Prompt: …The role of honesty when an individual experiences tension between optimism and reality
Text: A Streetcar Named Desire
A lack of honesty is not always born of malicious intent. It is instead created as mechanism of defence. When a desired reality cannot co-exist with the present state of an individual’s world, it encourages a weak substitute, lies. Lies can create the illusion an individual covets, but only if those around them buy into the lie as well. The dishonesty achieves the desired effect, but stands on shaky ground, one discovery away from exposing the avoided truth. In Tennessee Williams’s play A Streetcar Named Desire, this theme is explored through Blanche DuBois, a ruined and fading Southern belle forced to move in with her sister and her husband, Stanley. Stanley chases after her lies, desperately trying to uncover them, as Blanche clings to them as they are all she has left in the world. William’s asserts that upon the creation of a rift between reality and an optimistic ideal, a lack of regard for honesty is created by an individual out of defense. This disregard for truth grows ever greater, and the amount of manipulation ever increasing, only stopping when the base of lies is discredited. Thus preventing the individual from ever reaching their ideal as their reality.
When experiencing irreconcilability between idealism and reality, a disconnect from the truth is established. It is the truth that is bringing about pain, so the subject individual chooses to distance themselves from it. When Blanche DuBois was young, she loved and married Alan Gray. Their marriage seemed glorious to Blanche, as it was all she ever could have wanted, until she discovered Alan was having an affair with another man. Upon accusing him of perversion and disgust (“I saw! I know! You disgust me…” pg.115), Alan runs out into the night and shoots himself, thus ruining the perfect image of marital bliss Blanche had created. It is here where her persona starts to shift, as in her grief she consoled herself with lust and erratic behaviour. To protect herself from Alan’s death, she retreats into lies. The lies hold back the growing shame against her in her hometown, as she uses them to entice men into dates with her, and to dispel true rumours of her promiscuity. The falsehoods create the illusion she so desperately wants, where she is desired and loved. Blanche attempts to con man after man into believing that she is virginal and sweet, so that she does not have to sink back into the pain of loss. Stanley relays Shaw’s story by saying, “They got wised up after two or three dates with her and then they quit.” (pg. 121) Thus she continues forward, and when one man finds out the truth of her purity, she moves to the next victim. The cycle continues, the dishonesty ever building, not allowing her to return to her original, untarnished state. Individuals use defense mechanism such as lies to prevent themselves from getting hurt by the emotional pain lying in wait. It allows them to occupy a space where the tragedy never took place, where they are living the way they have chosen to, not the way fate has dictated. However, this space is not formed from anything concrete, so it must be continuously built up. With this building, more individuals become manipulated into believing the lie. As Blanche has created her establishing illusion, she moves forward, looping others into her ploy.
With the base of dishonesty now firmly established, an individual begins to coax others into to believing the lie. This done in the hope that they will bolster the power of the false reality, making it ever closer to reality for the liar. As Blanche arrives at her sister’s she launches into tales of her loss of their home, Belle Reve, and the many suitors waiting for her back home. She tells Stanley that some expensive furs in her trunk are a gift from a form lover. In reality, as Stella tells Stanley, “Those are inexpensive summer furs that Blanche has had a long time.” (pg.34) She continues on pretending to be a tragic victim, getting sympathy from her sister, Stella, but only drawing ire from Stanley. She then moves her attentions to Mitch, a lonely, single man looking for companionship. Blanche conjures up an illusion of the celibate widow in order to receive the admiration she craves from Mitch, “A single girl…has got to keep a firm hold on her emotions or she’ll be lost!” (pg. 103) When his advances gain too much traction, she tells him to stop, implying a purity that is non-existent. Blanche is now manipulating others to fill in the roles in her optimistic fantasy. Stella’s servitude is out of pity, and Blanche delights in it, as it reminds her of the wealth and lifestyle she once inhabited. She imagines herself in her plantation surrounded by staff, bending to every whim, as if she is royalty. Stella also serves as a defender, defending the lies she believes to be true. Mitch plays the role of the admirer, there to tell her of her great beauty and grace, both fading rapidly. Stanley is the only player left to bend, and he frightens Blanche. Despite her constant efforts to entice him with her lies, he remains steadfast in his sensibility and reality – knowing her to be a liar and an illusionist. It is Stanley immediately realizes there is no truth in Blanche, and it is Stanley who brings about her downfall. With a flimsy ideal reality built out falsehoods, and individual begins to look for ways to reinforce their dishonesty in others lives. When enough individuals believe something, it takes on an appearance of truth, even if none is there underneath. It also increases protection of the lie, with those new believers defending the liar against slander. With enough manipulated support to live comfortably in the dishonesty, and individual can exist in the optimistic reality they desired. The painful truth however, is only one unravelling away. Just as Blanche is beginning to taste all she had ever wanted, namely in her budding relationship with Mitch, Stanley is preparing to reveal all she had worked to conceal.
When the base of falsehoods is pulled out from the individual, harmful reality comes crashing down, preventing the ideal existence from ever truly occuring. Stanley discovers the reality behind all of Blanche’s claims after hearing about her from a coworker, Shaw, who had slept with Blanche back home in Laurel, “Sister Blanche is no lily!” (pg. 119) Stanley proceeds to let everyone know about how they were being manipulated, including Mitch and Stella. Mitch promptly rejects Blanche’s prospects of marriage, instead seeing her only in the terms of sex, which was the reality Blanche experienced back home. Stella is heartbroken, and betrayed, yet still chooses to pity Blanche. Now, however, it is pity born out sadness not understanding. Stanley is left victorious, after his discovery of the truth. In a final teardown of the illusion she presented, Blanche is raped by Stanley, cementing reality in place. Blanche can never return to her world of lies, her reputation has been fully tarnished and she has been carted off to an asylum. The asylum serves as the final resting place of her shattered mind after all this time of living in a fantasy. Upon the mass realization that an individual is creating a false illusion around them, those involved reject the manipulations used on them. The liar is left ruined, unable to gain back the flimsy reality they created, as everyone has learned to not trust them. The manipulated feel hurt, and betrayed. Instead of a feeling of pity or sympathy to give, they actively reject the one who committed dishonesty. Without a connection left in the world, they are left in harsher reality than where they started. Even without a scrap of honour left to her name, Blanche never pictured an asylum, a very symbol of societal rejects.
When a painful disconnect between reality and an optimistic illusion occurs, a suffering individual creates a lack of honesty in order to cope. This mechanism of defense continues to grow, and the amount of individuals caught up in this manipulation multiplies. The only end to this ever-increasing mountain of lies is when the truth is revealed, destroying the individual reputation, and preventing them from seeing their ideal reality ever again. In the face of tension between truth and optimism, the path of falsehoods is appealing, yet only in the short run. The time Blanche had with Mitch and being waited on by Stella would have been the closest she had come to her craved adoration in years. The time spent in her optimistic fantasy may have seemed glorious, but when it ended she spiraled to a shameful reality that she could never have imagined. Illusions are built on the shakiest of ground, and when they crash down, no one is more damaged then the one creating the false magic.
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