Tennessee Williams wrote about Blanche DuBois: 'She was a demonic character; the
size of her feelings was too great for her to contain without the
escape of madness.'
Williams uses Blanche DuBois as a vehicle to explore several themes
that interested him, one of these being madness. His own sister, Rose,
was lobotomised in his absence and later institutionalised leading
many critics to believe that the character of Blanche may have arisen
from events in his own life. Blanche's tragic past involving both the
death of her "young" husband and her consequent promiscuity with
"young men" created an overwhelming amount of emotion for Blanche,
which, as Williams suggests, "was too great for her to contain". As to
whether her escape was "madness" can be debatable - although Blanche
is clearly unstable at many points, some believe that Blanche is not
actually insane, suggested by Stella's comment in Scene 11 - "I
couldn't believe her story and go on living with Stanley."
From her first appearance on stage, Blanche is presented as being
"incongruous" to New Orleans and to her surroundings and Williams
immediately distinguishes her from the rest of the characters in the
play by her immaculate white clothing, echoing the meaning of her
name, and later with symbolic associations such as her ritual bathing
and the music of the polka. From the very opening scene, something
else which is characteristic to Blanche is her lies and half-truths.
Her solitary behaviour in the opening scene is quite disturbing,
especially after drinking some of Stanley's liquor she "washes out the
tumbler at the sink" - it immediately prompts that question of what
she is hiding. Already, she is not appearing too stable and as we
later learn, she is hiding a lot about her past as well as her reasons
for visiting Stella - because she has nowhere else to go.
Excessive drinking is one of the aspects of Blanche's life that she
lies about - "I rarely touch [alcohol]" and Stanley's reply of "some
people rarely touch it but it touches them often" is quite appropriate
because he can see through the excuses as alcohol "touches" him. Where
Stanley is honest about his drinking, Blanche hides it. She uses
alcohol to escape reality and to escape her emotions but is at the
same time she uses lies to escape from the actual truth of her
drinking problem by lying to those around her; she tells Mitch "Three
is my limit".
It is obvious that Blanche is attempting to escape or running away
from something as the reason for her arrival is left ambiguous and
this "desire" to escape is illustrated in her comment towards the end
of scene 2; she says, "I ought to go [to the sky] on a rocket that
never comes down." As well as revealing Blanche's need to hide from
reality, this may also be a suggestion of the first signs of madness.
Her closing comment at the end of that scene is then also quite
interesting - "the blind are leading the blind" may be a reference...