How Does Tennessee Williams Present the Ultimate Destruction of His Tragic Heroine in Scene 10?

An appreciation of the techniques used to augment Blanche’s tragic fall.

Scene ten witnesses the rape and psychological deterioration of Blanche. Williams skilfully exercises dramaturgical techniques to heighten tension and allow absolute control throughout the scene. Writing in the high and post modernist periods his characteristic use of stage directions coupled with the potent examples of expressionism and symbolism enabled by his “plastic theatre” augments the downfall of the tragic heroine.

Blanche’s mental instability mirrors many of Williams’ female characters reflecting the familial problems that beleaguered his life. For example in Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie”, Laura symbolises his sister suffering from the same emotional volatility as Blanche. This inability to control her mindset leaves Blanche unable to escape her fate. Blanche and Stanley’s differences tragically lead to the fated rape scene as underlined by Stanley (“We’ve had this date set with each other from the beginning”). By scene ten Blanche is presented lost in her illusions succeeding the argument with Mitch. She is suddenly overcome by a “mood of hysterical exhilaration” which precedes her fantasy:

“How about taking a swim, a moonlight swim at the old rock quarry? If anyone’s sober enough to drive…”

Blanche seeks a child hood retreat in the make-believe. Her erroneous perceptions of reality become more frequent as she loses her sanity. For example she is seen in scene four inventing Shep Huntleigh thus revealing her escapist manner with her wishes to avoid social conflicts that are represented through Williams’ characters. Blanche proves this through her murmurs of the “moonlight swim at the old rock quarry”. Her traumatised mind underlines the scene’s tragic undertones as the audience understands that she is utterly vulnerable.

However Stanley is unaware of Blanche’s mental problems. He instinctively reacts with his territorial, animalistic nature as she insults his intellect. This contrast between the intellectual and the primitive heightens the tension of the play as the cultural differences are indicative of the looming fight. In her delusional state Blanche illustrates her image after their intense, stichomythic exchange:

“A cultivated woman, a woman of intelligence and breeding … But I have been foolish – casting my pearls on swine.”

Blanche ironically fits her “foolish” description as she provokes Stanley. She describes herself in the third person with frequent lacunae and non sequiturs revealing her struggle to keep a coherent mental pattern. She denigrates Stanley with her use of animalistic imagery of “swine” and “ape” also underlined in scene four (“What such a man has to offer is animal force”). Her speech holds a gentility that she supports with poetic hendiadys (“intelligence and breeding”) that shows an affectation of cultural intellectual wealth. She commences this façade from the first scenes (“you had to live in these conditions…”). This is a metaphor for the South as Blanche may have been a woman of culture but is now corrupted.

Stanley’s violent nature represents the lifestyle adopted by the modern world. Williams uses expressionism to augment the animalistic, primitivism enacted by Stanley throughout the scene. Stanley’s invasive predatorial temperament is paralleled by the locomotive:

“The barely audible ‘blue piano’ begins to drum louder. The sound of it turns into the roar of an approaching locomotive.”

Williams manipulates the frequent noise of the blue piano that indicates the ambience of modernity which usually aggravates Blanche. However when Stanley approaches, the once irritating ‘blue piano’ suddenly appears a comfort in comparison to the intrusive “roar” of the locomotive that points to the deterioration of Blanche’s mind. This locomotive was similarly used during scene four to mask Stanley’s arrival (“Under cover of the train’s noise Stanley enters from outside”). Stanley is presented completely comfortable in his surroundings. Williams enhances Stanley’s aura of physical prowess by the consequent effects on Blanche’s psyche. For example when Stanley looms towards Blanche:

“Lurid reflections appear on the walls around Blanche. The shadows are of a grotesque and menacing form.”

The abstract images on the walls alienate Blanche’s surroundings, plunging her into an uncontrollable quasi reality, where all her senses are assaulted (“the inhuman noises rise up”). This use of expressionism accentuates Blanche’s torture. Pathos is instilled as the audience understand that the overwhelming images and “noises” leave Blanche emotionally defenceless and full of fear. This defencelessness constitutes the presentation of Blanche’s destruction as Stanley is free to control her fate. Williams’ distant historical background concerned the war against Indians. He mentioned writing is “similar to the defence of the stockade against bad savages”. This description is reminiscent of the conflicts between Blanche and Stanley.

Blanche endeavours to escape her inevitable doom by using the telephone, a modern symbol that represents her incompatibility. She drops the phone when confronted by Stanley’s “brilliant silk pyjamas”. There is a pause and “a clicking becomes audible”. This rhythmic sound increases the tense atmosphere. Also there is a symbolist juxtaposition between their evening wear:

“…she has decked herself out in a somewhat soiled and crumpled white satin evening gown and a pair of scuffed silver slippers”

The description of her clothes signifies the old South, the potent hendiadys of “soiled and crumpled” representing the South’s corruption with the emphasis of the poetic sibilance of the “scuffed silver slippers”. Williams focuses upon the concept of the mythic South: a supposed land of gentility and culture. Blanche and the South are presented as “soiled” and corrupted in comparison to modern America. This is portrayed by the contrast of “brilliant” pyjamas and “soiled” satin gown. The “soiled” quality induces pathos as Blanche appears “used”. The “white” gown symbolises innocence, echoed by her escapist propensity as she enters her own illusory world. This innocence is dissimilar to her “red” satin dress that revealed her predatory manner in scene five. Her change in behaviour proves she is a shadow of her former character increasing the tone of tragedy as Blanche’s fails to hold onto sanity.

Overall Williams completes the destruction of his tragic heroine by increasing tension and sympathy from the audience. He uses expressionism, symbolism and stage directions to augment the significance of each contrast between Stanley and Blanche leading to their conflict.

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