“We've had this date with each other from the beginning.”
I stood there silently as the librarian checked me out. I stared at the cheaply laminated paper book cover as she ran it under the laser barcode scanner. On it, a shirtless Marlon Brando staring off in the distance. "What the hell is this going to be about?" my teenage mind pondered. She handed me the book. I looked at the cover again, squinted: "A Streetcar Named Desire" by Tennessee Williams. I sighed, unzipped my back pack, threw it in, zipped my bag up and briskly walked out of the library.
Later that night, I played video games with my brother, ate dinner with the family, watched two episodes of "The Simpsons" . After lots of procrastination, I finally decided to crack open this "stupid" play my teacher assigned.
About 200 pages later, the book that I tightly gripped right in front of my eyes for the last couple hours, dejectedly fell into my lap. I looked at the wall in front of me blankly.
More than a decade later, I found myself looking through my bookshelf just hours before my flight to Florida was about to take off. I abrasively pulled out novels, judged them, then shoved them back into their spot, "No. No. No... Why is this still here? No."
Then, I saw it. That laminated paper book cover from, oh, so long ago (yup, I didn't return it). I reached for it, then hesitated. I flashed back. My 16-year-old self loved this play (one of the few assignments that captivated my short attention span). [SPOILER ALERT] I remembered hating Blanche DuBois. The ostracized, rough punk rocker that I was back then greatly disapproved of the flighty, dainty, feminine, helpless protagonist.
“I know I fib a good deal. After all, a woman's charm is 50 percent illusion, but when a thing is important I tell the truth."
I found Blanche despicable, fake, pathetic. I liked Stanley Kowalski: a strong, straightforward, ambitious brute. Unapologetically, crushing and destroying anything and everything that stood in his way.
“You're simple, straightforward and honest, a little bit on the primitive side, I should think. To interest you a woman would have to--"
"Lay...her cards out on the table.”
I admired him for seeing through Blanche's lies and artificial behavior. For exposing the truth and stripping away her propriety, jewels, furs and paper lantern that Blanche literally shielded herself with. But the second time I read this play, I felt neither hate nor admiration for any character, just sadness.
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
I was a teenager when I first read "A Street Car Named Desire". I had no idea what real pain was like back then. What it felt like to love someone. What it felt like to lose someone. What it felt like to be betrayed. What it felt like to have no where to turn. To feel hopeless and helpless. I did not know the things I know now. I didn't realize how miserable both Blanche and Stanley were.
"I don't want realism. I want magic!"
Stanley with some insane inferiority complex, obsessed with subjugating women. Verbally and physically abusing his wife. Raping Blanche, completely and utterly crushing her already weak spirit, forcing her to lose her already loose grasp of reality.
“SINCE EARLIEST MANHOOD, THE CENTER OF HIS LIFE HAS BEEN PLEASURE WITH WOMEN, THE GIVING AND TAKING OF IT, NOT WITH WEAK INDULGENCE."
Violently and viciously tearing a part any thing and every thing -- just to do it. He was a selfish animal. He may have thought he was better than everyone else, but he's really a despicable, treacherous villain. A monster, strong physically and mentally, that preys on the weak.
“He acts like an animal, has an animal's habits! Eats like one, moves like one, talks like one! There's even something -- sub-human -- something not quite to the stage of humanity yet!"
Stanley lacked humanity, compassion, decency. Blanche, on the other hand, felt too much. Emotional, mercurial and erratic. As a teen, I couldn't understand why someone would be so insecure and unstable, but it's easy to say that when you've never been vulnerable or hurt, you've never endured trauma that shook you to the core, that altered you.
"You didn't know Blanche as a girl. Nobody, nobody, was tender and trusting as she was. But people like you abused her, and forced her to change."
It's not specific in the play. But Blanche suffered. Belle Reve, where Stella and Blanche, grew up fell into disrepair and was lost. Blanche had to watch what was left of her family slowly die off. If that wasn't painful enough, in her youth she had fallen deeply in love with a gorgeous young man... who liked other men. She catches him with another man and tries to hide the anguish, shock, disappointment, just to later explode and harshly call him out later, in which he responds by killing himself. I mean, really -- can this get any sadder? These events ripped into her and she never recovered. These events caused significant emotional damage. And after all that, she had no one. No husband, no family, no home.
