The Falsity of Perception
Discuss the idea(s) developed by the text creator in your chosen text about the interplay between how individuals perceive themselves and are perceived by others
It is often said that individuals are of what they do not know, terrified of what they do know, and frightened of what they have the potential of finding out. They are fearful, because they believe that the way they are perceived is not reflective of the way they perceive themselves, and this a disharmony is created between the two ideals. They are terrified, because they know that the knowledge they hold in their hands does not only have the potential of destroying their lives, but also the lives of others around them. They are frightened, because the threat of knowing so much, only to be backed into the corner with the threat of knowing more triggers them in a protective response. They begin to build walls around the parts of their identity hat they feel are too shameful to be spoken about, and all they desire is for that they way they perceive themselves will be in line with how others actually perceive them. However, in that desire also lies treachery. Treachery of the heart, mind, and soul that can only hold so much weight before it begins to fall. Perhaps there is no greater representation of this then in the protagonist in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire in which Blanche Dubois is an aging beauty who succumbs to the effects of being in a society where perception is everything. One might argue that William’s presents the idea that if an individual attempts to maintain a perception of themselves that is completely different from how they wish for others to perceive them, their false perception will eventually diminish, leaving behind the broken pieces of perception both for themselves and for others.
Perception is a very powerful tool, in that it can be a double sided blade in which an individual can choose to stand by as a form of protection or they will be pierced by it. If an individual is not satisfied with the self-perception they have of themselves, they may choose to change it but they run the risk of creating a too big of a discrepancy between self-perception and the perception of others to hold true to the perception they want to believe. Blanche Dubois knows that she is not pure, naïve, and old-fashioned women that she portrays to everyone in Elysian Fields, however she remains convinced in the belief that it does not matter what she thinks of herself, as long as she can deceive others into perceiving her a certain way, her perception will ultimately shape itself to reflect those thoughts. She is a fading beauty, and she fears being long forgotten and left in the dust because of her “dirtiness.” Therefore, she reasons, the image she must convey to others then must be that she is young, barely a day over twenty-five, and has many admirers just crowding for her attention. And though the false perception may work on some, such as Stella, it only serves to make her more suspicious in the eyes of Stanley. She is walking a thin line in her idealistic nature that everything will work out, as opposed to her rational side that argues that the past will never stay in the past. She tells Stella that she was given a break from the school where she was working at, in order to imply that not only does she work hard at her job, but she was the “old maid school teacher.” When in reality, Blanche was fired from her teaching position because she was caught in a relationship with a seventeen year old boy, arguably in an attempt to rekindle her youthfulness. Stella remains blissfully oblivious and still perceives Blanche to be her sister that she looks up to, however Stanley does not display the same level of acceptance and instead questions her further. By doing so, she feels the beginnings of the perception she has built teetering and so says, “I-I’m afraid I’m going to be sick!” Through this quotation it is shown that Blanche’s physical illness serves as a metaphor to the pressure of owning up to both perceptions at the same time. One might argue that Blanche knows that some events will never stay in the past, but regardless she convinces herself that this time they will. Her own naïve belief is perhaps the only thing that rings true in regards to her self-perception and this brings forth the idea of human nature itself, in that an individual is much more comfortable living with lies if it means comfort rather than facing the unknown and in turn the startling realization of truth.
The idea of self-perception is that one will never truly be able to put a veil over it; yet some try, and believe that by doing so they will be able to play off the illusion until one day they pull off the veil to find that their self-perception has completely changed. However, what they don’t realize that every veil is see through and while some might not see the falsehood, there are also some who might- causing confusion and ultimately leading to discrepancies in the identity one works to express. On a few occasions, Blanche has let parts of how she perceives herself to slip through the cracks, and by doing so has allowed more opportunities to become exposed for who she really is. And though this may have been unintentional, it was what would have ultimately occurred, as balancing two different perceptions cannot not be handled all the time. In the interplay between the perception of oneself and others, it becomes imperative to consider that if an individual is not consistent with the mask they put on, it will eventually slip- if not by their hand then by others. Stanley Kowalski knew right from the moment Blanche walked into his life that she was lying, and this is exemplified when Blanche says she hardly has any liquor and Stanley replies “they don’t touch it but sometimes it touches them,” indicating that he knows that she is lying. And though Blanche is flirting with him, at that moment she becomes flustered because she knows that the perception that she wants to portray to Stanley is not the one that he actually has of her. This only causes her to work harder to separate the distance between who she really is and how others perceive her, and she attempts to do this through letting him see a little of her past, the parts that she believes she can acknowledge to the world- such as the death of Allan and the loss of Belle Reve. Blanche’s mind at this point keeps jumping between her own self-perception and the perception of others and thus there are times where she slips, such as when she confides to Stella that there were rumors in Laurel about what Blanche had done. In essence, by growing increasingly desperate to keep both Stanley and Stella away from her past she exemplifies the inherent human need want to believe something with such passion and richness that they believe that they can delude themselves into imaging that falsity as truth.
The way others perceive her comes closer and closer to the way Blanche perceives herself, and she frantically works to push away the eyes that attempt to glance into her past. However, she acts quickly and frantically and thus there starts to become holes in her stories where Stanley is able to get a glimpse of who she really is. He begins to realize that she is in fact “no lily,” and more so then that he suspects her story, and finding proof of her falsity is quick to reveal her to the rest of the world- without Blanche knowing. The act of her not knowing only serves to make others more suspicious of her story, because to them it is shown as a fast cover up at an attempt to disguise the truth. It is often said that individuals fear what they do not know, and there is perhaps no case that rings clearer for that statement then the mind of Blanche Dubois. She consistently fears how others might perceive her, and thus she attempts to frantically steer them away from the self-perception she only knows to be to true. Her attempt to convince an angry Mitch of what Stanley has conveyed to him about her scandalous background only serves to make him more infuriated, and as she works to balance her self-perception along with how he perceives her, she walks a very thin line between exposing too much and destroying his perception completely. However, because she wants to view herself a certain way, in other words she knows that she is fading beauty but she wants to believe that she is in fact still young and can still change for the better. In that same regard, an individual might reach a point of desperation where the feel the uttermost need to be portrayed a certain way and to perceive themselves of a falsity in the same regard and therefore are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that perfect image.
In the play A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams argues that the way an individual chooses to perceive themselves is not necessarily reflective of how that individual wishes for others to perceive them and thus in an attempt to keep the two notions separate, they will create a “false” perception of themselves in order to eventually convince themselves of that reality. If someone chooses to perceive one a certain way that affected individual will eventually start to mold their reality to suit the perceptions expressed by others. In some cases, the individual might do it unknowingly or do it with a lack of motivation because they desire comfort and security much more than the unknown and the false mirrors of perception. Thus, if an individual wants to change how they perceive themselves, they must be willing to put forward the effort to evoke that change. And if not, if they believe that they can and will be able to exist on a false perception, they will exist in the reality that falsity means everything. But that reality is only an illusion, and sooner or later it will come crumbling down. The only question is, how fearful are they of discovering the unknown?