A Streetcar Named Desire: Scene Notes – Scene 11
· It is “some weeks later”, (after Blanche has been raped)
· There is another poker game, Blanche is taking a bath
· Stella doubts herself about sending Blanche to a mental asylum
· Blanche prepares herself, thinking that Shep Huntleigh will take her away from this “trap”
· The doctor and matron arrive to take Blanche away, but upon realization that it is not Shep, Blanche panics and resists
· There is a struggle as the nurse attempts to grab Blanche, Stella and Mitch both try to protest this treatment
· Blanche begins to hear echoes and whispers off the walls of the flat
· Blanche is finally subdued by the “human” kindness of the doctor and eventually follows him away without looking back
Stella cries on the front porch with her
new baby in her arms as
· Another card game begins inside
Motifs & Connotations:
“Sound of water can be
heard running from the bathroom…” Blanche frequents the bathroom as she primps
and bathes in it constantly and escapes to it when she needs a place to cry,
wash up, or be alone. She spends much of Scene Eleven in the here, but the
bathing in this scene is different to before, it is an attempt to wash away
Additionally, in this scene, Blanche believes that Shep Huntleigh is coming to take her away from the “trap” that is the Kowalski household and so she bathes in preparation for her departure with him. But this fabricated rendezvous demonstrates that Blanche is no longer trying to create her fantasy, but that she is literally living it in her mind. The extent of her insanity is now blatant which has been caused by her rape. It also becomes clear that the romantic notions of chivalry have become nothing more than the inventions of an insane mind.
There is contrast as well to the way in which Blanche bathed in previous scenes. She used to be heard singing and often boldly came out of the bathroom, having been rejuvenated and cleansed. But in this scene, on the “sound of water is heard running” and she only opens the door slightly demonstrating her hesitation. Additionally, she now avoids the attention of the poker players in comparison to before where she would go out of her way to catch their attention. The rape has evidently been a traumatic experience which has tainted her completely.
The rape by
p.217 “If anyone calls while I’m bathing take the number and tell them I‘ll call right back.” This further supports her insanity when she was expecting Shep to call despite the lack of any evidence of him trying to contact her, making her committal to an institution inevitable.
p.218 as Blanche continues to make strange, ungrounded comments. Mitch is completely unnerved by Blanche's madness. “[At the sound of Blanche’s voice Mitch’s arm supporting his cards has sagged and his gaze is dissolved into space.]” His ‘sagging’ also suggests that he feels a sense of guilt and shame perhaps believing that it was his own attempted rape of Blanche that pushed her over the edge.
Also, the tune of polka is constantly played throughout the scene as it reminds Blanche of the evening her husband died (the night her fantasy world crashed and she lost her ‘innocence’ and was brought into brutal contact with reality). The Varsouviana polka with it’s fast pace and feverish tune indicates her unstable mentality p.222 “[…Lurid reflections appear on the walls in odd, sinuous shapes. The ‘Varsouviana’ is filtered into weird distortion, accompanied by the cries and noises of the jungle. Blanche seizes the back of a chair as if to defend herself”
“The portieres are partly open on the poker players…” The poker games throughout the play have varied slightly, but they typically illustrate male dominance within society in the 1940s. The men are typically seen drinking, being crude and unrefined, and ultimately portraying them as primitive, basic, and animal-like.
“STEVE: This game is seven-card stud.” This quotation is the very last line in the play. Within the house, as Blanche is taken away by the doctor to the mental asylum, the other men start another poker game. Firstly, Williams may be intending to reflect the truth of reality; life will continue on regardless of anything that happens or that may happen. But even more so, it reflects the unreliability and the gamble which is taken in life. Blanche could never rely on her family as she watched them all die and suddenly lost her dream-like home (Belle Reve).
Moreover, Williams may have specifically chosen seven-card stud rather than five-card stud which has a subtle difference. In a seven-card stud game, four out of seven cards are exposed to other players while in a five-card stud game all five are kept to the privacy of the player until the final betting round. Similar to reality, only certain aspects of the Kowalski household are exposed. This may be the basic and frank nature of Stanley Kowalski himself, or the lack of privacy in such neighbourhoods. But other hidden aspects of human nature, such as cruelty, remain hidden. Nonetheless, the game of poker is based on deception and the ability to bluff. In this way, Stella is also trapped in a world of fantasy, perhaps even more so than her sister.
“[…The atmosphere of the kitchen is now the same raw, lurid one of the disastrous poker night…]” The instability of such deception and unreliability is reflected in the quotation. Poker nights seem to foreshadow violence and disaster.
