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Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois from the trailer for the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
|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 (married name Grey) is a fictional character in Tennessee Williams' 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire. The role is challenging and controversial in that the former Southern belle has a lurid past (a marriage to a young homosexual who committed suicide when she discovered his secret; notorious sexual promiscuity; ongoing alcoholism, etc.) as well as genuine spiritual idealism and refinement.
Jessica Tandy received a Tony Award for her performance as Blanche in the original Broadway production. By report (no filmed record exists), her performance stressed Blanche's high-class affectations, and the audience often sided with the adversarial brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski, viewing her, as he does, as an alien threatening his home and marriage.
Uta Hagen took over the role of Blanche for the national tour. The tour was directed not by Elia Kazan, who had directed the Broadway production, but by Harold Clurman, and it has been reported, both in interviews by Miss Hagen and observations by contemporary critics, that the Clurman-directed interpretation shifted the focus of audience sympathy back to Blanche and away from Stanley (where the Kazan/Brando/Tandy version had located it).
The character was also portrayed by Vivien Leigh both in the London stage production which was directed by her then-husband Laurence Olivier (some key moments were censored) and later, when she was cast 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 (also in a television version), Marin Mazzie, Natasha Richardson, Laila Robins, Austin Kipp, Rosemary Harris, Rachel Weisz, Amanda Drew and Nicole Ari Parker.
In the play 
Blanche is appalled by her sister's poor, even squalid, living quarters and the coarseness of her brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski, and his friends Steve Hubbell and Pablo Gonzales, with whom he drinks and plays poker. She calls Stanley an ape, and shames Stella for marrying a man so violent and animalistic. But Stella defends her marriage, as she is powerfully attracted to Stanley in spite (and even, it is implied, because) of his violent nature. Blanche is not shy about expressing her contempt for Stanley and the life he has given her sister, which makes him proud. He is convinced that Blanche has selfishly squandered Stella's portion of money from the sisters' ancestral home. Blanche's plausible version of the story is a familiar one: the disintegration and decay of the Old South and a series of harrowing, costly family deaths to which she was witness.
Blanche flirts with and embraces Stanley's friend Harold Mitchell (Mitch), who is distinct from Stanley, Steve, and Pablo in his courtesy and propriety. Blanche also invents stories about millionaire Shep Huntleigh, whom she bases on a person with whom she went to a college promenade, and whom she supposes will save her and Stella.
Descent into insanity 
Stories, lurid and tragic, about Blanche's past come to light during the play; one of which, she reveals to Mitch in a vulnerable moment. Others come from Stanley: vicious gossip, however true, which he picks up from a traveling salesman.
Blanche was a broken chute before she arrived at Stanley and Stella's house. Evicted from "Belle Reve"—French for "Beautiful Dream"—after the death of family members required mortgages on the family homestead to pay for funeral and estate expenses, Blanche took up residence in a hotel in her hometown of Laurel as a woman of loose morals willing to sleep with anyone merely for recognition of her existence.
However, Blanche's mental decline started with the death of her first and only husband, Allan Grey. Blanche was completely and irrevocably in love with him; as Stella described it, "She worshipped the ground he walked on", and Blanche was heartbroken when she witnessed him having sex with a man. Although she at first kept quiet, Blanche later blurted out that he disgusted her when they are in each other's arms together on the dance floor. Allan then bolted outside and shot himself, and it is this tragedy which precipitates Blanche's downward spiral. (The polka song "Varsouviana", which played on the night of Allan's death, is played as a motif whenever Blanche is experiencing a particularly distressing moment, whenever her tragic memories threaten her connection to the present.) Blanche reveals the story of her marriage one night while she's on a date with Mitch, and his lack of recrimination fills her with hope. "Sometimes there's god- so quickly," she says.
Behind her veneer of social snobbery and sexual propriety, Blanche is an insecure, dislocated individual, 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." This occurs at a major turning point in the play, and the cheap clothes are sometimes seen as metaphorical symbols of Blanche's mental condition.
Stanley ruthlessly reveals to Stella that he has learned of Blanche's past and has informed Mitch of Blanche's improprieties (unconscionable for that day and time). Blanche's hope of being rescued by Mitch evaporates. She begins to drink heavily, 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, is the trigger that sends Blanche over the edge into a nervous breakdown. In the final scene, as Stella makes her stand with her husband, 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 devolves into her fantasy life, addressing the doctor with the most famous line in the play: "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."