|This article does not cite any references or sources. (April 2009)|
|First appearance||A Streetcar Named Desire|
|Created by||Tennessee Williams|
|Portrayed by||Jessica Tandy
Nicole Ari Parker
|Occupation||High School English teacher|
|Relatives||Stella Kowalski (sister)
Stanley Kowalski (brother-in-law)
Blanche DuBois arrives, penniless, in New Orleans to stay with her sister Stella and her brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski. A former schoolteacher from a wealthy family, she has been evicted from her family home, "Belle Reve", after the deaths of several family members wiped out her and Stella's inheritance. It is also later revealed that, years earlier, her husband, Allan Grey, committed suicide after she caught him having sex with another man. She had a series of meaningless affairs to numb her grief, and was soon thrown out of her hometown of Laurel, Mississippi, as a "woman of loose morals".
Behind her veneer of social snobbery and sexual propriety, Blanche is deeply insecure, an aging Southern belle who lives in a state of perpetual panic about her fading beauty. Her manner is dainty and frail, and she sports a wardrobe of showy but cheap evening clothes, as indicated in the stage directions for Scene 10: "She had decked herself out in a somewhat soiled and crumpled white satin evening gown and a pair of scuffed silver slippers with brilliants set in their heels."
Role in the play
From the start, Blanche is appalled by her sister's poor living quarters and the coarseness of her brother-in-law. She calls Stanley an ape, and shames Stella for marrying a man so violent and animalistic. Blanche is not shy about expressing her contempt for Stanley and the life he has given her sister, which makes him proud. For his part, Stanley resents Blanche's superior attitude, and is convinced that she has squandered Stella's portion of the money from the sisters' ancestral home.
Blanche begins dating Stanley's friend Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, who is distinct from Stanley in his courtesy and propriety, and sees in him a chance for happiness. That hope is destroyed, however, when Stanley learns of Blanche's past from a traveling salesman who knew her, and reveals it to Mitch, who ends the relationship. Blanche begins drinking heavily and escapes into a fantasy world, conjuring up the notion that an old flame, a millionaire named Shep Huntleigh, is imminently planning to take her away.
The night Stella goes into labor, Stanley and Blanche are left alone in the apartment, and Stanley, drunk and powerful, rapes her. This event, coupled with the fact that Stella does not believe her, sends Blanche over the edge into a nervous breakdown. In the final scene, Blanche is led off to a mental hospital by a matron and a kind-hearted doctor. After a brief struggle, Blanche smilingly acquiesces as she loses all contact with reality, addressing the doctor with the most famous line in the play: "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."
Blanche DuBois has been portrayed several times on stage and on screen.
Jessica Tandy received a Tony Award for her performance as Blanche in the original Broadway production. Uta Hagen took over the role of Blanche for the national tour, which was directed by Harold Clurman.
Blanche was also portrayed by Vivien Leigh in the London stage production, which was directed by her then-husband Laurence Olivier, She reprised the role in the 1951 film adaptation. The film was directed by Elia Kazan, and Leigh won her second Academy Award for this performance. Film critic Pauline Kael had this to say of that performance:
Vivien Leigh gives one of those rare performances that can truly be said to evoke pity and terror. As Blanche DuBois, she looks and acts like a destroyed Dresden shepherdess. No one since the early Lillian Gish.....has had this quality of hopeless, feminine frailty; Shakespeare must have had a woman like this in mind when he conceived Ophelia.
Blanche has been portrayed onstage by Ann-Margret, Arletty, Cate Blanchett, Claire Bloom, Faye Dunaway, Jessica Lange (who reprised the role in the 1995 television adaptation), Marin Mazzie, Natasha Richardson, Laila Robins, Rosemary Harris, Rachel Weisz, Amanda Drew and Nicole Ari Parker.