"TARANTULA WAS THE NAME OF IT. I STAYED AT A HOTEL CALLED THE TARANTULA ARMS."
" YES, A BIG SPIDER. THAT'S WHERE I BROUGHT MY VICTIMS. YES, I'VE HAD MANY MEETINGS WITH STRANGERS."
It's not clear if Blanche was actually a prostitute, but she was promiscuous. C'mon, we've heard it time and time again -- an insecure woman looking for love in all the wrong places. That promiscuity, insecurity and the unresolved issues from her past evolved into a deeper, bigger problem: she started to prey on younger men. Perhaps, in a way to make herself feel better about her age or maybe because they were easier to seduce. -- who knows. So the teacher engages in a relationship with a young student, loses her job. She's left with nothing and has to impose on her sister, Stella, and her husband, Stanley.
10 years ago, I thought Blanche was repulsive. How could she be so self-destructive and take advantage of young men? By no means do I approve of her appalling actions, but I do understand now, if you don't work on gaining confidence, if you don't tackle serious emotional or mental problems early, they will only get worse and transform into some thing darker and more evil. Blanche tried to be strong when all that tragedy fell upon her, but instead of facing it, confronting it, doing something about the pain and emotions she felt, she just tried to hide it and hid from it. Her institutionalization later on is the result.
I hated Blanche when I was 17 years old. I don't hate Blanche now. I just feel sad for her. So many people drown in their own insecurities and issues. She did not deserve the sad ending she got. But life is not fair. We live in a cruel world. Cruel things happen. There are cruel people out there. I definitely empathize for Blanche now. She just didn't survive.
"Deliberate cruelty is unforgivable, and the one thing of which I have never, ever been guilty of."
Blanche and Stanley are both selfish. But Blanche's poor actions were a result of her trying to drown out her sorrows. Stanley just seemed malicious because he was an evil, awful person. He likes subjugating women. He likes making people feel below him. He likes hurting people.
Blanche was an easy target. Instead of having sympathy for her or her situation, he took her hour of need as an opportunity to break her down and annihilate her. We don't know Stanley's history. We really don't get a look back into his past, so who knows what kinds of challenges he's faced. It's apparent he doesn't like wealthy people or people looking down on him, and Blanche's pedantic nature obviously rubbed him the wrong way.
I could relate to that irritation back in high school. I was an outcast. I felt like people looked down on me and it bothered me. And like Stanley, I stood up for myself, spoke my mind and embraced who I was...but I never went out of my way to hurt, let alone, demolish someone.
I don't like Stanley or Blanche, but I did find it interesting that over the course of a decade, I changed so much. I mean it is to be expected. Life changes you. Experiences, good and bad mold you. I guess my re-read of this tragedy really made me realize how much I have grown up.
When I was young, I didn't really have major problems. When I read about troubled, complicated Blanche then, I could not comprehend her situation. Over the years, I have seen sadness -- with myself, my family, my friends, co-workers, on the news. I know now that life is hard and complex.
Blanche is carted away in some mental institution van in the end. She lost it. Likely lobotomized and then tortured for the rest of her days. She had no guidance, no help and just kept falling deeper and deeper into sorrow and anger that took over.
Tennesse Williams wrote this as a warning. Most of us begin as Blanche did, initially excited and drawn to the bright light of life. Then hardships happen. If you don't prepare yourself and walk out there with some understanding of the harshness of this world, it will blindside and hurt you. If you survive hard times, realize this is just the way it is and adjust. Prepare for the "Stanleys" in the world, who are threatened by your enthusiasm. Be ready for danger, injury and pain. Be ready for those hits. Get ready to be knocked down, but be ready to recover and stand up. Do not forget yourself and your strength.
"There's so much -- so much confusion in the world...Thank you for being so kind! I need Kindness now."
Be aware that world is rough and unfair, but be kind. This play is also a cautionary tale of what selfishness and unnecessary cruelty can do to a person. Should Blanche have had a thicker skin? Possibly. Probably. But did she deserve any of the horrors that happened to her? Do any of us deserve any of the unkindness or injustice we constantly endure during our lives? That's why it's also important that we be kind, always be kind. Instead of ripping each other a part or bringing each other down (like Stanley did). We should be accepting and caring to all.
Yes, it took me a decade to realize that this story was a warning:
Be careful. Be strong. Be loving. Before it's too late.