A Streetcar Named Desire: Williams’ Message to the Audience Regarding Mental Illness
For decades, the topic regarding mental health has been looked down upon, with many considering it as a taboo that should not be discussed or mentioned. But as more awareness is raised, society becomes increasingly aware of those in distress, encouraging many worldwide to end the stigma and discrimination that still lingers today. In the play, A Streetcar Named Desire, the author Tennessee Williams explores the negative feedback society gives towards mental health. With his play, he presents the tragic life of Blanche Dubois in order to force the audience to acknowledge the role society could play in caring for those suffering from emotional and mental distress.
Blanche’s traumatic past and its burden on her mental state draws pity from the audience to understand the extremity of her situation, allowing them to recognize the severity mental illness can have on an individual. An example can be seen with the destruction of Blanche’s home. According to her, she stayed and fought for her home while dealing with the deaths of her family as well as the debt that she was slowly falling into (Williams 22). For Blanche, the loss of Belle Reve was almost equivalent to the loss of her childhood and her aristocratic roots. Furthermore, it also served as a reminder of Stella’s abandonment, leaving Blanche with the heavy responsibility to save the plantation herself. With the overwhelming stress of maintaining her home, the death of her family, and the absence of her sister, Blanche is pushed over the psychological edge. Not only did Blanche suffer through the loss of her home, but she was also affected by the tragic suicide of her late husband. After his death, she “had many intimacies with strangers… intimacies with strangers was all [she] seemed able to fill [her] empty heart with” (Williams 196). Blanche alleviates her loneliness by turning to the reliance of sexual promiscuity in order to fill the void left by her husband. Her fear of being alone, as well as her constant encounters with death, uncovers her immorality, forcing her to seek distraction and attention through intimacies with strangers. The traumatic experiences that Blanche underwent caused her to fear feelings of loneliness and rejection, as it reminds her of the pain she had to endure in her past. Moreover, her past draws an emotional connection between the audience and her character, inducing pity from the audience to understand the extremity of her emotions.
The treatment Blanche receives from the characters around her impacts her mental state as well, urging the audience to acknowledge the importance of being attentive towards those suffering from mental distress. Stanley, in particular, is a man filled with “hubristic pride, [which tends to be] associated with feelings of superiority, arrogance… aggression, hostility, and manipulation” (The Myth of the Alpha Male). With these alpha male traits that Stanley holds, he becomes a dominating and aggressive man, which becomes threatening especially towards a timid character like Blanche. She eventually encounters his brutal and insensitive nature, which is manifested when she was raped by him. As a result of Stanley’s cruelty, Blanche’s world collapses, forcing her to build even more lies and illusions in order for her to see the world in a different light. Stella, on the other hand, is more caring and attentive towards her sister. But after hearing about the rape of her sister, she “couldn’t believe [Blanche’s] story and go on living with Stanley” (Williams 165). Stella refuses to believe Blanche’s story and eventually chooses her husband over her sister. She chooses to think that Blanche is lying because she is unsure whether her delusional sister should be trusted, especially after claiming that she was raped by Stanley. Even if Stella did believe Blanche’s story of rape, she still makes the decision to belittle her troubles to stay with Stanley, therefore devaluing and neglecting Blanche’s importance. Stanley’s abuse and Stella’s neglect towards Blanche throughout the play demonstrate that many individuals are condemned for their mental health, which drives the audience to understand that it is crucial to view mental health as a sensitive topic, not something to neglect.
Some may argue that society cannot always help those who are unable to help themselves. In other words, society should not interfere with the lives of those suffering from mental illnesses, especially when those suffering believe that they do not need help. However, their failure to recognize their sickness further indicates the great responsibility society should have with assisting them because it is more plausible to help them realize the condition they are in, rather than disregarding it. As seen in the schooling environment today, teens are facing increasing amounts of pressure, which can easily result in mental illnesses. It is also common for them to put up a facade to conceal themselves from the stigma and discrimination, rejecting help offered from the other side. However, in response to these students, “district[s] has trained teachers and offered more counseling. It is now training all students in how to step in to help those who threaten to kill themselves” (Newsela). With the issue regarding mental health in mind, schools are beginning to increase their focus on the well being of their students, offering counseling and therapeutic help as well as promoting support from their peers as well. This type of support allows teens to realize the harmful situation they are in, which helps reduce the amount of stress and burden they carry.
Every year, millions of people worldwide suffer from mental distress, creating a global issue that needs to be resolved as soon as possible. This topic remains a taboo in many parts of the world today, stigmatizing and ostracizing many individuals suffering from it. Tennessee Williams’s play, A Streetcar Named Desire, tells a story about a delusional character named Blanche. Her life forces the audience to acknowledge the role society could play in caring for those suffering from emotional and mental distress. By raising awareness and support, society can easily break down the stigma and discrimination that confines many individuals today, guiding them away from the darkness that they are constrained in.
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