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Blanche Dubious, appropriately dressed in white, is first introduced as a symbol of innocence and chastity. Aristocratic, refined, and sensitive, this delicate beauty has a moth-like appearance. She has come to New Orleans to seek refuge at the home of her sister Stella and her coarse Polish husband, Stanley. With her nervous and refined nature, Blanche is a clear misfit in the Kowalski's apartment.
Blanche represents a deep-seated attachment to the past. She has lived her whole life in Laurel, a small southern town; her family had aristocratic roots and taught Blanche about some of the finer things in life. Unfortunately, she cannot cope with life outside Laurel. Her life is a lesson in how a single tragic event can ruin the future; her refusal to come out of the time warp and cope with the real world, makes her unrealistic and flighty. At the age of sixteen, she fell in love with, worshipped, and eloped with a sensitive boy. She believed that life with Allan was sheer bliss. Her faith is shattered when she discovers he is a bi-sexual degenerate. She is disgusted and expresses her disappointment in him. This prompts him to commit suicide. Blanche cannot get over this. She holds herself responsible for his untimely death. His death is soon followed by long vigils at the bedside of her dying relatives. She is forced to sell
Belle Reve, the family mansion, to pay for the many funeral expenses. She finds herself living at the second-rate Flamingo Hotel.
In an effort to escape the misery of her life in Laurel, Blanche drinks heavily and has meaningless affairs. She needs alcohol to stop the polka music, symbolic of Allan's death, from running on in her head and to avoid the truth of her life. She surrenders her body to various strangers in an attempt to lose herself. She seduces young boys in memory of Allan. But her empty heart finds no peace, and her bad reputation ends her teaching career.
Blanche is an escapist who says, "I don't want realism". She hides from bright lights, just as she hides from the truth. Her delicate nature simply cannot bear the reality of present-day existence; she finds it too painful. She, therefore, convinces herself that she has remained pure because "inside, I never lied". She knows that her soul, or inner self, remained uninvolved in her physical encounters.
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This attempt to seem virtuous and good destroys her last marriage prospect. When she meets Mitch, Stanley's close friend, she is drawn to his sensitive, mild nature. He falls in love with her, believing her to be pure and innocent. Throughout their courtship, she plays her role perfectly, even telling him that she is not easy like many girls. When Mitch discovers the truth of her past, he is horrified, for he feels he has been duped. Had Blanche been more truthful with him from the beginning, things would have been different. But Mitch is not educated or intellectual and cannot understand Blanche's behavior, past or present. Since he sees things only as truth or lies, black or white, he deserts Blanche.
Blanche's world is full of grays and pastel colors. She cannot stand a vulgar remark, a loud noise, or a harsh light. With Allan's departure, the light had gone out of her life, seemingly forever. As a result, she prefers darkness and dim candlelight, the perfect setting for her make-believe world that has no pain or memories. It also hides the reality of her departed youth and advancing age. Blanche prefers to be an ethereal character, living on the edge of the world. That is why the simile of the moth befits her.
Stanley is totally incapable of understanding Blanche. He is coarse and common and resents her delicate, aristocratic ways. He is a man who wants all the cards laid on the table and demands the complete truth. In his household, he also demands complete allegiance, which Blanche is unwilling to give to the likes of Stanley. When she calls him an ape and threatens his marriage, Stanley cannot forgive her and swears he will seek revenge. Her French blood and his Polish blood do not mix well.
Both Stanley and Mitch fail to realize that while Blanche can easily give herself physically to a stranger, she cannot surrender like a prostitute to someone she cares about. In her sexual encounters with strangers, she was the giver, by her own free will. When she is taken forcefully by Stanley, the brutality of the act breaks her fragile nature; she is totally destroyed. When Blanche tells Stella about the rape, one of the few times she tells the truth in the entire play, her sister does not believe her; in the most significant irony in the play, Stella uses this truth against her and decides Blanche has truly slipped into insanity. The only place for her now is the state institution, where Stella conveniently sends her to save her own marriage.
Blanche is a truly tragic heroine. She was, indeed, capable of supreme sacrifice, as evidenced by the fact that she nursed her dying relatives. She also endured deep suffering and guilt over the suicide of her husband. Unfortunately, Blanche is unable to let go of the past; it is her fatal flaw. She allows the polka music to keep playing in her head, and the aristocratic ideals to keep pounding in her heart. As a result, she cannot face the present or the future, but hides in a dream world that eventually destroys her. In spite of her problems, Tennessee Williams successfully makes the reader emphasize (What?) with this fascinating character.