How Blanche and Stellla rely on Self-Delusion
By the time she speaks her famous closing line about depending on the kindness of strangers, it has become apparent that the ability of Blanche DuBois to survive in a world of men—and not just animalistic throwbacks like Stanley Kowalski, either, but men of all types of character packed into an attractive façade—is far more dependent upon on lies, deceit and an almost superhuman ability to elude reality through self-delusion. The tenuous degree of sanity still allowing Blanche DuBois to retain her freedom in public places is utterly dependent upon re-engineering the real world around her into a self-contained fantasy that—as is ultimately made clear—is so fragile it has the potential to shatter into a million pieces the moment she finally loses her last remaining grip on her ability to keep the fantasy going inside her mind no matter how ugly the reality outside gets. At some point in the future—perhaps the distant future, perhaps a future not so far away—Stella DuBois Kowalski is almost certain to undergo a similar shattering of the fantasy world she has constructed to deal with the ugly reality of surviving in the narrow world of highly restricted possibilities offered by her husband.
Clues that Stella is going to eventually spiral into the same sort of madness as her sister become evident fairly early on in the play. One example occurs after Stanley smacks her during the poker game and Stella complains to Blanche that “It makes me so mad when he does that in front of people.” Those words are the first indication that Stella is constructing a powerfully divergent narrative about her life for Blanche from the one that she seems to actually be living. Given the fact that Stanley offers nothing in the way of intellectual stimulation as well as the revelation that Stella and Blanche are equally aware of their own respective level of sexuality as they undress in front of the light, it appears that what drives Stella toward Stanley is somewhere along the exact same spectrum of the primitive level of behavior that Blanche accuses Stanley of operating on at all times. Stella is definitely operating on that primitive level with Stanley and her insistence to Blanche that she doesn’t like it when Stanley smacks her in front of people rings especially hollow in light of a later admission that seems far more honest: “I was–sort of–thrilled by it.” Stella’s confession that Stanley’s brutal nature thrills her must go well beyond being excited by his knocking out light bulbs with her slipper.
A key insight into the nature of Stella’s character, her relationship with Stanley and even her ultimate rejection of her sister occurs not long after that admission. When Stella asserts that “there are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark–that sort of make everything else seem—unimportant” she is psychologically setting the stage for that unexpected break with tradition in which she ultimately rejects Blanche and perhaps unwittingly foreshadows her own eventual spiral into a similar world dependent upon the kindness off by self-delusion’s alternative to reality. Stella and Blanche are two sister who share a highly charged sense of their own sexuality; the only real difference being that Stella openly admits and embraces it while part of Blanche’s self-delusion is to deny and attempt to repress it. Stella’s physical desire for Stanley is so strong that she is being quite literal when she asserts everything else is unimportant. In fact, everything else is so unimportant that her consistency in siding with Blanche and justifying Blanche’s behavior and even tepidly standing up to Stanley in defense of Blanche utterly falls apart at the thought having to give up her big brute. After spending the entire play supporting Blanche, her betrayal of her at the end all comes down to one line: “I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley.”
Stella’s decision to stick by her brutish husband Stanley and join in sending her blood relative Blanche packing to deal with her shattered fantasy world is a choice based not on whether she believes either Stanley or Blanche, but on what she wants to do with the rest of her life. As she herself explains, “I am not in anything that I have a desire to get out of.” Her desire to remain in a marriage with Stanley based on pure animal attraction is a streetcar that is certainly going to take her to the same destination as her equally delusional sister.
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