‘…The building is framed by the sky of turquoise…’, ‘BLANCHE appears in the amber light of the door. She has a tragic radiance in her red satin robe following the sculptural lines of her body... ‘, ‘BLANCHE: You’re both mistaken. It’s Della Robbia blue. The blue of the robe in the old Madonna pictures…’, ‘BLANCHE: … And I’ll be buried at sea sewn up in a clean white sack and dropped overboard … into an ocean as blue as … my first lover’s eyes!’
Colours have been used
frequently throughout this play and aside from white, bright colours are
intended to represent the vivacity, liveliness, and spontaneity of the lower
middle class of
Light/ the avoidance of light
Blanche will not be seen in or around direct light. Any form of direct light becomes harmful to her disposition. She constantly covers lamps and only leaves the house in the evenings. In scene 11, she continues her avoidance of light p.218 “Please close the curtains before I come out … [Blanche appears in the amber light of the door.] In previous scenes it is suggested that she avoids light to prevent others from seeing the reality of her fading beauty. However in this scene it can be said that she avoids light because she does not want to clearly see the harsh reality.
Death & The “Varsouviana” Polka
[BLANCHE appears in the amber light of the door. She has a tragic radiance in her red satin robe following the sculptural lines of her body. The ‘Varsouviana’ rises audibly as BLANCHE enters the bedroom.]
[She rushes past him in to the bedroom. Lurid reflections appear on the walls in odd, sinuous shapes. The ‘Varsouviana’ is filtered into weird distortion, accompanied by the cries and noises of the jungle. BLANCHE seizes the back of a chair as if to defend herself.]
The Varsouviana Polka refers back to Blanche’s marriage to Allan Grey and the tragedy that lies behind it. It is heard throughout the play but in this scene, it is played with other sounds such as “cries and noises of the jungle” to show how the rape has created distortions in Blanche’s mind. The other disturbing sounds that are heard reflect the rape as well. The fact that the audience can now hear what is going on in Blanche’s mind is another indication of expressionist theatre. The significance of having Blanche’s perspective as an audience member is to ultimately feel sympathy for Blanche, in contrast to our initial dislike for her vanity.
The notion of death is a major motif which strongly correlates with Blanche’s insanity. At the beginning of the scene, Blanche describes how she imagines she will die from an “unwashed grape” (see quotation below in Connotations/Imagery). Her detailed description demonstrates her fixation with the idea of death. The explicit explanation depicts a doctor on board a ship who has the chivalric qualities of men she hopes will rescue her. Death itself has become a sort of fantasy as well for her because it is a means of escape. This also emphasizes the instability of her state of mind. Just like Allen Grey, the building tension, pressure, and conflict has pushed Blanche “over the edge”, making her lose her mind.
Themes & Connotations:
Illusions Overriding Reality
Blanche has consistently been the character most strongly associated with this particular theme as she does not dare face the truth and constantly tries to distort it in her favour. Because of her insanity, her illusions and fantasies have overridden reality. The rape in scene 10 is the ultimate act which destroyed her dreams, driving her even more insane. However, it seems that this insanity has pushed her even further into her fantasies. Prior to the rape, Blanche only attempted to make her fantasies a reality, thereby acknowledging the truth and grittiness of reality. But now, she is living in such fantasies, truly believing that Shep Huntleigh will come to her rescue. Even though it could be interpreted that Blanche resigns to the realness of life only when she realises that Shep is not coming for her, she still remains in some sort of fantasy, depending “on the kindness of strangers” as she allows the doctor to take her away. But Blanche’s problems with alcohol and promiscuity prove that she has, in fact, resigned to the unpleasant truths of reality long ago.
We are instead left with
Stella, who actually seems to be trapped in another fantasy. By marrying a man
who was initially seen to be much more down to earth, the audience may have
felt that she, in turn, must also be more pragmatic and realistic, especially
in contrast to her sister. But as the play has developed, it becomes apparent
that she refuses to acknowledge the excessive violence that comes with the
passion and vitality of her life with
End Of The Romantic South
The social beliefs of the
Blanche walks through the "common" poker game in a
very sophisticated, elegant way. She tells them “Please don’t get up. I’m only
passing through.” and leaves. They continue to play poker. The opposing ways of
life are evident in this final scene of the play. The poker players are still
drunk and common and
Female Reliance On Men
Williams portrays the
reality of life during the 1940s. He expresses sympathy for women and
considered them to be victims within this patriarchal society. Ideally, women
should be self reliant and be independent from violent men like
Loneliness and the longing for lovep.225 “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Blanche's famous line is full of terrible irony. It is true that Blanche has often depended on the kindness of strangers, but all of them have abused and abandoned her. In the end, even her own sister has betrayed her. Her fragility, her inability to fend for herself, and her self-deception has brought her to madness. For so long, she has known only strangers; first as a young girl in a house full of the dying, and then a woman losing her looks seeking protection from callous men. Therefore as the doctor escorts Blanche out of the house, she sees the kindness in his face. She associates kindness with the end of loneliness. The doctor instills strength in Blanche and does not force her to walk out of the house alone. Through the kindness and companionship of the doctor, she willingly walks out of the house. In a potential reversal of fortune it may be that the doctor is in fact a stranger who will help Blanche. There are encouraging signs of hope: the fact that he becomes ‘human’ when he takes off his hat; the fact that he enables Blanche to leave with some of the dignity and composure that she has lacked throughout the play; the fact that the men do actually stand for her as she leaves.
