Blanche DuBois: Intentions and Interpretations


                  “Whoever you are—I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” (Williams, 1947, p. 178). Those words, uttered by Blanche Dubois as she is unknowingly escorted away by a doctor to an asylum at the end of the play, were considered to be greatly memorable because of their irony. The play in question is Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, written and performed on Broadway in 1947. Touching on themes such as desire, masculinity and femininity, and male-female relationship dynamics, the play gained huge success and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948, and was made into a film by Elia Kazan in 1951. A Streetcar Named Desire, one of Williams’s most famous works, generated a range of interpretations surrounding the playwright’s intentions on Blanche’s character: whether she is a victimized anti-hero failed by her surroundings or a manifestation of Williams’s misogyny. No matter his intentions, Blanche shines brighter compared to other characters and still remains one of the most discussed and enduring characters of Tennessee Williams.

                    Before diving into the play, one ought to get a sense of the historical context of the play to better appreciate the social realism of Williams’s work. The play took place at the same time as it was written: in New Orleans, Mississippi in the post-World War II 1940s. Having its own history with slavery, the city’s Black population was already on the rise. New Orleans’s population became more diverse when Industrialization opened up many job opportunities, which attracted immigrants of various origins: Polish, German, Italian, Jewish, Filipino, Chinese, Caribbean, and such (THNOC Visitor Services, 2022). In the 1940s, New Orleans was already a lively, outgoing, and colorful city, filled with jazz music, gay culture, and new American ideals; yet fragments of the old South still remained. This social clash between the Old and the New can be seen in the play: Blanche comes from an aristocratic plantation family in the old South, while Stanley comes from immigrant parents and values the new American ideals of hard work and equal opportunity. In addition, Williams also masterfully touched upon the ideas of masculinity and femininity. During World War II, true masculinity was believed to be represented by men’s physical strength and willingness to fight for their country. After the war, the concept of masculinity shifted to what Nina Hefner wrote as “passionate”—men being able to enjoy their hobbies, pursue their desires, and express their passion (Hefner, 2016). Stanley fully represents this ideal: passionate, strong, hotheaded, dominant, and a provider. Blanche, having descended from an aristocratic family, sees Stanley only as a commoner and thus not good enough for her sister, Stella. Blanche’s judgment makes Stanley feel threatened, which results in him turning to his masculinity as a way to prove his worth. With rich characters and dialogues accompanied by Jazz music in the background, Williams succeeded in portraying the socioeconomic conditions of New Orleans at that time.

                     From the beginning, Williams makes it clear that Blanche, with her pearls and fur coats, comes from a place wholly different from where the play takes place. He starts with a detailed description of Stella’s neighborhood which has a “raffish charm” despite its poverty (Williams, 1947, p. 3). Soon the character of much debate, Blanche, arrives at her sister, Stella’s downstairs room in a two-story corner building, and from here, the play begins to take its course. Blanche’s initial reactions to her sister’s world — Stanley’s brutish nature, and Stella’s living condition — were shock and discontent. She makes her dissatisfaction known and her presence felt through certain behaviors, each of which gives clues about her personality and tendencies: covering up the naked light bulb with Chinese paper as a way to show that Blanche is not comfortable accepting the truth as it is and tries to filter or deceives it in some ways, taking long baths as a way to “quiet her nerves” and escape from reality, drinking excessively in order to waltz around in her imagination (Williams, 1947, p. 29). Comanelea, a writer and a critic, would remark Blanche, a Southern Belle, with her petite figure and delicate mannerism alongside her fabrication, as having the ability to shapeshift, jumping from one extreme to another, “from victim to agent, controlling and controlled” (Comanelea, 2020). This can be seen throughout the play by Blanche’s slow but foreseeable descent into madness and hysteria.

