Death of a Salesman and Street Car Named Desire

1 January 2017

Truth and illusion are utilized in Tennessee Williams “Streetcar Named Desire” and Arthur Miller’s “Death of a salesman” through the use of the character; to lead the reader to a possible conclusion on the beliefs that went into the American dream that prompted people to work hard was that america was the land of opportunity while in fact that opportunity is used to manipulate those who follow this dream something that is most evidently shown in Millers main character Willy and to put forward a essential criticism of the materialistic dream that surround the characters of “Death of a salesman” and the theme of desire and that stems from “Streetcar named desire”, and the concepts that went into the these dream which became corrupted by both material wealth and a male dominated society. In both Death of a Salesman and a Streetcar Named desire the main protagonist of the play, blanche dubois and Willy loman are both trapped in a illusion that are created by the effects of society, however these illusions that are created are used by their protagonists for separate reasons.

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Blanche uses the illusion as a deffence mechanism against those who suppress her in society while Willy simply is not fully consciously aware that he is even subjected to the illusion of a land of opportunity. Williams and Miller both use the stage directions as dramatic techniques to identify the illusion created by the two protagonists but in contrasting ways; Williams uses the stage direction as a way of highlighting the harshness of a patriarchal society, ultimately criticizing it while Miller critics the American dream by highlight the illsuion it creates over someone makeing them un aware to consciously idenntify the truth. Blanche has trapped herself in a maze of illusions to protect her from the harshness of a male dominated patriarchal society . An obstacle which even she of all fantastical thinking optimists would have to face.

Blanche’s ignorance towards reality and the truth for that matter spelled out her demise and tragic end at the hands of Stanley, the most patriarchal character presented in Williams novel, While Willy created an illusory world to protect himself from the reality that the dream that has presented him with the false truth of success, has resulted in failure and results with Willy secluding himself from reality by shrouding the truth with lies and retreating into past memories and is comparable to Blanche’s world of illusion and fantastical thinking, which is characterized by her: flirtatious relations, attempt to rejuvenate her youth, and ignorance towards the realities of life. In “street car named desire” the first few scenes there are several references both in the dialogue and in the stage directions to her drinking.

Arguably drink is one of the many ways Blanche uses to escape reality, a reality of the past that burdens her due to her husbands death of her own hands. The dramatic technique used to emphise this is the sound effect used to convey an atmosphere; the “Varsouviana Polka” calls up and accompanies blanches guilty memories of her husband and the revolver that silences it. What distinguishes them from other sound effects is that blanche alone can hear them, an aspect that is very difficult to convey either on that stage or on the printed page. When she drinks she can forget and when she forgets she is free and can forget her past and the things that she has done.

In scene one as soon as she greets Stella before they really get talking she says ‘Open your pretty mouth and talk while I look around for some liquor’. She feels she needs the drink to be able to talk because without it she is nothing. Only Mitch’s question “ what music? ” in the later scence 9 tries to put across the message that the polka plays in Blanches mind only. The use of sound is used to produce a moment of realistation of Blanches harsh reality, showing that she is somewhat aware of it. This Contrasts Millers use of this dramatic technique as “The Harmonious Flute” is used to obscure Willys sense reality, in contrast to Williams use of it to identify Blanches reality.

Unlike Blanche, Willy is compltetly oblivious to the truth and resides to his memories to conceal himself away from the reality that the American dream has failed him. The flute is reminiscent of Willys past and often symblozies when Willy is reminscing becasue he is unable to bare the truth that his American dream is failing. This shows that Willy is unable to deal with the truth due to the false reality that the maerican dream has presented him with and made him beliveing into. The best example of this is the tape recorder which Willy accodentally sets in motion. In its “shrieking”, unpleasent tones of a child recounting phrases, we see how wful it is for Willy to have to live an accurate account of the past such as this. This is a vivid expression of his unconscious desire to repress the truth. This is proven even before the start of the play where the first stage directions should indicate “a dream rising out of reality” Thurther emphiseing Milliers critic throughtout the entire play. Though while Williams and Miller both identify these Illusions as a way of their characters protecting themselfs from their societys; Blanches male dominated patriarchal society and Willy’s failed american dream. Blanche lives in a dream world, her reference to a “Barnum and Bailey world” in scene seven exposes the “phony” world she has created in her mind.

Blanche’s caprices often show that in her subconscious she is always cognisant of her past behaviour. She calls Mitch “Samson” and this makes her Delilah, showing her to be capable of betraying and destroying men. In addition, when she tells Mitch that she has “old-fashioned ideals” she “rolls her eyes, knowing he cannot see her face”. She even admits to Stella that she has knowingly lied to her as she talks of putting “on soft colours”, creating “temporary magic” to attract men. However, later in the play after she has been unmasked and abused by Stanley, she has almost completely retreated into her fantasies as she confuses her admittance to a hospital with a trip to the Caribbean with Shep Huntleigh.

