In A Streetcar Named Desire
, Blanche DuBois is introduced differently in Tennessee Williams
’s play than she is in Elia Kazan
’s film, and each introduction gives the viewer different first impression
s of Blanche
. In the play
, Blanche is introduced through her clothing and her interaction with Eunice, and the viewer gets the impression that Blanche is a fragile
woman. In the film
, Blanche is introduced through her interaction with a young sailor
, information shown in the background
, and her clothing
. The viewer gets the impression that Blanche is a woman who behaves familiarly—even inappropriately
—with men, she is probably not
woman, and she is down on her luck financial
ly. When Blanche is first introduced in the play, these things are not suggested.
In the play, when we first meet Blanche she is dressed in a fancy white suit, white gloves, a white hat, and pearl jewelry. Her nice outfit and fine jewelry indicate that Blanche is from an upper class background. But the color of her outfit is important, too. White is an impractical color. It is hard to do anything in a white outfit without getting it dirty. Since Williams says Blanche is dainty, not dirty, this suggests that she is not very active woman. A woman wearing good jewelry and a fancy white suit is more likely to do things like drink tea, embroider, and read romance novels than to scrub floors, burp babies, and cook messy dinners. Before Blanche opens her mouth, and before we consider her behavior, her style of dress gives us a very definite impression of her class and personality.
In the play, Blanche is introduced to the audience as a fragile and snobbish character. Blanche’s fragility is demonstrated when she first arrives outside the apartment. She does not think she is in the right place, but she is too uncertain to ask Eunice and the neighbor for directions. She is not confident enough to address strangers; she doesn’t speak until Eunice addresses her. This is a deliberate choice on Williams’ part. If Blanche had spoken to the women first, she would have come across as assertive. Not speaking until she is spoken to demonstrates the nervousness of her fragile personality.
Confident, strong people can talk to strangers. Nervous, fragile people wait until someone else speaks to them. Furthermore, Eunice’s words make Blanche sound like a helpless child. She says, “What’s the matter, honey? Are you lost?” This is the way an adult would approach a child wandering alone. Adults don’t usually speak to each other that way. Williams says Blanche’s dress and uncertainty are supposed to remind one of a moth, but I she think reminds one of a frightened bird that has been blown off its course and does not know how to get to the place where it belongs. But Blanche is no sparrow; she is more like a snooty peacock.
Blanche’s snobbishness shows in her clothing and in her reaction to Stella and Stanley’s apartment. Blanche’s outfit shows that she wants to get attention and to be impressive. Fine pearls and frilly white suits are eye-catching because most people don’t dress like that. No one accidentally wears such an outfit. Blanche’s outfit was planned, and it was planned to help fulfill her desires for attention and admiration. Such desires are frequently seen as snobby. Her high and mighty thoughts are revealed when she gazes around the apartment with a look on her face that says “It’s a dump.” Her snooty, disapproving expression prompts Eunice to say in a “defensive” tone that the apartment is cute when it’s clean. Eunice probably would not have said that if Blanche hadn’t been wearing a critical look on her face. Defensiveness is Eunice’s response to Blanche’s snobbery.
In the play’s introduction Blanche looks like a nervous snob, but nothing is suggested about her relationships with men. The movie, however, gives us a very different introduction to Blanche. An extra scene is added to introduce her. In this scene she arrives at a train station, speaks to a sailor, boards a streetcar, and walks down the street toward Stella and Stanley’s home. The director added this scene because he wanted to introduce Blanche in a different way.
In the film, we first see a happy, vibrant wedding party dash into the train station and disappear in a cloud of smoke. The smoke stirs, and after a moment, Blanche emerges from that cloud with a haggard look on her face, her hat slightly askew. Blanche contrasts with the wedding party in a lot of ways: There are many of them, they are full of motion, they know where they’re going, and they are in high spirits. Blanche, however, stands alone, moves stiffly and uncertainly, and does not look happy. The smoke gives the scene a surreal effect—almost like a flashback—and the filmmaker seems to be suggesting that Blanche entered into a marriage or romantic relationship that disappointed her and brought her to her present wild-eyed state.
Blanche stands in the train station next to a young sailor. She looks left and right with a dazed expression on her face as a parade of men file behind her in a line. This is NOT an ordinary crowd. Until the sailor addresses Blanche, everyone walking behind her is a man, and they all wear clothing suggesting different professions. The shot is framed in such a way that the director seems to be telling us, “This is Blanche and that is her long parade of men.” Remember, there is still smoke and the scene still has a dreamy flashback quality. The filmmaker wants us to associate Blanche with men—men of all kinds. Their variety shows us that she is not picky.
When the sailor addresses Blanche, she loses her confused demeanor. Her eyes snap into reality. She tells him where she is going, which is not a very wise thing for a woman to do. It is not safe for a woman to give a strange man specific directions about where she is going; not all strange men are gentlemen. Luckily, this man is nice. He takes Blanche’s arm and hoists her and her luggage into the train. She thanks him with a flirtatious smile. Blanche is being overly familiar with a strange man, and it’s important for us to see that. The director wants us to know that Blanche is the sort of woman who flirts with strange sailors in train stations. This is not ladylike behavior; he does not want us to think she is ladylike. This contrasts sharply with Blanche’s prim introduction in the play.
The film cuts to a raucous street scene. Jazz music blares, drunks slump against buildings, barroom brawls startle Blanche, and cars honk their horns. Two nuns usher a group of little girls dressed in fancy while first communion dresses down the street, toward the left side of the screen. On the far right side of the screen is a building with the word GIRLS painted on it. This is probably a strip club, and at any rate, it does not look like a reputable place. Blanche enters from the left side of the screen and walks toward the strip club in the opposite direction that the nuns and girls are walking. This is symbolic. The virtuous females—the virginal nuns and the innocent little girls—walk away from the seedy building, probably to some more virtuous place. But Blanche enters from the virtuous side of the screen and crosses over to the scandalous side! This visual clue tells us that Blanche is a disreputable woman. The nuns and nice little girls who go to church walk one path. Blanche is literally walking the opposite path.
Blanche’s clothing in the opening scene of the film give a much different impression than that of her clothing in the play. In the film, she wears a hat with a long unkempt veil, a shirt with a ruffled neckline, a skirt with a modest hemline, a pendant tied around her neck with cord, and a withered corsage. She looks like a smudged, disheveled waif who’s seen better days, not like a well-dressed upper class woman going to a tea party. Blanche looks like she does not have much money. She couldn’t even afford a chain for her pendant; otherwise, why would she tie it on with string? Also, her clothing is not white, as it is in the play. White is a color that western culture associates with purity. White is the color that the bride at the train station and the good first communion girls wear. Blanche wears a color that shows up onscreen as gray. This symbolically demonstrates that Blanche is not as clean as the other women.
The play and the movie each set Blanche up to be two different characters. The play’s Blanche is prim, snooty, and wavering. She may be on the edge—in the next scene she starts drinking whiskey straight in the middle of the afternoon—but she is obviously trying very hard to project a reputable image. As the play goes on, her clean image slips steadily until the truth about Blanche is revealed. In the film, however, Blanche is immediately revealed to be a down-on-her-luck coquette with a seedy aura. For this reason, her checkered past does not surprise the audience. The tension doesn’t build, because we expect her to have unsavory secrets. For this reason, I prefer the play’s introduction to Blanche. Quite simply, I like to be surprised.