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 illusions and reality. (June 2014)
An individual’s desire for an improved sense of self-perception has the power to convince said person that living in a state of illusions and delusions is more fulfilling than facing the reality of their situation. When faced with the idea that others see them in a negative light, individuals, as a result of our innate human nature, will turn to their own self-perception to seek a higher opinion and, ultimately, ignore their own ability to reconcile the lines between illusion and reality in favour of false acclaim and praise towards their own being. Through the interplay between moths and the presence of light, Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire depicts how Blanche DuBois’ desire to return to the luxurious self-perception she once held leads to her fully embracing illusions of the present and ignoring the conflicts that exist in her reality, revolving around her introduction to the Kowalski’s, to a man she held to great ideals, and to her ensuing destruction at the hands of a man bathed in the harsh light of reality.
As a result of being placed in an unknown environment, surrounded by elements that one cannot easily begin to understand, it is natural for said individual to turn to their own ideals and past successes in order to legitimize their confusion as being understandable and further support the idea of illusions being necessary in order to live happily. When Blanche first arrives in New Orleans, at the home of her sister Stella and her husband Stanley Kowalski, she almost immediately asks for an overhead light to be turned off, as she doesn’t wish to “be looked at in this merciless glare.” Light, quite obviously throughout this entire piece, is portrayed as being a representation of truth and of reality. Blanche has lost so much of who she believes she is, that the moment she arrives in a place where she may possibly make an impression on those around her, she demands that the “light” of reality be turned off, so that she may bask in the dimness of the lies and illusions she plans on weaving. As she is seen as a moth, and as moths are attracted to light, Blanche also requests for this light to be turned off so that there is no allure of reality for her to possibly lean towards at any point in time. To convince others of any sort of grandiose lie, there must be an element in oneself that – even the most minuscule amount – believes a part of this lie to be true. In such a desperate situation, Blanche has convinced herself that the loss of Belle Reve and her job have not affected her luxurious upbringing, when, in fact, they have ultimately reduced her to a common shadow of what she used to be. By being exposed to light, the wrinkles and imperfections in ones face are exposed – and as light is reality in this sense – the flaws of their character and the mistakes of their past are also unveiled. In order to maintain the shield of illusion one has casted over oneself, and protect their own delicate self-perception, individuals will paint themselves in the best possible light – or lack of light – from the beginning in order to reassure both themselves and others around them that their lies and deceptions are bathed in truths and sincerities.
In moments where an inkling of one’s former glories and triumphs are brought into the present, even if there is light found in this moment, an individual bathed in the dimness of illusions will risk their own initial cautions and hesitance to regain this vital element of who they used to be. For Blanche, the appearance of Mitch reminds her greatly of the ideal, traditional man of the Old South – a man that was extremely prevalent during her time of living in Belle Reve. During their initial meeting, Blanche gives Mitch a purple Chinese paper lantern and asks him to “[p]ut it over that light bulb!” Her avoidance of light, once more, can be tied back to her avoidance of reality and the harshness that it bring into her life. She is seen leaning in towards the light of a match struck by Mitch – a light less harsh, and much warmer – and shying away from the light of a fluorescent lightbulb – one that is quite harsh and gaudy by nature. Relating this once more to the idea of moths and light, moths are quite typically attracted to the light that would come from a fluorescent bulb, but by forcibly pushing herself towards this candlelight – towards Mitch – Blanche is attempting to convince herself she is not the moth depicted by both herself and those around her. By placing oneself in such a situation, and in such little light, even a moth can be mistaken as a butterfly. A “fall from grace,” so to speak, leads to a much inferior self-perception and can ultimately lead to the creation of countless illusions in order for an individual to return to their former honours. Of course, if even the smallest element of their past were to become a part of the present, said individual would latch onto this factor and be willing to change any part of themselves or their situation to appeal to this familiar force. As a result, the line between reality and illusion is further blurred and misconstrued in order to recreate the luxuries of ones former self and further develop this false self-perception as a means to, in any way, shape, or form, return to a previous life of success and fulfillment.
By building up a net of illusions around oneself, they tend to ignore the dangers of reality around them and, as a result, do not even realize that their lies are being exposed and their deceptions brought forward until their own falsifications lead to their eventual downfall – at the hands of themselves and others around them. To compare once more, Mitch, to Blanche, would be the warm light of a match or candle – and Stanley Kowalski would be the vulgar light of a fluorescent bulb. All the lies and illusions that Blanche has built up around herself are brought down as a result of a catalyst in the form of Stanley, and he is present during the aftermath of her demise as she is brought away to a mental hospital. His importance in the revelation of her reality is present in the fact that he is the one to tear the paper lantern off of the light bulb, asking ironically if “it’s the paper lantern [she] wants to take with [her].” There is irony in the sense that he has just torn down the last semblance of illusions Blanche has worked so long to retain, and now holds the remains of what she once was in hands that she herself considered animalistic and cruel, bathing her in the light of reality she never wished to face. Our own desire for self-fulfillment and a self-perception that we are content with, ultimately, leads to ignorance and an unawareness of the severity of reality around us that highlights our own weaknesses and inability to find stability in truth. Instead, an individual will turn to unknown illusions in the hopes of finding a sense of familiarity, when they are in fact further distancing themselves from any sort of chances they have to return to what once was. Instead of working towards the reconciliation of reality and illusions in hopes of a returning sense of importance or worth, in the most desperate cases of an individual with an extremely weak self-perception, their reliance on illusions and a personal world they have created for their own benefit ultimately leads the twisting of their own lies in such a way as to lead to their emotional, physical, or mental destruction.
Through out Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire, he utilizes the connection between light and moths to reinforce the idea that Blanche DuBois’ lies and falsities are a method for her to return to her former, extravagant way of living and being that work against her and ultimately crash down upon her and drive Blanche to a point of emotional and mental breakdown. The desperation that is found within seeking a superior self-perception as a way of gaining the approval of others simply leads to an unhealthy relationship with illusion, one that leads to a lack of awareness and increased amounts of ignorance, further convincing oneself that the only reality that is important in their lives is the false reality they have created for themselves.
pic credit: gablescinema