Analysis of Major Characters
When the play begins, Blanche
is already a fallen woman in society’s eyes. Her family fortune and estate are
gone, she lost her young husband to suicide years earlier, and she is a social
pariah due to her indiscrete sexual behavior. She also has a bad drinking
problem, which she covers up poorly. Behind her veneer of social snobbery and
sexual propriety, Blanche is an
insecure, dislocated individual. She is an aging Southern belle who lives in a
state of perpetual panic about her fading beauty. Her manner is dainty and
frail, and she sports a wardrobe of showy but cheap evening clothes. Stanley
quickly sees through Blanche’s act and seeks out information about her past.
In the Kowalski household, Blanche
pretends to be a woman who has never known indignity. Her false propriety is
not simply snobbery, however; it constitutes a calculated attempt to make
herself appear attractive to new male suitors. Blanche
depends on male sexual admiration for her sense of self-esteem, which means
that she has often succumbed to passion. By marrying, Blanche
hopes to escape poverty and the bad reputation that haunts her. But because the
chivalric Southern gentleman savior and caretaker
(represented by Shep Huntleigh) she hopes
will rescue her is extinct, Blanche is
left with no realistic possibility of future happiness. As Blanche sees it, Mitch
is her only chance for contentment, even though he is far from her ideal.
persecution of Blanche foils her
pursuit of Mitch as well as her
attempts to shield herself from the harsh truth of her situation. The play chronicles
the subsequent crumbling of Blanche’s self-image and sanity. Stanley
himself takes the final stabs at Blanche,
destroying the remainder of her sexual and mental esteem by raping her and then
committing her to an insane asylum. In the end, Blanche
blindly allows herself to be led away by a kind
doctor, ignoring her sister’s cries. This final image is the sad culmination of
Blanche’s vanity and total dependence upon men for happiness.
Audience members may well see Stanley as an
egalitarian hero at the play’s start. He is loyal to his friends and passionate
to his wife. Stanley
possesses an animalistic physical vigor that is evident in his love of work, of
fighting, and of sex. His family is from Poland, and several times he expresses his outrage at being called “Polack” and
other derogatory names. When Blanche
calls him a “Polack,” he makes her look old-fashioned and ignorant by asserting
that he was born in America,
is an American, and can only be called “Polish.” Stanley represents the new,
to which Blanche doesn’t
belong, because she is a relic from a defunct social hierarchy. He sees himself
as a social leveler, as he tells Stella
in Scene Eight.
Stanley’s intense hatred of
Blanche is motivated in part by the
aristocratic past Blanche represents.
He also (rightly) sees her as untrustworthy and does not appreciate the way she
attempts to fool him and his friends into thinking she is better than they are.
animosity toward Blanche manifests
itself in all of his actions toward her—his investigations of her past, his
birthday gift to her, his sabotage of her relationship with Mitch.
In the end, Stanley’s down-to-earth character
proves harmfully crude and brutish. His chief amusements are gambling, bowling,
sex, and drinking, and he lacks ideals and imagination. His disturbing,
degenerate nature, first hinted at when he beats his wife, is fully evident
after he rapes his sister-in-law. Stanley shows no remorse for his
brutal actions. The play ends with an image of Stanley as the
ideal family man, comforting his wife as she holds their newborn child. The
wrongfulness of this representation, given what we have learned about him in
the play, ironically calls into question society’s decision to ostracize Blanche.
Harold “Mitch” Mitchell
Perhaps because he lives with his dying mother, Mitch is noticeably more sensitive than Stanley’s other poker friends. The other men pick on him for being
a mama’s boy. Even in his first, brief line in Scene One, Mitch’s
gentlemanly behavior stands out. Mitch
appears to be a kind, decent human being who, we learn in Scene Six, hopes to
marry so that he will have a woman to bring home to his dying mother.
fit the bill of the chivalric hero of whom Blanche
dreams. He is clumsy, sweaty, and has unrefined interests like muscle building.
Though sensitive, he lacks Blanche’s romantic perspective and spirituality, as well as her
understanding of poetry and literature. She toys with his lack of
intelligence—for example, when she teases him in French because she knows he won’t understand—duping him into playing along with her
Though they come from completely different worlds, Mitch and Blanche
are drawn together by their mutual need of
companionship and support, and they therefore believe themselves right for one
another. They also discover that they have both experienced the death of a
loved one. The snare in their relationship is sexual. As part of her
prim-and-proper act, Blanche
repeatedly rejects Mitch’s physical
affections, refusing to sleep with him. Once he discovers the truth about Blanche’s
sordid sexual past, Mitch is both
angry and embarrassed about the way Blanche
has treated him. When he arrives to chastise her, he states that he feels he
deserves to have sex with her, even though he no longer respects her enough to
think her fit to be his wife.
The difference in Stanley’s and Mitch’s
treatment of Blanche at the play’s end
underscores Mitch’s fundamental
gentlemanliness. Though he desires and makes clear that he wants to sleep with Blanche, Mitch
does not rape her and leaves when she cries out. Also, the tears Mitch sheds after Blanche
struggles to escape the fate Stanley has arranged for her show
that he genuinely cares for her. In fact, Mitch
is the only person other than Stella who seems to
understand the tragedy of Blanche’s madness.