What illusion about herself does Blanche attempt to sustain and why? As well, provide a quote about her wants/ambitions.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Blanche wishes to sustain the illusion that she is very ladylike and guilless, pure, young, and, although a sexually desirable person, she is respectable.

  • Significantly, Blanche du Bois's name translates from the French as White of the Woods, suggesting a certain purity ("white" as the color of purity and the "woods" as a pristine place untouched by humans/men).
  • Certainly, Blanche wishes to present herself as a pure lady, a delicate Southern belle, who retains virtuous qualities and is "dependent upon the kindness of strangers." In this effort, Blanche bathes frequently and for long stretches of time and then powders herself.
  • She also wishes to create the illusion of being younger than she is by hanging paper lanterns over the bare light bulbs, as well as being a delicate lady.  In Scene Three, she tells Mitch, " I can't stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or vulgar action." 
  • One of the first things that she does when she arrives at the home of her sister is utter her surprise, "This--can be--her home?" in contrast to their large mansion with "white columns." In this way, too, Blanche sets herself apart from the lower class neighborhood in which her sister lives. She is a lady. After Stella and Stanley argue near the end of Scene Three, Blanche calls for her "little sister," suggesting that she leave such an "animal" as Stanley; hearing her Mitch moves toward her, but in a lady-like manner Blanche warns, "I'm not properly dressed," commanding a certain respect. Later, Stanley shows his disgust for this pretense, angrily asking both Stella and Blanche, "Who do you two think you are? A pair of queens?"
  • When Stanley challenges Blanche's "lily-white" reputation that she feigns, he tells Blanche that he knows a man named Shaw, who claims an acquaintance with her at the Hotel Flamingo. Blanche nearly faints after claiming that Mr. Shaw has her confused with someone else. Later, Stanley learns more about Blanche's soiled past. But, she has kept up the illusion that she is a true lady with Mitch until almost the end. In Scene Five, she tells Stella, who asks why she is sensitive about her age,

Because of hard knocks my vanity's been given. What I mean is--he thinks I'm sort of--prim and proper, you know!....I want to deceive him enough to make him--want me...

Then, in Scene Six when Mitch mentions one time they were out together, she explains,

Honey, it wasn't the kiss I objected to. I liked the kiss very much. It was the other little--familiarity--that I--felt obliged to--discourage....you know as well as I do that a single girl...has got to keep a firm hold on her emotions or she'll be lost.

However, Blanche tells her sister in confidence,

...It isn't enough to be soft. You've got to be soft and attractive. And I--I'm faking now! I don't know how much longer I can turn the trick.

In the end, with all ambitions exhausted--even that of the oil man, Shep Huntleigh--Blanche depends upon the kindness of strangers. 

Read the study guide:
A Streetcar Named Desire

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