche, even dating her and offering a cleft in the world to hide from her problems. However, Stanley is the complete opposite of Mitch, for example, when Stanley tells Mitch about Blanche’s scandalous lifestyle in order to ruin their relationship. The dichotomy shows Blanche is clearly more dependent on kindness, and straining under pressure when attacked cruelly by Stanley. By Blanche’s example it comes to light that fragile people are dependent on strangers for kindness and for said strangers to protect said fragile people against the cruelties of the world. Through the use of dichotomies Tennessee Williams is able to reveal many important themes throughout the novel.
Through the use of dichotomies Tennessee Williams is able to show another main, and perhaps the most important aspect of the novel, not to view life in black and white with no gray area. One character, which has major issuses with said theme, is Blanche. Throughout the novel Blanche is constantly living perfect dichotomies. Blanche’s first major dichotomy is her thought that she must live in perfect purity. For example, Blanche is constantly searching for the purity that eludes her. For example, Blanche’s drive for purity is so strong, when Stella spills soda on Blanche, she has a near mental breakdown for her carefully maintained clothes became impure. Blanche is unable to deal with anything filthy or dirty, in an attempt to hide her own shame from herself. Because of Blanche’s inability to deal with anything impure, her life is often filled with constraints and sorrows. Normal functioning people are able to deal with a bit of impurity, in fact there is no completely clean person on earth, so most people whom are able to deal with gray areas are able to adapt. However, Blanche is capable of only viewing light and dark areas, thus any bit of impurity impedes her and makes life near impossible.
Another dichotomy Blanche shows trouble with is the dichotomy of light and shadows, the choice of being in clear view, or maintaining an illusion. For example, Blanche is always hiding behind the shadows and dimming the light wherever possible, as she does with the paper lantern at the beginning of the play. Also, Blanche does a superb job of hiding her physical appearance from others, shown by her example of never wanting to meet Mitch during the day when the light is the greatest and more likely to reveal her true nature to the world. Obvious problems arise; Blanche is never fully able to be in the light so she is drawn away from others. Also, Blanche is constantly shrouded in the shadows of her dichotomy, so she is never able to know her true self and forgive her tragic mistake.
Finally, another dichotomy Blanche is fond of his the spilt between reality and her own fantasy world. Blanche is clearly drawn to the magic of fantasy and refuses to mix reality with her world. For example, Blanche states, “I don’t want realism. I want magic,” and by this quote as well, “I don’t tell the truth. I tell what ought to be the truth.” Because Blanche cannot see reality, she becomes dreamy and incapable of taking anything seriously, such as her relationship with Mitch or her impending doom with Stanley and Stella’s household. By Blanche’s example it is reveled living in dichotomies is often painful, time consuming, and ultimately damaging to anyone who lives with black and white choices.
Tennessee Williams also uses other characters and dichotomies to show the folly of living in perfect dichotomies. For example, a dichotomy of fragile and sturdy is clearly shown between Blanche and Stanley. Blanche has already been established as a character with weak mental stability and incapable of viewing truth or reality. Stanley is a sturdy character, at least mentally, shown by his realistic attitude and for his ability to think clearly, which Blanche clearly lacks. However, since both characters are on the extreme side of the spectrum of fragility and sturdiness, both are flawed. Blanche is flawed in the fact she is incapable of anything out of her comfort zone, and she is unable to deal with rough people. On the other hand, Stanley is flawed in the fact he is too sturdy, showing no signs of fragility, thus destroying anyone who happens to be fragile, like Stanley did to Blanche. Another dichotomy shown to be bad is the dichotomy of kindness and cruelty, also shown by Blanche and Stanley. Blanche is shown to be kind by a quote by Stella. “Nobody, nobody, was tender and trusting as she was.” Stella’s quote shows clear admiration of the kindness Blanche has for other people.
However, Stanley is proven to be cruel in his actions toward Blanche. Even his wife Stella knows his cruelty, “You needn’t have been so cruel to someone alone as she is.” The dichotomy shows the need for a middle ground between kindness and cruelty. Blanche, if not so kind and tender, could defend her sanity against the cruelty of Stanley. Also, if Stanley was not so cruel, he would not add to the eventual downfall of Blanche’s sanity. A final dichotomy illustrated between differences in Stanley and Blanche is the dichotomy between unbending realism and unseeing fantasy. Blanche has already proven in her unwillingness and inability to see reality, thus living in a world of pure fantasy. Stanley is proven to be a realistic by his unwillingness to play Blanche’s games, and by his unwillingness to accept Blanche’s lies and stories as truth. There are clear problems for both extremes of the scale. Blanche shows living in a fantasy world dims one’s perception of the true world. However, living in a complete realist world with no room for fantasy breeds people with no tolerance for imagination or fantasy, as shown by Stanley and his complete lack of tolerance toward Blanche’s fantasies. Tennessee Williams shows through the characters of Blanche and Stanley that a common middle ground is needed for day-to-day living.
By Tennessee Williams’ example he shows that dichotomies are good tools to help to reveal themes within works of literature, and life in general. By the contrast of two main ideas Tennessee Williams is able to bring one main theme to be seen. Also, Tennessee Williams shows that dichotomies are an integral part of living, and to function fully in society one needs to find a middle ground between dichotomies. However, Tennessee Williams’ message goes further, by showing dichotomies are everywhere, and by trying to live life perfectly in black and white creates more problems. Tennessee Williams use of dichotomies beg for others to understand one another rather than viewing everything in dichotomies, and to ask the world to find a middle ground, and not make the same mistakes that plague the characters of A Streetcar Named Desire.