Slipping In The Quicksand: Guilt, Psychology, And The Fall Of Blanche Dubois

2141 words - 9 pages

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 leads to Blanche’s guilt, which continues to haunt her throughout the play and becomes a key component in her downfall.
Blanche’s dependent nature makes her particularly susceptible to the effects of guilt, a vulnerability which Williams creates in order to allow her emotions to become so extreme that they lead to insanity. At the play’s conclusion, she tells the doctor that she has “always depended on the kindness of strangers,” (235) and although insanity has by this point deprived Blanche of her grip on reality, her statement rings true. Indeed, from Blanche’s first moments on the stage, the audience witnesses her dependence on others in both her imposition on the Kowalski household and her constant need for Stella’s attention and assistance. Psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden reports in The Psychology of Self-Esteem that moral independence is an essential element of self-forgiveness; a lack of psychological autonomy contributes to feelings of worthlessness and unquenchable guilt (Branden 165). Consequently, Blanche’s total dependence on others renders her incapable of forgiving herself for the role she played in Allan’s suicide. Instead of accepting her error and moving on, Blanche remains trapped in her emotional...

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