Streetcar: A Dose of Madness

The Psychology Of Blanche.

You can’t go through a whole screening, reading or performance of A Streetcar Named Desire without coming to a conclusion that our protagonist, Blanche has been through her fair, or some may even argue, unfair share of struggles and with that, a beaten psyche. In fact, the psychology of Blanche is tricky because, well, I’m not a professional for one, and also because there seem to be many layers to the psychological trauma and instabilities that haunt Blanche. This post by no means expresses an explicit label on her but instead aims to explore the possibilities of what our protagonist may be facing within her mind.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder/ Narcissism

From Blanche’s first arrival on the scene, we already see her sense of superiority which she isn’t afraid to show, especially towards the lifestyle of New Orleans. According to Psychcental and BPDCentral, the following are symptoms of an individual who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance. He or she may exaggerate achievements and talents.
  2. Requires accessive admiration.
  3. Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes
  4. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive of all such symptoms, nor is it a sure fire way of diagnosing anyone. However, one can’t help but notice the similarities we see within the character of Blanche. We see this most obviously in her relationship with her sister and the how Blanche insists on validation from her. In the first scene when the sisters reunite after many years of separation, the focus (before Belle Reve) falls on appearance, as initiated by Blanche.

Blanche: (…) [She rises] I want you to look at my figure! [She turns around] You know I haven’t put on one ounce in ten years, Stella? I weigh what I weighed the summer
you left Belle Reve. The summer Dad died and you left us….

Stella: [a little wearily]: It’s just incredible, Blanche, how well you’re looking.

Blanche: You see I still have that awful vanity about my looks even now that my looks are slipping! [She laughs nervously and glances at Stella for reassurance]

Stella: [dutifully] They haven’t slipped one particle.

We see here how Blanche, through her passive goading and the stage directions of looking towards her sister prompts words of praise about her appearance. Her own self-declaration of her static weight, followed by Stella’s almost automatic rebuttal of her ‘slipping looks’ presents to the audience a seemingly routine conversation between the two sisters. It is clear, through Willaims desire for Stella to reply ‘dutifully’ that he would like the audience to know that this is the typical dynamics of their relationship. We continue to see this in the way Blanche orders Stella around, asking her for a lemon-coke in the following scene (‘Will you do that for me, sweetie?‘) and commanding her to ‘sit up straight’.  

At the same time, apart from the way Blanche takes control of Stella, evidence of her perceived superiority is also indicated in many other instances, from her joke about Polish people, ‘only, not so highbrow?‘, to dismissing or even mocking the living quarters of her sister, ‘what, two rooms did you say?’. Even upon her arrival, Blanche also snubs the residents of New Orleans, by discouraging conversation with Eunice. Hence we not only see how she thrives in the ( forced) praise of others, we also, simply by her condescending tone, understand that Blanche perceives herself above the rest of New Orleans. The irony in here is of course in the fact that Blanche has escaped her place of childhood to seek shelter in New Orleans, a place she so clearly believes is beneath her.

The last point stated above also highlights Blanche’s clearly deep-seated delusions, which not only points to narcissism but also sheds light on another equally important theme of Streetcar, that of the clash between reality and fantasy.

Denial/Delusions:

Evidence of Blanch’s delusions are aplenty in the play, and a symbol of that would definitely be the paper lantern which Blanche purchases and adorns her “room” with. Along with the prevalent motif of light, Tennesse Williams depicts Blanche’s aversions to the grim reality of her life.

The paper lantern first makes its appearance when Blanche instructs Mitch to help her place it over the light bulb.

Blanche: I can’t stand a naked light bulb (…)

Here, just as the “naked bulb” or the light is used as a metaphor to shed light on the truth, the paper lantern acts as Blanche’s defence mechanism, shielding herself and others through her delusion. The function of the paper lantern is further emphasised in the last scene when Stanley throws Blanche out of his house, his final gesture towards her destroying the paper lantern and in turn, the fantasy she has built.

“He crosses to dressing-table and seizes the paper lantern, tearing it off the light bulb, and extends it towards her.”

The vicious nature in which Stanley rips apart her delusions creates empathy within the audience who sees this visual representation as an understanding of the emotional trauma that Blanch faces.

