The Importance of Illusion and Fantasy in a Street Car Named Desire

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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The Importance of Illusion and Fantasy in a Street Car Named Desire

This essay will discuss the role of illusion and fantasy in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” It will explore how the characters use illusion to cope with reality and how these illusions contribute to the play’s tragic elements. Additionally, PapersOwl presents more free essays samples linked to A Streetcar Named Desire.

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An Illusion is a “false illustration of something, a deceptive impression, or a false belief” ( Fantasy is completely a normative thought especially in children, it allows one to imagine what an outcome could be. In contrast, when illusion and fantasy are associated with an adult character, it portrays insanity and madness. Tennessee Williams portrays illusion and fantasy to show as struggles that a character accepts to deceive themselves of their acceptance and innocence of reality. In his play A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche has centered herself around illusion and fantasy as a mechanism of self-defense against the cruel reality.

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Blanche’s demise toward her insanity is seen as soon as the play starts, making her a tragic heroine.

The play takes place on a New Orleans street that is associated with poverty, working class, and mixed social classes. Williams portrays illusion by romanticizing the street when Blanche is supposed to get off at Elysian Fields. In Greek Mythology, the Elysian Fields are the final resting place for heroes. Thus to get to her sister she must drive a car named “desire” to get to Elysian fields which represents death. Although both of the places are real, it foreshadows the demise of Blanche and how her desires (illusions and fantasies) will lead to her demise through her being viewed as insane. Blanche hopes to find acceptance of reality but is concerned with the mistakes of her past, that contribute to her resulting in illusions as a coping mechanism. With Blanche’s confrontations with Stanley and Stella lead to her illusions being challenged by reality. Although Blanche clearly represents fantasy and illusions, Stanley contrasts her with his realism. Both characters are involved in conflicts since either of them are persistent about challenging one another. Stella is also forced to illusions through a struggle of her sister’s reality. Thus the themes of illusion and fantasy involving Blanche deal with her acceptance through men, wanting to stay Innocent/Young, and the theme of light vs darkness.

Blanche is an idealistic figure who obviously does not see the world as it is, instead of an illusion of what she wants it to be. Blanche struggles very much with the acceptance of aging and remaining innocent, even though her background shows otherwise. She is often seen wearing satin dresses and bathing frequently, an illusion that allows her to attain innocence. Sampinato examines Blanche’s behavior in the book Drama For Students and concludes that “Both Blanche’s drinking and her endless hot baths suggest that she is attempting to wash away her past and emerge through a sort of watery purgatory” (Spampinato, 294). The past can be accounted for truly allowing Blanche to develop illusions and fantasy after the suicide of her young husband.

In her previous marriage, Blanche’s husband had a deep secret that he was struggling with his sexuality and identified as a homosexual, instead of being who he truly wants to be, he takes his own life due to society and its standards. She feels as she was responsible when she states, “ all I knew was I’d failed him in some mysterious way and wasn’t able to give the help he needed but couldn’t speak of!”(6.114)Thus by Blanche feeling as she was guilty, it seems as it was PTSD. The illusions she creates are to soothe her of the dark memories. The illusion of innocence allows Blanche to feel like a young girl before she got married and how great life for her was. Daniel Thomières explains Blanche’s struggle with reality in his work, “Tennessee Williams and the Two Streetcars when he states, “Blanche cannot recognize the principle of reality, that is to say that we live in time and that we have to accept our losses.”( Thomières, 385). To truly help herself, Blanche must accept the death of her husband and her role, this would be the only way for her to accept reality. Unfortunately Blanche is so preoccupied with the illusion of being young that causes her progression of the acceptance of reality to come to a halt. Spampinato expresses Blanche’s ignorance of the reality of agin when he writes “The reality is that time is slowly robbing Blanche of her beauty, but this is not something she can accept”(Spampinato, 218). Blanche’s stern ignorance of reality leads to her being vulnerable and only being happy when she either is with Mitch or fantasizing about suitors. This leads to her only finding happiness in a relationship of men and as owl citation states “she never goes out on her own to find happiness.”(

After a life of grief and regret, Blanche’s relationships with the male characters of the play are either very defense or either that she is desperate for their love and attention. After the death of her husband, Blanche is fired from her job due to her unacceptable relationship with a young man. Blanche tries to justify her behavior when she says to Mitch “Just panic that drove me from one to another, hunting for some protection” (9.146). Thus, acceptance and protection from a male is what soothed her and brought an illusion of what life could be for her when she was a young maiden. Although Stanley represents realism, his friend Mitch is lonely and wants to seek Blanche. Andrea Gencheva analyzes Blanche in her work, Truth and Illusion in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and concludes,“Having been forced to adopt the socio cultural role of asexual maternity, Blanche is aware that her time is ticking away (Gencheva,33) The attention and acceptance that Mitch gives her, feds her illusionary hunger of remaining young, hiding reality. Mitch’s loneliness is apparent when he states, “You need somebody. And I need somebody, too. Could it be you and me, Blanche?”(6.116). Although it looks to be like a beginning of the fantasy relationship Blanche has craved, it later comes to a sudden halt with Stanley and his realistic view of Blanche.

