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A Streetcar Named Desire

by Tennessee Williams

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Is Blanche DuBois a victim or a villain?

Blanche DuBois becomes the victim of a rape, but for most of the play she is neither a victim nor a villain.

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In A Streetcar Named Desire, the protagonist, Blanche DuBois, becomes the victim of a horrific crime when her brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski, rapes her. This sexual abuse, which occurs offstage, triggers a psychotic breakdown. For most of the play, Blanche is neither a victim nor a villain. Blanche fits the character profile of the tragic hero. She is undone by circumstances beyond her control, and certain elements of her behavior contribute to her downfall. In classic Greek tragedy, the strong, guiding hand of the gods helps propel the hero toward their inevitable ruin. In this modern play, abstract social forces have a substantial influence. Blanche’s mental health issues further contribute to the final catastrophe.

In revealing Blanche's fragility and vulnerability in the scenes leading up to Stanley’s attack, playwright Tennessee Williams emphasizes that Blanche is adrift in a society that she no longer understands. Blanche remains immersed in a hierarchical, largely rural Southern society dominated by a few elite families. As long as she had some family support and could live in their estate, she was buoyed up. Once she was on her own, however, it became obvious that she could not cope with the demands of modern life. Although she is against the marriage of her sister, Stella, to Stanley, this opposition does not arise from malevolence on her part. She does not wish to harm Stanley; instead, she misguidedly believes that she can help Stella.

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