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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES

SCENE NINE

Later that evening Blanche is drinking alone. "The Varsouviana" in the background suggests that she is thinking about her past.

Mitch arrives, unshaven and dressed in work clothes. This is a Mitch you haven't seen before. Blanche quickly hides the bottle. You can tell that he's ready to accuse Blanche of deceiving him. Why he needs to do so is puzzling.

Gruffly, he ignores her offer of a kiss and turns down a drink. Although Blanche is slightly drunk, she's not unaware that Mitch is troubled. As her tension mounts, the music playing in her mind intensifies. Mitch can't hear it, of course, and thinks only that Blanche has drunk too much.

Mitch accuses her of "lapping up [liquor] all summer." Then he startles her by forcing her to turn on a bright light. "I don't think I ever seen you in the light," he says. To get a good look at her, Mitch tears the paper lantern off the light bulb. If you recall that he mounted the lantern on the night they met, what does its removal probably symbolize?

Mitch charges Blanche with deceit. She protests vigorously, preferring to call her misrepresentations "magic." She says, "I don't tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth." Clearly, Blanche and Mitch view the world differently. To Blanche illusions are harmless fabrications that make her feel young and alluring. However, Mitch, like Stanley, can't distinguish between illusion and deceit.


NOTE:

If Blanche is a tragic figure, she needs a tragic flaw, a quality of personality that leads to her destruction. Ordinarily the flaw may be rather harmless; it might even be admirable. But because of the circumstances in which the tragic figure finds himself, the flaw is lethal. With this in mind, you can probably infer Blanche's tragic flaw from her dialogue with Mitch.

Blanche tries to defend against Mitch's charges by lying. Earlier Blanche won his sympathy with the woeful tale of her marriage. Now she tries to sway him with the next chapter of her heartbreaking story. She explains why she had become intimate with strangers.

Suddenly, they are interrupted by the calls of a blind Mexican vendor, selling funeral flowers made of tin. Frightened, Blanche tells the uncomprehending Mexican that death led to loss of Belle Reve and to the decline of her happiness and love. She begins to repeat confusing fragments of conversations from her past. The opposite of death, she says, is desire. To prove that she had not been warped by death, she gave herself to young soldiers stationed near Belle Reve. Some might call her action degrading and immoral. Blanche saw it as an affirmation of life.

NOTE:

Some critics think that Blanche seems too delicate to have been the whore for a company of soldiers. On the contrary, say other critics. Because Blanche is loving and sensitive, she reacted vehemently to her husband's death. It took a monstrous act to fill her vast emptiness. Her nightly intimacies with soldiers, therefore, are fully understandable.

Unmoved or possibly bewildered by Blanche's tale, Mitch declares that he wants Blanche to give what she's denied him all summer-her body. Only if he'll marry her, she protests. Disgusted, Mitch says that Blanche isn't clean enough to bring into the same house as his mother. He advances, intent on raping her. To scare him off Blanche rushes to the window shouting, "Fire! Fire! Fire!" as Mitch runs off.

SCENE TEN

Blanche is left alone and without hope. A weaker person might do away with herself. But Blanche is likely to find a way out, perhaps in her fantasy world. When this scene opens you find Blanche talking aloud to herself about a moonlight swim in a rock quarry. Is she drunk? Or has her mind become unhinged? You can't be sure until Stanley comes in.

First she asks about Stella. The baby hasn't come yet, so Stanley will spend the night at home. Blanche suddenly becomes wary, alarmed at the thought of being alone in the apartment with him.

He asks about her fine attire. Blanche explains that Shep Huntleigh has invited her on a Caribbean yacht cruise. Stanley plays along with Blanche's fantasy, asking questions and implying that Shep may want more than just Blanche's companionship. She objects and starts to lecture him on the transitory nature of physical things. What lasts, she says is "beauty of the mind and richness of the spirit and tenderness of the heart." To some extent these words may define a philosophy of life that Blanche has unsuccessfully tried to live by. On second thought, perhaps you can find evidence that supports Blanche's partial success.

She stops short, realizing that she's casting pearls before swine-wasting her words on someone who can't appreciate them. Stanley bristles at the word "swine," but holds his tongue. Not for long, however, for when Blanche tells how she has put Mitch in his place for being cruel to her, Stanley explodes in anger. As Stanley's temper builds, Blanche senses danger. To emphasize her terror, stage lighting suddenly engulfs the room in long dancing shadows and lurid reflections. Blanche rushes to the phone to call Shep for help. Meanwhile Stanley retreats to the bathroom to don his special silk pajamas.

He comes out barechested, and grinning. His threatening words cause Blanche to smash a bottle on the table edge and use the jagged top to fend him off. Stanley is excited by the prospect of rough-housing with Blanche. He approaches her cautiously. When she swings at him, he catches her wrist and forces her to drop the weapon. She collapses at his feet. Then he picks up her limp form and carries her into the bedroom.

Is there any reason for Stanley to rape Blanche? Is he a savage or a rapist at heart? Or does he only want to cap his victory over Blanche with this ultimate act of degradation? Rape is such a complex and violent crime that it's usually not easy to identify the motives, although they are worth thinking about.

You might ask who is the winner in the end? And the answer might well be both-Stanley because he achieved gratification: sex, even though it was rape; and Blanche, because she did not submit to her baser instincts and had to be raped.

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