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/

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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.

Beauty

When I was twelve and you were five, you came into my room one night just to ask me what beautiful looked like. There were other questions,  easier questions, that I answered before but the definition of beauty?  I couldn’t find the words to explain it right. So then I started listing things, hoping you’d get the drift. Our mother, our father, the neighbour next door, the woman on the television, your favourite doll. The sun looking smaller from our treetop house, where you hid almost every day so you didn’t have to play with the other boys. The colour of melted ice cream on our counter top, pink from mine, and blue from yours, mixing in the middle to create a secret galaxy. I wished I could’ve hidden you there the day you came home with a broken nose. Kids will be mean, kids will be cruel. But the worst of all was Dad’s cold shoulder when you couldn’t catch a ball. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I told you beauty was in yours. Because even though the world hated your skirts and your strange little quirks, you took that pain and pushed it down. I knew Mum hated that you couldn’t fit in, and Dad just didn’t get why you did what you did. I wished all those years before the fights and lonely lunches, I had just told you back then, that even though you weren’t happy with the way you looked and even though you had blue ice cream when you always eyed mine, you were still beautiful every time you smiled.

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.