Images & Symbols:
BLANCHE: I can smell the sea air. The rest of my time I’m going to spend on the sea. And when I die, I’m going to die on the sea. You know what I shall die of? [She plucks a grape.] I shall die of eating an unwashed grape one day out on the ocean. I will die – with my hand in the hand of some nice-looking ship’s doctor, a very young one with a small blond moustache and a big silver watch. ‘Poor lady,’ they’ll say, ‘the quinine did her no good. That unwashed grape has transported her soul to heaven.’ [The cathedral chimes are heard.] And I’ll be buried at sea sewn up in a clean white sack and dropped overboard – at noon – in the blaze of summer – and into an ocean as blue as [chimes again] my first lover’s eyes!
The sea, due to its shear size, has connotations of grandness and power. In this context, it may be interpreted as Blanche’s final liberation. This correlates strongly with the motif of death. The sea is truly symbolic as its vastness gives a sense of release for Blanche. But the sea may also reflect the unpredictability of the Kowalski household.
‘BLANCHE: You’re both mistaken. It’s Della Robbia blue. The blue of the robe in the old Madonna pictures. Are these grapes washed? … That doesn’t mean they’ve been washed. [The cathedral bells chime.] Those cathedral bells – they’re the only clean thing in the Quarter. Well, I’m going now. I’m ready to go.’
The religious imagery has never appeared before in the play. There is a slight irony to have cathedral chimes suddenly be heard in the last scene of the play, especially when so many unpleasant truths have been revealed. As Blanche says correctly, “they’re the only clean thing in the Quarter” as the Madonna pictures and the cathedral bells have connotations of purity and holiness.
Kowalski Household as a “Trap”
Blanche refers to the
Kowalski household as a trap on several occasions, but it is in fact Stella who
is truly trapped. She now has a child with
Blanche’s behavior toward
the poker players and during her bath reflects the way being raped by
‘[…the silver-backed mirror in her hand and a look of sorrowful perplexity as though all human experience shows on her face. BLANCHE finally speaks with sudden hysteria.]’ The audience is intended to feel much more sympathy for Blanche at this stage in the play because of her suffering and her understanding of the harsh nature of reality. This awareness has caused the slow degradation of her beauty.
[He takes off his hat and now becomes personalized. The un-human quality goes. His voice is gentle and reassuring as he crosses to BLANCHE and crouches in front of her. As he speaks her name, her terror subsides a little. The lurid reflections fade from the walls, the inhuman cries and noises die out and her own hoarse crying is calmed.] … [holding tight to his arm]: Whoever you are – I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. … […She allows him to lead her as if she were blind…]’
Blanche has suffered considerably in her life, having lost a man who she truly loved as well as her family. Being a woman in the patriarchal society of the 1940s is also another difficulty which she must deal with. Blanche tries to cope with her loneliness by sleeping with a number of men, but her promiscuity ruins her image and name and this is a truth which she consistently tries to hide. Her dependence on strangers is a clear indication of her desperation as a human being, being unable to depend on any family. But the cruel truth is that such kindness is only a method of manipulation; the men whom she slept with are only kind in exchange for sex, while the doctor uses this “human” kindness to persuade her to go with him to the mental asylum. Perhaps, it also illustrates the hardship she suffered with her family; she has been so disillusioned by her family that she would rather find comfort in the presence of strangers. It should also be noted that the strangers whom Blanche refers to are all men. This again, reflects the female reliance on men during the time.
Stella Kowalski & Eunice Hubbel
STELLA: I couldn’t
believe her story and go on living with
EUNICE: Don’t ever believe it. Life has got to go on. No matter what happens, you’ve got to keep going.
These two characters very
much reflect the theme of female reliance on men during the 1940s. Williams
portrayed women generally as the victims of this patriarchal society. It would
appear that Stella does not discount the idea of
Relation of Part to Whole:
This scene is perhaps one
of the most important scenes of the play. Major themes are reemphasised as well
as motifs which help illustrate such themes. But most significantly, it becomes
evident that there is no hero in the play, only victims and perpetrators and
people struggling to live day by day and who are struggling just to ‘get by’. It
may be interpreted that Williams is criticizing human nature. At this time of
social change, Williams is able to reveal the imperfections of the industrial working
class thereby illustrating the fundamental flaws of human nature.