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Commentary

An Analysis of the Impact of Alcohol on Mental Health in “Streetcar Named Desire”

In this world-renowned play, I will be discussing one of the prevalent, transnational issues that is signficant in the functioning of the play as well as prominence in contemporary society.

Text below taken from Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, 1986:

BLANCHE:

Mitch!–just a minute.

[She rushes about frantically, hiding the bottle in a closet, crouching at the mirror, and dabbing her face with cologne and powder. She is so excited that her breath is audible as she dashes about. At last, she rushes to the door in the kitchen and lets him in.]

Mitch!–Y’know, I really shouldn’t let you in after the treatment I have received from you this evening! So utterly un cavalier! But hello, beautiful!

[She offers him her lips. He ignores it and pushes past her into the flat. She looks fearfully after him as he stalks into the bedroom.]

My, my, what a cold shoulder! And such uncouth apparel! Why you haven’t even shaved! The unforgivable insult to a lady! But I forgive you. I forgive you because it’s such a relief to see you. You’ve stopped that polka tune that I had caught in my head. Have you ever had anything caught in your head? No, of course, you haven’t, you dumb angel-puss, you’d never get anything awful caught in your head!

[He stares at her while she follows him while she talks. It is obvious that he has had a few drinks on the way over.]

MITCH:

Do we have to have that fan on?

BLANCHE:

No!

MITCH:

I don’t like fans.

BLANCHE:

Then let’s turn it off, honey. I’m not partial to them!

[She presses the switch and the fan nods slowly off. She clears her throat uneasily as Mitch plumps himself down on the bed in the bedroom and lights a cigarette.] I don’t know what there is to drink. I–haven’t investigated.

MITCH:

I don’t want Stan’s liquor.

BLANCHE:

It isn’t Stan’s. Everything here isn’t Stan’s. Some things on the premises are actually mine! How is your mother? Isn’t your mother well?

MITCH:

Why?

BLANCHE:

Something’s the matter tonight but never mind. I won’t cross-examine the witness. I’ll just–[She touches her forehead vaguely. The polka tune starts up again.]–pretend I don’t notice anything different about you! That–music again…

MITCH:

What music?

BLANCHE:

The “Varaouviana”! The polka tune they were playing when Allan–Wait!

[A distant revolver shot is heard. Blanche seems relieved.] There now, the shot! It always stops after that.

[The polka music dies out again.]

Yes, now it’s stopped.

MITCH:

Are you boxed out of your mind?

BLANCHE:

I’ll go and see what I can find in the way of–[She crosses into the closet, pretending to search for the bottle.]

Oh, by the way, excuse me for not being dressed. But I’d practically given you up! Had you forgotten your invitation to supper?

MITCH:

I wasn’t going to see you anymore.

BLANCHE:

Wait a minute. I can’t hear what you’re saying and you talk so little that when you do say something, I don’t want to miss a single syllable of it… What am I looking around here for? Oh, yes–liquor! We’ve had so much excitement around here this evening that I am boxed out of my mind!

[She pretends suddenly to find the bottle. He draws his foot up on the bed and stares at her contemptuous]

Analysis

The impact of alcohol on mental health is a prevalent global issue throughout the world. It is also seen through many literary texts. For instance, this issue is explored in the play “Streetcar named desire” and mentions of such issues are deeply layered to discover and inspect the human mind. This is seen throughout this dialogue and that Blanche is on the influence of the drug, and as a result her physiological and mental state are deterred, which is coupled with Mitch’s rejection of her love. Tennessee Williams effectively portrays this through various literary devices such as juxtaposition and employing music to develop Blanche’s mental deterioration and her dependence on alcohol. For example, in the first dialogue, William utilizes the polka music to demonstrate Blanche’s instability and the resulting halt of the music coupled with Mitch’s entrance showcases the emotional connection and affection that Blanche has for Mitch, and it further illustrates that Mitch’s company is the only way for Blanche to escape her guilt from her husband’s death; however, her attempt later falters as her facade, symbolized by the makeup, crumples as Mitch realizes about her past. Thus, this action parallels Blanche’s failure to kiss Mitch and capture his love which also juxtaposes Mitch’s contemplation to kiss her in scene 6. This rejection comes as a shock to Blanche because she is not used to being rejected to be intimate with men. This is revealed in scene 9 where she confirms the fact that she uses sexual encounters with random strangers to fill up the hole in her heart after the fact that her husband had died. This superficial attempt, subsequently, resulted in Blanche’s dependence on alcohol and her ensuing guilt for her husband’s death to fill the gaping hole. Her tolerance for alcohol is shown as she appears on one side to be agitated but then also reverses to being welcoming and giddy. She then becomes delusional and lies about where her drink is like in Scene 1 to her sister Stella and then pretends to worry about Mitch’s mother. Her instability comes to a boiling point and hence the polka music resumes again and even Mitch couldn’t stop this repetitive music that seems to inevitably drive Blanche to insanity. This shift results in Blanche to become reliant on alcohol and risking her mental sanity to solve her problems and cope with the foreboding music that alludes to the guilt of her husband’s death.

Frank Liu, Youth Medical Journal 2020

References

Reis, Kurt, and Tennessee Williams. A StreetCar Named Desire. 1986.

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