Monday, March 31, 2008

A Streetcar Named Desire

When I was young, I memorized a speech from the play The Madwoman of Chaillot about how, if everyone believed in them, her pearls would become real. When I got older, I read A Streetcar Named Desire and saw the movie with Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando, rapt at Blanche's speech: "I don't want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don't tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it! Don't turn the light on!"

Blanche has always reminded me of my Aunt Jeanne, a fine-looking, hard-drinking southern woman who taught music to elementary school children and played piano at bars. She grew up conforming to all the proper ladylike behaviors, but was disappointed by marriage.

When I was in graduate school, I taught Streetcar in some of my classes, but my students could rarely move past a "Blanche shouldn't have lied" response to the play. Eventually, I gave up teaching it (moving on to Othello, where the main interpretive question is still "why couldn't Othello ask or accuse Desdemona about his suspicions?").

All this leads me to wonder: Are the emotions of A Streetcar Named Desire now dated? Or is it just that anyone under 20 is too young to imagine being in Blanche's situation? (Is this a possible consequence of sheltering our children?)

These days, it seems we want all uncomfortable truths brought out into the light, in the belief that this will resolve their uncomfortableness. What we want is the ending of the Simpsons cartoon "A Streetcar Named Marge," where at the end of their musical version of Streetcar (when Blanche is led off by the doctor from the state mental institution murmuring "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers"), all the Simpsons characters sing "A stranger's just a friend you haven't met!"

1 comment:

lemming said...

My feeling was always that Stanley was a jerk. My 11th grade English class concluded that Stella is much more important than people realize - perhaps too dazzled by Vivien Leigh?