Slipping in the Quicksand: Guilt, Psychology, and the Fall of Blanche Dubois

Slipping in the Quicksand: Guilt, Psychology, and the Fall of Blanche Dubois

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The Greek tragedian Aeschylus once wrote that “a god implants in mortal guilt whenever he wants utterly to confound a house,” and as the creator of A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams is no exception. The guilt of Blanche DuBois makes the emotional, tragic, and often extreme circumstances of the play possible. Williams creates Blanche’s vulnerabilities, including her dependence on others and her inability to face reality, so that her guilt over Allan’s death becomes the primary cause of her promiscuity, neurasthenic behavior and ultimate downfall.
Blanche’s guilt, the principal force driving her downfall, stems from her involvement in the circumstances surrounding her husband Allan’s suicide. After finding her husband with another man and realizing that he is a homosexual, Blanche initially pretends nothing has happened. At a dance that night, however, she utters the words that cause Allan to break away from her and commit suicide: “I saw! I know! You disgust me…” (204). Thus, Blanche sees herself as the cause of Allan’s death. As Bert Cardullo explains in his study of compassion in Streetcar, Blanche is not actually haunted by her husband’s homosexuality (89). In reality, her greatest regret, in Leonard Berkman’s words, is that her “unqualified expression of disgust” was the cause of his suicide (qtd. in Cardullo 89). These critics are correct in acknowledging that Blanche’s reaction is the primary source of her guilt, but they forget to mention what this shows about Blanche’s love for Allan. Because she is more devastated by his loss than by his homosexuality, the reader can infer that her love for Allan was pure and not conditional, which contrasts with her later merely physical relations with men. This situation le...


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... Williams. Bloom’s Modern Critical Views. Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea, 1987. 9-11. Print.
Mood, John J. “The Structure of A Streetcar Named Desire.” Ball State University Forum 14 (1973): 9-10. Rpt. in Drama for Students. Eds. David Galens and Lynn M. Spampinato. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 294-96. Print.
Riddel, Joseph N. “A Streetcar Named Desire—Nietzsche Descending.” Tennessee Williams. Bloom’s Modern Critical Views. Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea, 1987. 13-22. Print.
“Tennessee Williams.” Critical Survey of Drama. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Vol. 6. Pasadena: Salem, 1994. 2569-2577. Print.
Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. Plays of Our Time. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: Random House, 1967. 145-235. Print.
Woolway, Joanne. Drama for Students. Eds. David Galens and Lynn M. Spampinato. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 292-94. Print.

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