 

The paper lantern is also part of a larger motif in place, that of light. Light is used frequently by Tennesse to draw attention to the harsh reality that Blanche faces but tries her best to ignore. Most prominent of all is Mitch calling her out on this, with his cruel declaration;

Blanche: I like it dark. The dark is comforting to me.

Mitch: I don’t think I ever seen you in the light. [ Blanche laughs breathlessly}] That’s a fact!

Mitch: So I can take a good look at you. Good and plain.

Tennessee Williams uses this motif to advance the story while further establishing Blanche’s character. Scene 9 marks the psychological breakdown of Blanche’s character and her ultimate “stepping out of the shadows.” While Stella is giving birth, Mitch confronts Blanche in the Kowalski apartment and forces her to reveal her true intentions and manipulative nature. Blanche says that she finds the dark comforting. These actions are the result of a fatal insecurity which causes Blanche to be guarded around others. Williams uses the element of shadows so that Blanche may avoid being upfront with other characters in the playHer fear of exposing her face metaphorically represents her manipulative tendencies and delusion.

Further proof of this is seen in Scene 6 when Blanche tells Mitch the story of her first love, Allan Grey. After his suicide, Blanche compares their relationship to a bright light that had suddenly put out. Therefore, dim light is represented by Blanche’s various non-intimate sexual partners and explains her desperate need for relationship. Bright light can also represent Blanche’s vivacious past; her wealth, her lover, her family and Belle Reve. All of these elements of her past are gone by the time Blanche arrives in New Orleans, which leads us to believe that most of the bright light in Blanche’s life has dimmed.

Williams’ Manipulation

However, it is not so important that we determine exactly what Blanche is facing in the depths of her mind but more so why? Why does Willaims portray her as psychologically damaged? It is perhaps so that the audience feels sympathetic to a character who is the furthest thing from flawless. Perhaps it is also the indicate the inevitability of Blanche’s fall and shed light on the fragility of the human mind, so vulnerable to external and internal attacks.

 

Sources:

https://psychcentral.com/disorders/narcissistic-personality-disorder-symptoms/

https://www.bpdcentral.com/narcissistic-disorder/hallmarks-of-npd/

The Value Of Happiness

This essay was written for a certain application with the prompt “Write about a conventional wisdom that you have come to doubt.”

Since the beginning of mankind’s pursuit of knowledge, it has been proven time and again that the information that we may deem as factual is vulnerable to inaccuracies. From the initial hypothesis of the earth being flat to Pluto no longer being considered as a planet in our solar system, we must not be naive to think that all conventional wisdom is set in stone. In fact, even some cliches we grow up so familiar with are sometimes proven wrong, such as the age-old advice, “Money does not buy happiness”. While the life lesson behind it is admirable; to look beyond superficial qualities, it cannot be denied that “money makes the world go round”.

Even though a world of superficiality may never lead you to true happiness, in such a capitalistic world we live in, money sure can fulfil your basic needs. While money may not buy you complete happiness, neither does poverty. In order to lead a comfortable life, many will argue that education is the key to opening doors and opportunities. However, it must be acknowledged that education does not come free, whether it is in the form of the large tuition fees at the end of every college semester, or the expensive extracurricular classes, from after-school tuition to piano lessons in order for the child to get a firm upper hand from her peers. In fact, the basic necessities for survival, such as water, food, or even a roof over our heads require money, even if it is from a charitable organisation or from the government’s annual budget plan.

Yet, there is some truth to this age-old phrase. After fulfilling your needs of survival, there is only so much money can bring to your life. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs highlights our intrinsic desires for self-care and shared love and no amount of money can simply serve that to you on a silver platter. Therefore, upon stumbling on a Time article, I highly agree with  Dan Gilbert, Harvard University psychology professor when he explains how money may provide you with joy, but only if you spend it right. According to him, in order to secure happiness with money, you need to “buy moments, not stuff”. Research concurs, by stating that 57% of respondents of a study experienced greater happiness when spending on experiential purchases instead of material possessions. This comes as no surprise to me. Take a look at the term “bucket list”. It is reserved for goals and experiential aspirations for those coming face to face with their mortality. Here, we see how living life to the fullest to many refers to doing things not having things. That is why it is way more common to see “travel the world” instead of “buy new shoes” on anyone’s bucket list.

