Critical Essay- Demise of an Unwashed Grape

Discuss the idea(s) developed by the text creator in your chosen text about the role self-perception plays when individuals seek to reconcile the conflict between illusion and reality.

     Individuals desire to be perceived as valuable and worthy of admiration: by both themselves and those around them. Some are even willing to go to extremities, such as toying with reality, to make sure this positive perception is concretely instilled. When an individual longs for a glamorous self-perception, that longing is often seen to be fulfilled through embracing extravagantly fabricated illusions, and dismissing harsh realities. This allows the person to mask what they wish to not be a visible element to their created persona. If one fails to reconcile the conflict between their created imaginary world of bliss and unpleasant reality, it often leads to the ultimate demise of the person’s self-perception. For instance, an individual whose previous actions have made them distaste their current reality, may yearn for an illusionary world in which they find bliss and the hope to reconcile this conflict in order to create a factual, validated self-perception. That is oftentimes because if their self is being built mainly upon a false perception, frequently the consequences are seen to devastate the individual completely. In Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, it is seen that when an individual’s reality is not satisfactory, they often cower and seek satisfaction through the acceptance of illusions in order to achieve a self-perception that brings false contentment. In turn, an individual’s self-perception is shaped by whether they are able to reconcile this conflict or not, when there are consequences.

     One might argue that the initial obstacle an individual faces when they wish to reconcile the conflict between illusion and reality is facing the falsehood of their self-perception instead of conceding to it. Williams exemplifies this through the description of Antebellum Blanche DuBois as a moth: a creature who is often looked at as a dull, colourless imitation of a butterfly who pursues the one thing that also hurts it- light. It is demonstrated that Blanche finds ease in remaining in a “cocoon” where she can live luxuriously, as her glamours younger self did at Belle Reve, without light, or reality, exposing what she hides in the cocoon. This allows Blanche to be comfortable with a false self-perception which she imposes on others’ perceptions of her. Constantly she praises her powdered-youthful appearance, and desires praise about her appearance from others. Through this, Blanche seeks validation that some part of her cocoon—her illusionary world— is in line with reality. Consequently, this validation allows her to build a small path to bridge the vast gap, to reconcile, the differences between fact and fantasy. Blanche’s desire to pursue a settlement of differences is explicit, but her need to have a factual glamorous life without having to come to terms with her real self-perception proves to be an ever-present obstacle. Throughout the novel, it is deemed necessary for Blanche to break away from that old habitual, reassuring illusions in which she attempts to falsely perceive herself as content, in order to create a self-perception that is real and acceptable and won’t lead to her demise.

     Despite the soothing comfort that comes with embracing illusions that allow one to perceive themselves however they wish, the purpose behind residing in said illusion is often found to be a method through which one can taint reality, and one’s self-perception- to be finally tangible and as good as one’s dreams. Furthermore, accommodation of reality alongside fantasy would allow one to escape the demise that follows a false persona. Blanche encounters Mitch, who finds her to be beautiful. This excites Blanche as she sees him as a tangible rope connecting her illusionary self-perception to reality. Blanche quickly clings to him as a means through which she can perhaps find her salvation and reconcile the conflict she faces between illusion and reality. At this point, reality almost seems adequate and comforting enough for Blanche to rekindle her relationship with it through Mitch. However, the relationship is built upon the unsteady foundation of Blanche’s feigned persona, and is unable to endure the truths reality brings. Mitch addresses Blanche’s dishonesty, calling her “impure”, and stating their relationship to be over. With her final hope of salvation ruined by her illusionary self-perception, Blanche recoils back into her cocoon where she is admired, and acknowledges reality too ugly to attempt to settle with. As illustrated by Williams, when an individual, like Blanche, is unwilling to reveal and concede to the reality of their current self, it is unlikely for them to reconcile the conflict between reality and their preferred facade. The individual eventually resides solely in the contentment of their imaginary world.

     With the failure of an individual’s one last attempt to finally be perceived as beautiful and admirable by themselves and others, said individual is often seen retreating back to their cocoon and away from the light that reminds them of their drabness. This was illustrated when Blanche saw she could not become a butterfly she so strongly desired to become due to her continuous fibbing and residence in an illusionary world. By this point, Blanche is both unwilling and unable to reconcile the conflict between illusion and reality because she is afraid of the consequences facing reality brings. Interestingly, she fails to acknowledge the consequences that come with attempting to find refuge in something that doesn’t exist: her illusions. A desired self-perception may be achieved through these illusions, but there will be no peace until the strife that arises with embracing illusions and completely dismissing reality has been settled. Ultimately, near the end of the book is where the consequent demise of her not reconciling this conflict is depicted. Gaudy Stanley Kowalski, arguably the colourful, confident butterfly Blanche wishes to be like, strips her entirely of the minuscule faith she had in reality finally being as good as her dreams. By raping her, he destroys her both mentally and physically. Becoming a butterfly is far too out of reach for her. Desperately, Blanche retreats into her cocoon where she can once again be glamorous, and once again immerse herself in the contentment of self-validation. However, conclusively unable to reconcile the conflict between illusion and reality and create a tangibly admirable self-perception, this utter retreat leaves nothing of her in reality. At this point, her reality is her imaginary world. As her sister, Stella, and Stanley send her off to the mental asylum, Blanche giddily creates an idyllic scene in which she is going on a cruise with her rich friend Shep Huntleigh, and states that she “shall die of eating an unwashed grape” (170). Grapes are associated with a life of luxury, and by stating it to be the cause of her death, she implicitly states the haunting extent to which she will perceive herself through her delusions. Her self-perception is sculpted by how she wishes to be seen, and unfortunately at this point it is so extravagantly fabricated that even those closest to her tangibly exile her from reality: having deemed her unable to settle illusion and reality.

     Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire, highlights the human need to perceive themselves as valued, even if that means embracing illusions and dismissing reality. Often, this is done because one finds solace and comfort in an imaginary world they’ve created, rather than facing the the bitter truth. False contentment through illusions though, is proven to ultimately distance an individual from facts to an extent where it can lead to their demise. Furthermore, when an individual desires simply to be admired by those around them and themselves, they may create and maintain facades in order to live solely from the happiness of their imaginary worlds. This in turn is when one fiddles with reality: altering it into something that appreciates their coveted self-perception. One might argue that self-perception’s role when an individual seeks to reconcile the conflict between illusion and reality depends on how they wish to see themselves, and can totally make or break their factual self.

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