Collision Between Illusion and Reality
The role self-perception plays when an individual seeks to reconcile conflict between illusion and reality.
Many individuals can often feel the harsh effects of the brutality embedded within reality to an extent where they cannot bear to exist. When one’s self perception does not match up with the reality of who they are, the need to escape reality drastically increases. In his modern drama, A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams explores the effects of reality on an individual through the fragile character of Blanche Dubois, who desperately seeks to attain the image of a pure lady worthy of love. Her dream is constantly shattered by the world around her that she cannot seem to fit into. Williams exemplifies the idea that when a fragile individual with a flawed self-perception is conflicted between illusion and reality, they choose to create an illusion of a glorified reality in which their ideal self prevails.
In Laurel, Mississippi, most of the town’s gossip revolved around Blanche Dubois. In her youth, she found out that her late husband, Alan Grey, was homosexual. Upon discovering this, she made a cruel remark to him and he committed suicide shortly after. She then resorted to sleeping with dozens of young men, one being her student, to attempt to convince herself that she was desirable. She was seeking to acquire the one thing that Alan could not give her. As a result of this, Blanche was scarred with a tarnished reputation, but still considered herself a pure woman despite the reality of her innocence vanishing. She needed the attention of these men to create the illusion of being loved without really being emotionally attached to another person, as she was with Alan. It also represents how she was living in her own imaginary world in which she was still a young, beautiful woman. Blanche tried to escape reality further by clinging to alcohol in hopes that it would aid her in forgetting what she had done and who she had become; drinking allowed her to sink deeper into the façade she was trying to create. When she realized that there was no way she could escape the reality surrounding her, Blanche understood that she had to recreate herself and her illusion in a place where people did not know of her recent behavior.
Seeking a place of refuge, Blanche fled to the home of her sister, Stella Kowalski, and her brother in law, Stanley Kowalski, in New Orleans. Immediately, she took on her Old South ideals and portrayed an aristocratic, wealthy woman who held on to her innocence. This role she was playing was exactly the woman she had always wanted to be and knew she was deep inside, but had never actually become. She was constantly telling lies about her past, glorifying her time in Laurel, why she left, and boasting about wealthy old beaus filled with nothing but admiration towards her. To cleanse herself from her sins, Blanche spent most of her time bathing. However, the alcohol she was consuming which was also a liquid was rotting her inside and out; no amount of water would be able to cleanse her from it, or from reality. This act was ultimately a failure in the eyes of Stanley, the man who would bring Blanche to her ultimate demise. The epitome of masculinity, Stanley’s rugged, realistic, and honest personality allowed him to see right through the illusion Blanche was trying to put up. When he tries to confront Blanche about her lies, she responds by saying, “A woman’s charm is fifty per cent illusion, but when a thing is important I tell the truth.” Since she didn’t really know who she was and didn’t like who she had become, Blanche resorted to telling lies about practically everything. This is interesting because she states that when things are important she tells the truth, but nothing is important to her anymore. All of her efforts are focused on maintaining her illusion that she disregards realistic problems.
After Stanley breaks into her imaginary world and invades it with reality, Blanche crumbles. He is informed of the real reason Blanche was fired from her job and her relationships with other men, shattering her illusion of a pure woman. Because her self perception had been flawed since the death of her husband, she cannot cope with the harsh truth involved with reality because she cannot accept what has become- a reminder of what could have been and what once was. This causes her to lose her sanity, and Stanley and Stella decide to send Blanche to a mental institute. Nevertheless, she keeps up her illusion and convinces herself that she will be going on a vacation with a man named Shep Huntleigh, a figment of her imagination. This only proves that since her self-perception is flawed and she cannot enter reality, she desperately clings to an illusion where she woman she wants herself to be resides. Without this illusion, she is nothing. When she is sent to the mental institute, everything is taken from her and she cannot survive unless the illusion of a supreme Blanche is still in tact.
Blanche Dubois was a woman whose self-perception was completely different from reality. She knew only who she wanted to be, but couldn’t come to terms with who she was. Because of this, she took solace in the façade of a glorified reality where the woman she longed to be succeeded in attaining her goals. When Blanche’s imaginary land was intruded, she was forced to enter reality but only survived due to the intricate illusion she had created. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams exemplifies that when a fragile individual with a flawed self-perception finds conflict between illusion and reality, they create an illusion of their best self in a glorified reality.