                  Stella Dubois, sister of Blanche, is a character of the same origin as Blanche but their paths diverge a great deal. Despite being only five years apart from each other and coming from the same aristocratic plantation family of the old New Orleans, the two have starkly different personalities and outlooks on life. Despite her privileged upbringing, Stella ran away with Stanley at 15 and chose a lifestyle of what Blanche calls a commoner. The scene where Stanley throws a raw meat package at Stella while she waits at home represents a patriarchal relationship between a provider husband and a homemaker wife. Critic Louise Blackwell categorizes Stella as an example of  “women who have subordinated themselves to a domineering and often inferior person in an effort to attain reality and meaning through communication with another person” (Blackwell, 1970). Here the main cause for her conformity is her satisfying sexual relationship with Stanley. Stella, pregnant and in a sexually fulfilling relationship, draws a contrast from Blanche, who feels responsible for her young husband’s suicide, and has lost her teaching job due to her reputation of promiscuity. While Stella represents fertility and sexual attraction, Blanche is depicted in the process of losing her sexual power (Clemens, 2009). This comparison of Blanche and Stella highlights Blanche’s desperation and crumbling reality.

                 Right from the very start of the play, Stanley comes into constant conflict with Blanche because of their various differences, but similarities are also found between these two characters. Stanley represents typical American ideals of masculinity during that time period. For example, he is portrayed as a provider with American values who is dominant not just over Stella but also over his gang. Growing up with Polish immigrant parents and being a low-level worker with only masculinity on his side, he feels his dominance threatened by Blanche’s arrival, who is from a higher class, and starts changing things around the house. This leads to Stanley acting out to reassert his authority in the house by trying to expose Blanche’s past and her lies. Despite their power struggle, the two characters have similarities as well in that they both are dominant in nature and turn to alcohol for their own reasons. This rivalry between them eventually results in an offstage scene where Stanley rapes Blanche.

                The rape scene would be Blanche’s breaking point to her eventual descent into madness. It happens while Blanche is in a vulnerable position — her past of promiscuity has just been found out by her potential lover, she is deep into the delusions of her own creation at that point, and her mind is in a worrisome state about her sister giving birth. When Blanche tells her sister of the incident, she is met with dismissal from Stella, who says she “couldn’t believe her story and keep on living with Stanley” (Williams, 1947, p. 99). There has been many interpretations for this scene: some have claimed that Stanley’s victory over Blanche was a product of Williams’s own misogyny and that the rape scene was a punishment for  Blanche’s deceptiveness and selfishness, whereas critic Vlasopolos (1986), and others interpret Blanche as a tragic heroine failed by her patriarchal society. For scholar Clemens, despite her flaws and struggles, the fact that she is making an effort in order to survive is enough reason to find Blanche heroic. 

               A Streetcar Named Desire was a highly successful play from the time it was written and won Tennessee Williams a Pulitzer Prize. The play was highly praised for its multi-dimensional characters and out of all the characters, Blanche remains the one that managed to evoke the most fascination from the reader and the critics. While one may not necessarily see Blanche as a likable character, one is likely to find oneself mesmerized by her character at the end of the play. 



Blackwell, Louise. (1970). Tennessee Williams and the Predicament of Women. South Atlantic Bulletin , Mar., 1970, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Mar., 1970), pp. 9-14.

Comanelea, Raluca. (2020). Shifting Shapes in Play and Performance. Rocky Mountain Review, SPRING 2020, Vol. 74, No. 1 (SPRING 2020), pp. 9-30.

Clemens, Bernadette. (2009). Desire and Decay: Female Survivorship in Faulkner and Williams. The Tennessee Williams Annual Review, No. 10 (2009), pp. 73-80.

Hefner, Nina. (2016). It’s Reigning Men: American Masculinity Portrayed Through Stanley Kowalski. English Class Publications, pp. 30

“It’s Reigning Men: American Masculinity Portrayed Through Stanley Kowa” by Nina Hefner (

THNOC Visitor Services. (2022, January 21). New Orleans history starter pack: a beginner’s guide to understanding the Crescent City. The Historic New Orleans Collection.

Vlasopolos, Anca. (1986). Authorizing History: Victimization in “A Streetcar Named Desire”. 

Theatre Journal , Oct., 1986, Vol. 38, No. 3, Performance of Textual History (Oct., 1986), pp. 322-338.

Williams, Tennessee. (1947). A Streetcar Named Desire. Penguin Modern Classics.