The two main characters of this play, Stanley and Blanche both represent different aspects of American society. Blanche represents Old America with its bigoted and discriminating ways while Stanley represents the new era of America which is composed of upwardly mobile immigrants and where success is something that is achieved, not something someone is born into. The two characters contrast and clash as the play proceeds until the new dominates over the old.
As soon as Blanche arrives in Elysian Fields she clashes with the surroundings ‘looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district’ and carrying her ‘valise. ‘ Her virginal ‘white suit with a fluffy bodice’ contrasts with the ‘weathered grey’ of the surrounding buildings. Straight away she is in conflict with her surroundings, Elysian Fields, a place which embodies New America, where people of different races and nationalities mix freely.
Later on in the play, Blanche’s tendency to wear delicate colours and stay in places where there is soft light, clashes with the ‘raw colours’ of the shirts of the poker playing men and the ‘vivid green glass light shade’ which lights their game. The men and their game represent New America with tendencies to gamble and drink and clash massively with Blanche and her ‘delicate’ and formal tendencies of Old America.
As a member of Old America, Blanche has certain views; she believes that Stanley is an inferior person to her and says to Stella during a discussion about his Polish nationality, ‘they’re something like the Irish… nly not so- Highbrow. ‘ She also suggests Stanley has no refinement saying, ‘He’s just not the sort that goes for jasmine perfume’ which may be true, but Blanche is in no position to judge a person that way. Stanley puts up with Blanches derogatory comments such as ‘Polack’ until he explodes, exclaiming ‘I am not a Polack. People from Poland are Poles, not Polacks, but what I am, is a one hundred percent American, born and raised in the greatest country on Earth’ and exposing Blanche for what she really is; a bigoted, old fashioned American.
Stanley’s outburst is pivotal as it makes even more obvious the contrast between him and Blanche. His declaration as a proud American carries great weight as it shows exactly what he says, that he is in fact a member of the New American society. He exposes Blanche as a relic in the New America. The Southern ‘aristocracy’ from which she assumes her power and authority has died out and so has the America she used to live in. Stanley shows Blanche that she is powerless monetarily and socially out of touch.
Earlier in the play Blanche is happy to admit that Stanley is what they ‘need to mix our [their] blood with now that we’ve lost Belle Reve’ stating that now the Du Bois family need to mix with New Americans in order to survive yet reacts badly when Stanley forces this idea into her perspective. Another way of looking at the conflict and differences between Stanley and Blanche is by looking at it as a conflict between fantasy and reality.
Blanche represents fantasy living in her own world even saying to Mitch, ‘I don’t want realism’ and singing the popular ballad of the time, ‘It’s only a paper moon. ‘ The song is sung by a lover who believes that love turns the world into a phoney fantasy and that if the other lover believed the same fantasy, then it could be their shared reality. The lyrics outline Blanche’s interpretation of her way of living in which she believes that the little lies she tells are only her harmless way of making her existence more bearable.
Ironically, as Blanche sings this song in the bath, Stanley is revealing to Stella the truth about Blanche and her promiscuous exploits. Williams juxtaposes the two “interpretations” to give a sense of conflict between the two. It would appear that Williams in fact takes the side of Blanche in his own play suggesting that the detachment which Blanche has from reality is in fact partially beneficial helping her to shield the blows which she receives in the real world.
When the doctor helps her up in order to take her to the asylum she says, ‘I have always depended on the kindness of strangers’ showing the large extent of her detachment. In reality, the doctor is only being kind to her in order to get her to co-operate with him and make her transport to the asylum easier for him but in Blanche’s reality he is the gentleman she ‘was expecting’ to take her on her ‘vacation. ‘ The conflict between Old and New, Stanley and Blanche, climaxes with the rape scene in scene ten. It is simply an embodiment of the physical overcoming of the Old by the New.
The rape has such a profound effect on the delicate mental health of Blanche that she goes slightly insane afterwards leading to her being taken away to an asylum, the final phase of her destruction. At the point of the rape the audience members’ view of Stanley has plummeted; at first he was probably preferred, being more sociable and down to earth, lacking the pretentious nature that Blanche had and we preferred his society where reward is by merit, not birthright but if what Stanley now represents is drunken, forceful rape and violation then is the ‘reality’ in which Blanche lives such a terrible thing after all?
Stanley’s physical presence causes Blanche’s fantasy world to fall away opening up the events in the surrounding streets, ‘the hot trumpets and drums from the Four Deuces sound loudly’ these two things representing drunkenness, crime and prostitution, the parts of New America which Blanche likes to think she is above. In truth she is deceitful like a criminal, promiscuous like a prostitute and a drunk. These aspects confront and impose on her and the noises from the outside put additional pressure on her aiding her departure from sanity.
Other people in Elysian fields drink socially, Blanche keeps her drinking a secret, pretending not to know what Southern Comfort is and slipping ‘liqueur’ into her Coke. The difference between Blanche and Stanley & others, is that Blanche as an upright member of old American society is not proud of her drinking and drunken consequences seem to scar her mentally while drunken arguments between Stanley and Stella are forgotten the next day. Blanche as an old American comes across as weak and portrays old America as weak, while Stanley represents a New America that can forget tragedy and move on, constantly becoming stronger as time goes on.