#6 - Illusion and Reality
Is illusion necessary to life? Discuss the role of illusion in the play.
I believe that illusion is not necessary to everyone's life but rather it helps them to avoid the harsh realities that they may have to deal with in their lives. I also believe that a major theme of this play was how our lives can often experience a fierce battle between these illusions. In the case of "A Streetcar Named Desire" there are many examples where the characters are simply hiding in or behind illusions and where the characters may try to destroy or protect their illusions or those of others.
The best example is found by looking to the main character. Blanche Dubois was a troubled woman who throughout the play lives her life in illusions. The story begins with Blanche going to New Orleans to stay with her sister Stella, and her husband Stanley for a while. Here, the illusions are revealed and the battle between the illusions and the characters will begin. 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" (1368). 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" (1368).
However, as we are eventually are shown, this illusion wouldn't last forever. The young couple got married and, to Blanche, were falling more and more in love, when one day "coming into a room that I thought was empty" (1368), this illusion would be shattered. In this room were her husband, Allan, and a older male friend of his. Allan Grey was gay. Soon, Blanche realised 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!" (1368). She was falling farther 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..." (1369). With this, Allan runs outside and kills himself. I believe that Allan killed himself more so because he realised Blanche would no longer help him than because she knew. He believed that if there was anyone who would help him make it through this whole ordeal, it would be Blanche.
Because of all this, Blanche fell into another illusion. She figured that if she were loved again, the way Allan and her were meant to be, then she could be happy again. So, "after the death of Allan - intimacies with strangers was all I seemed able to fill my empty heart with..." (1380 - 1381). The illusion, now, was that out of all these men she would be with, one of them will be the right one for her and will take care of her. This was her desire, to be happy again, to be loved. But soon her intimacies got out of control and she once made the mistake of trying to seduce a 17 - year old student of hers. Because of this, she was told to get out of her town.
When Blanche gets to New Orleans, she decides that in order to not reveal anything, she must create the illusions that she is happy and the reason she is there is because she's on vacation. This is so that nobody would think less of her. For example, when she first arrives and meets with Stella, she keeps saying that the quality of the apartment that Stella lives is not good enough for Stella to live in. And she was always having baths so no one would see her dirty or tired. Blanche believes that she is too old so she uses the darkness to shield herself.
Soon, she meets a friend of Stanley's, Mitch, and eventually she starts to think that maybe he is the one. Immediately, she realises that Mitch needs someone too, and eventually he even tells her so ("You need somebody and I need somebody too" (1369)). But, Blanche has learned from her mistakes and honestly gives an effort to take it slow. She tells Stella the day after Stanley beat her that she is trying to "get hold of myself and make myself a new life." (1353). And near the end, when Blanche and Mitch are having their big conflict of the play, she even tells him that "I thanked God for you, because you seemed to be gentle - a cleft in the rock of the world that I could hide in!" (1381).
But at the same time, she is telling Mitch how she is old fashioned and tries to be as much of a sweetheart as possible, whie not revealing her age or past. But, Stanley doesn't buy into her facades and starts questioning her and others about her last few years. When he finds out the truth, he sets out to destroy her illusions and let everyone know the real Blanche. He does this half because he is straightforward and doesn't like to be deceived (ex. - he doesn't like it when Blanche doesn't want to tell him about Belle Reve) and half because at first he believed some of the things she had told them (like the Belle Reve story and how she was just on vacation) and it by doing it, it was like a self - redemption.
When she was caught in her illusions (or lies), Blanche said to Mitch:
"I don't want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic!
I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them.
I don't tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth.
And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it!" (1380)
However, Blanche was not the only one with illusions as a major part of her life. If examined, you will find that Stella and Stanley did as well. The illusions were much stronger with Stella and Stanley than with Blanche as well, mainly because they had each other to reinforce them. In the early part of Scene 4, after Stanley and Stella have made up about the beating, Blanche comes to see if Stella is okay. Even after saying, "I want to go away," (1349), when Blanche tries to convince her that staying with Stanley is the wrong thing to do, Stella keeps changing the subject and making excuses for Stanley's craziness - "you and Eunice had breakfast?" (1353), "He's taking the radio to get fixed" (1353).
Finally, and ironically, Blanche says, "pull yourself together and face the facts" (1353) and tells Stella to get out while she can. But the illusion that what her and Stanley have is pure love is too strong. In Stanley's case however, I think that he honestly believes it. It isn't just an illusion to him, it is his reality. Also, a major illusion that Stella had is shown in the statement in the final scene, Scene 11, where Stella tells Eunice, " I couldn't believe her story and go on living with Stanley," who replies, "Don't ever believe it. Life has got to go on. No matter what happens, you've got to keep going." (1388). Here it almost seems as though Stella is realising what is reality and what is not and she knows that she shouldn't know.
So, it is true that some people feel and believe that it is necessary to create illusions. They may do it for many different reasons, such as in "A Streetcar Named Desire." They may want to hide something like Allan and Blanche did, try to impress someone, also as Blanche did, or it could be a form of denial as with Stella and Stanley. Whatever reason, it happens to just about everyone everyday.