Literature in its any form often contains many contradictions and controversies, which is why the ways of interpreting a literary work can significantly differ. People may have different opinions on various events or characters in a novel or other writing. An exemplifying work is a play A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennesse Williams. Critics and researchers often have active debates regarding the role of a specific character named Blanche Dubois. Some believe she is almost a saint and a victim of the circumstances that have shaped her life, while others think Blanche is a “deranged harlot” (Seigle 43). However, although Blanche’s actions and behavior do not put her in a heroic position, she does not appear as a negative character, as well. Being an antihero seems like the most appropriate role for Blanche since her immoral behavior does not reflect any heroic traits, but she is still the play’s central character.
Blanche’s Antiheroic Traits
One of the reasons it is difficult to see Blanche in any other role rather than an antihero is that readers have to make their judgments based solely on her actions and statements. Writers create their heroes, villains, and antiheroes themselves, which means they know their characters better than anyone else. The author’s descriptions and commentaries can help readers understand a particular character better, creating a specific image of them which may be heroic, evil, or any other. However, A Streetcar Named Desire is not a prosaic novel or poem: it is a play, primarily consisting of the characters’ own words. Seigle suggests that some people may see Williams’ sympathies towards Blanche, defining her as a “tragic protagonist” (43). Still, it is challenging to determine whether the author actually sympathizes with his character. The writer’s comments, rarely occurring throughout the play, mostly describe Blanche’s and other characters’ appearances (Williams 3). There is no way to accurately identify how Williams treats his character and what he thinks about her. Therefore, the judgment is left to readers, meaning they can only see the role of Blanche in the literary work through her actions.
Thus, the image Blanche creates of herself is not highly acceptable to society: her lifestyle and actions do not reflect any heroic traits. She engages in sexual affairs with many people, which is mainly considered deviant behavior. According to Vlasopolos, standardized views on Blanche’s actions describe her “as sexually immoral or as a prostitute and nymphomaniac” (324). Readers cannot identify the woman as a tragic protagonist or a heroic character since her primary traits do not correspond with those terms. However, she is the play’s central character, which makes her the antihero.
The reason why Blanche lives the life as she does also proves that she is an antihero. She does not have to descend into her promiscuous lifestyle: nobody forces Blanche to do anything; she does not require money – she has a choice. During the discussion of her sexual affairs, the woman herself says, “after the death of Allan—intimacies with strangers was all I seemed able to fill my empty heart with” (Williams 128). That explanation neither makes Blanche a tragic hero nor even seems reasonable. It seems illogical and ineffective to attempt to fill the void left after the beloved one’s death by having multiple sexual partners instead of seeking a meaningful connection. Love can only be replaced with love, and the woman makes her own choice according to her own will. Thus, Blanche’s words sound more like excuses rather than explanations, which makes her behavior antiheroic.
However, though Blanche cannot be considered a tragic hero, she does not take a position of a negative character, as well. The woman is desperate and overwhelmed with processing her losses, but she has no intentions of harming people surrounding her or doing any other type of damage. The rape scene involving Blanche and Stanley can demonstrate how far Blanche is from being a “bad guy” (Williams 141). Although she constantly behaves beyond the moral standards established in society, Stanley’s one immoral action makes him much more of a negative character compared to Blanche. The moral values, in this case, suggest that the woman’s action deal damage only to her own soul and life, and she acts following her own will. Therefore, having neither heroic nor villainous traits, Blanche appears to readers as an antihero.
An Opposing View
An opposite opinion suggests that Blanche’s tragic and sorrowful fate actually reflects her heroic traits. In other words, the woman appears to readers as a hero – not the most honorable one, but a hero nonetheless. That opinion is based on the concept of a tragic protagonist, which has already been mentioned, and the concept of victimization related to the rape scene and societal pressure. Vlasopolos claims that people seeing Blanche as a hero perceive her “as the sole representative of sensibility destroyed by a callous society” (323). The woman’s story is a severe tragedy, which is why she is trying to deal with it by any possible means, making her a heroic character, enduring and courageous.
However, that opinion and both related concepts do not seem to be a solid viewpoint. The supporters of that position trace the image of a tragic protagonist throughout the entire play, stating that Blanche’s whole life is a tragedy. Nevertheless, the real tragedy in the woman’s life is the loss of a husband, while everything that follows is the consequence of her own decisions and preferences. The readers’ pity is provoked by Blanche being visibly heartbroken, which is why she may seem like a tragic hero (Seigle 44). Allan’s death is described at the beginning of the play, creating the corresponding image straightaway and making readers ignore Blanche’s immoral lifestyle. Furthermore, it seems like the woman’s behavior is what has led her to become a victim of Stanley in the first place, which breaks the concept of victimization, as well. The presented arguments do not appear solid enough to identify Blanche as a tragic hero.
Overall, Blanche is an antihero as she is the play’s central character who does not have any heroic traits and behaves immorally. Blanche appears as a fallen woman, and though the reasons for her downfall are clear, her choices and decisions are questionable. Her path and fate are truly sorrowful, but that is her responsibility, not society’s. Blanche’s loss makes readers feel sorry for her, but becoming a heroic character takes more than a loss. One should endure their suffering, learn to live with it, and eventually overcome it to obtain the title of a tragic protagonist. In Blanche’s case, she engages in immoral behavior to forget her pain instead of facing it, which is why the woman is an antihero in the play.
Seigle, Lauren. “Blanche Dubois: An Antihero.” Back2BU. Web.
Vlasopolos, Anca. “Authorizing History: Victimization in A Streetcar Named Desire.” Theatre Journal, vol. 38, no. 9, 1986, pp. 322-338.
Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.