Hence, although the sentiment behind the conventional wisdom “money can’t buy you happiness” highlights the importance of prioritising your values over material possessions, one cannot deny that in order to lead a life without fretting over the bills and next month’s rent, money plays a key role. When used wisely, money can lead to happiness, but only if you keep your sights on what is most important;  health, relationships, growth, contribution and community. It is important, however, to know that money is the currency that provides you with certain needs, so that we may acknowledge that there are many others who do not have the privilege and therefore would find a certain happiness when having enough to spend.

Our Underrated Treasure Cove

This essay was written for a certain application with the prompt “How will your research interest (literature and linguistics) contribute to Singapore’s development?”

Arguably underrated in what many would call a utilitarian Singapore, the study and research of literature may ironically be just what Singapore needs to take a step forward. Although there has been a slight shift in attitudes towards the arts and humanities with the setting up of SOTA and liberal arts college YaleNus, I believe that further research into literature and linguistics will open doors to more development.

The study of literature is the study of humanity, as it not only documents but also mirrors society and its mannerisms. It teaches soft skills such as argumentation and reasoning and most importantly for a country that boasts social cohesion and racial harmony, empathy. Research into various fields and genres of literature promotes a wide range of perspectives demanded to be understood. Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is rich with the often misunderstood culture and struggles of Muslim Iraqis during the Taliban regime, Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes echoes the then recent tragic events of The Columbine Shooting while Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close fills it’ pages with the effects that 9/11 had on it’s victims’ families.

Literary works from all over the world encapsulate its representative culture and school of thought. As such, because literature stands the test of time as well, it often complements History by portraying societal attitudes in response to certain historic events. For example, the works of Charles Dickens brings to light the consequences of the Industrial Revolution while The Chrysalids warns the dangers of nuclear war. At the same time, research into our own local literary scene can not only revive our roots and anchor our sense of identity, it can also promote the development of Singapore as an Arts Hub by encouraging local artists. As the literary and arts industry expands, so does Singapore’s development as a financial hub.

Literature and Linguistics also supplement Psychology. Works such as The Yellow Wallpaper and Room presents a different perspective carefully cultivated to portray a message for its audience about mental illness. Whether it demands sympathy or acknowledges the despair that one may face, empathy is once again garnered, hence increasing awareness while chipping away at the stigma. Research into linguistics also provides a better understanding in the way we use language in different mediums for different purposes. Since language is something that everyone experiences, it is crucial to understand it’s power to aid better communication among groups of people. Not only will study in linguistics be beneficial to the researchers themselves, when put to use, the knowledge garnered may bridge the gap between different cultures and age groups, and foster a stronger sense of identity.

As a first world country, Singaporeans deserve to be able to freely express their creative sides. With further research into literature and linguistics, we will be able to have a firm grasp on our roots and identity while being able to project ourselves for further development through understanding social dynamics, principles and challenges to the norm.

Farahna Alam

 

I’m sorry.

By Farahna Alam
This time it’s different,
you won’t cross the line.
This time you tell yourself
She will be fine.

A crack. A slip. You can’t go back
Gave up, caved in. You turned your back
A year, a month,  or just a second;
Could change a have into a haven’t

A year, a month,  or just a second;
The clean white slate has now been blackened.
Next time, not now, the next and next.
Too late, she’s gone, it can’t be fixed.

And then you say
“The fault is mine.”
While u drifted away,
She wasn’t fine.

She cried. She screamed, and cried some more.
But the monsters were there, hidden in her core.
She smiled, she lied, she pushed them away.
They tried to help,  she threw it away.

This time it’s different,
you didn’t cross the line.
You tried your best,
But she still wasn’t fine.

Silence

 

By Farahna Alam
Is it supposed to feel this way?
Going to bed in my coffin
a weight in my chest, just pressing
like I’m buried alive, in decay.

To have words trapped behind
the bars of your teeth; silent.
Strangling your voice; so violent.
All while attacking you blind.

First, the air starts burning
the soil underneath like clay
My arms pinned down. Listening.
Finally. I’m buried alive, in decay.