Stanley has always been suspicious of Blanche and her foggy background; his realism allows him to find out her past and use it against her. Stanley brings Blanche’s and Mitch’s relationship to a halt when he tells Mitch who she was before arriving by a car named desire. Eventually, Mitch’s new discoveries of Blanche quickly cause him to lose disinterest in her and does not accept her for who she is and would rather accept the illusions of Blanche. As the play is progressing the demise of Blanche is quickly becoming aperient, states the beliefs everyone has about Blanche when they state, “They judge Blanche and her past at face value; they focus only on discovering her past mistakes and flaws”( This will eventually lead to her accusations being ignored due to her past. One of the biggest illusions of the play is with the millionaire from Texas. Blanche tells Stella and Stanley that she will be going on a cruise with a man she once knew who was a millionaire in Texas. It is sad to see how detailed her explanation is since it was fantasy and it goes to show the extent of how important fantasy was for her. Stanley’s realism calls her out on the millionaire when he states, “There isn’t no millionaire! And Mitch didn’t come back with roses…There isn’t a goddam thing but imagination!”(10.157-158). Stanley’s realism is so frustrated with Blanche that he presents her with the reality of her actions and how it’s angering him. As Stanley is beginning to uncover her fantasies, it will lead to her demise which is in fact done by Stanley.

Blanche tries to attain the illusion of staying young by trying to avoid light and preferring the darkness, especially when she is in front of Mitch. Darkness to Blanche gives the illusion that she can still project a young version of herself, while light represents realism and how aging truly affects Blanche. Her fight with trying to attain darkness begins as soon as she is in her room, with the naked bulb. To resolve this, she puts a paper lantern to darken its glow. Stanley’s realism trying to get rid of any protection Blanche can hide behind, takes the paper lantern off and truly revealing Blanche’s realistic age. The true struggle against Light and Darkness is when Blanche talks to Mitch and he tries to switch the light on. Mitch complains about how dark it is, which Blanche responds to his comment with “I like it dark. The dark is comforting me”(9.143). The illusion of being young which to her is associated with the dark is what is comforting.

The suicide of her husband destroys her light which causes her to start running away from it. Her escape of the light is also her escape from reality. When the light finally shows who Blanche truly is, Mitch states that he doesn’t mind that she is older than what he expected, Blanche defends illusion and fantasy when she states “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 the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth”(9.145). Williams addition of this line can mean that he wants the audience to understand that the previous illusions in the play are evident to Blanche and she appreciates them. Mary Ann Corrigan depicts Blanches struggle with reality in her work Realism and Theatricalism in a ‘a Streetcar Named Dersire when she says, “The reality is as brutal as she feared. She has no choice but to retreat totally into illusion.” (Corrigan, 392-393). Blanche is horrified that Mitch found out that she is older than he expected. To comfort her self from reality she would rather fade way in the darkness, which represents her illusions.

In Conclusion, A Streetcar Named Desire attains many illusions and fantasies centering around Blanche, who has created so many of them, that when she actually tries to share something realistic, her claims are seen as false. Although the play never made it evident that Blanche was raped by Stanley, one can see how it is true since he was very aggressive towards her. After the assault, it can be seen how her illusions are what leads to her demise. Blanche tries to find justice by telling Stella, who sees it as a fantasy. Stella is living her own illusion by believing that her husband can do no wrong. Also, the social norms of the time, contribute to her staying with Stanley since the husband was the only financial support many women have during this time. One can see how Stella doesn’t believe Blanche because she is trying to look out for her own well-being. Thus, due to Blanche being centered around illusions and fantasy, to Stanley and Stella, it portrays madness. Blanche’s demise comes when a doctor and nurse from a mental institution are seen coming to take Blanche away. As the doctor picks Blanche up from the floor, she states “Whoever you are-I have always depended on the kindness of strangers (11.178). This is such a significant line since it goes to show how Blanche was never able to get the acceptance from a man and how it is destroying her allusion of remaining young. She is only able to get kindness from strangers, due to her family betraying her. The love and support of her family is all Blanche wanted and could truly allow her to distinguish illusion and fantasy from reality.

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The Importance of Illusion and Fantasy in A Street Car Named Desire. (2020, Dec 15). Retrieved from