Even though she realises that the doctor is “not the gentleman [she] was expecting”, Blanche goes with him anyway because she cannot cope with the physical reality that was imposed on her by Staley when he rapes her, remarking that she has “always depended on the kindness of strangers”. It appears that Blanche does not see the illusions she creates as morally wayward, she sees it as purely a mode for survival. Her lies make her “soft and attractive” and will secure her “protection”. While Willy uses the illusions he creates to escape from the reality that his American dream i is told that his constant fellowship of the American dream, something that he has put his life into, has resulted into a life of a lie and it is this set of “wrong dreams”. Unlike Blanche, he is unaware that hes living in an illusion. Willy creates this illusion because he is unable to face the truth that the dream that he has followed has failed him.

Though willy has some understanding of this illusion but compared to Blanche he just isn’t able to cease the window of opportunity of the truth as the truth is just too hard to handle and is only subconsciously aware of this truth. Though Willy is able to notice how the society of america has been changed for the worse by the encroaching industrial socitey of the post world war 2 era. He yearns for a time were “you plant seeds in the backyard” and condemns the claustrophobic atmosphere created by the increased building makeing it evident that Willys dream and expectations has utterly failed him as he longs for “the elm trees” and “the flowers” and the stage directions set helps establish this claustrophobic atmosphere.

The social attitudes that willy displays are those which were common at the time of writing. the american dream offers the chance of riches even to those who start with nothing; this is an obvious reference to the early history of america, in which pioneers conquered the “wilderness of the frontier”. Ben represents this to Willy, he is portrayed as “a man that started with the clothes on his back and ended up with diamond mines. ” These characteristics for success portrayed through Ben are masculinity, competitiveness and popularirty and is the myth, that becoming roch was a simple matter of using your personal qualities as an individual, that drives Willy to continue this American dream. he logic of these illussions is that failure to achieve the American Dream must indicate a failure of personality. Arthur Miller notes in his autobiography “it has often been said that what kept the United States from revolution in the depths of the Great Depression was the readiness of Americans to blame themselves rather than the syste, for thier downfall” Blanche is comparable to In the play this becomes the attitude of Willy and Biff, both who blame themselves for their lack of economic success and its repercussions for the family that cares about them most. Willys pre world war 2 spirit survives in the form of willys great love of the out doors.

The ideal of a man who would build a cabin, like Willy tries to constucte his life based on the post ww2 American dream, and liveing in harmony with the simplicity of life just as Biff has previously done. This ideal seems to be welcome in the play even though Willy longs for this ideal, something he does subconsciously to repress his failure of the post ww2, it does not satisfy him after being corrupted by the American dream. Willy talks of competitiveness and this is also an essential element of the masculine attitude that underlies capitalism. It is supossidly necessary to “beat the opposition” at all costs if you are to succeed and Happy shows he is capable of this, eve nthough he acknowledges that it makes him “a horriable person”.

Similarly Blanche clings to her identity as a youthful, vivacious woman in order to keep her sane, as does Willy does his identity, in his own false reality, is of a “well liked salesman of new England”. Blanches sister escapes Belle Reve and adapts to the new world while Blanche is left behind to indulge herself in her “beautiful dream”, further distancing her self from society and in turn the truth. However it is the decline of Belle Reve that seals her fate. Her comments like “Funerals are pretty compared to deaths” and “The Grim Reaper had put his tent up at our Fdoorstep” show how the death of her relatives had affected and scarred her mentally. Being in the middle of that travesty has cause server emotional and mental scars for blanche.

It symbolized the end of her time and the dawn of a new, unfamiliar age of the often criticized new dream. When faced with the prospect of selling the belle reve, Blanche clings to as many affinities to Belle Reve as possible. This explains why she is dressed as if she is arriving at a “cocktail party in the garden district” and presents herself in such an old fashioned way. Unfortunately Blanche’s fear of change is not her only neurotic symptom. Blanche came to the conclusion that desire is the opposite of death and so in order to escape the death of her family she made herself sexually available, “ to put on some magic” to the local soldiers, almost to the extent of being a prostitute.

Williams uses this to show the effects of the old bellum south, that this apparent threating dream has caused blanched “paper lantern” of a reality. In spite of the romantic aura that surrounds the old south there was an un doubt patriarchy influence to that day, were “brother and uncles” would sell out the homes of their female partners to conduct in, what would know be seen as, horrible acts of adulatory just for the fact they could. Unlike Willy lowman, Blanche is consciously aware of this illussion that she create A “streetcar named desire” takes place in the city of New Orleans, a social post war society of 1974. It is the home of the jazz and blues and equally, it is only fitting that Williams chose new Orleans as a contrast to Blanche Dubious forgotten world of the old south.

Blanche and Stella come from a family of French Huguenots who lived on an estate called Belle Reve, French for Beautiful dream. This was an aristocratic, sheltered world of careful, articulated language and refined dress. This stemmed from Williams mother, Edwina who, like Blanche, considered herself a Southern Bell, dressing inelaborate clothes and speaking in an out of place dialect. In many of his plays Williams draws on his life, especially his life concerning his homo sexuality which gained into a political question that gained greatly in the significance of his life time. and characters that he knows personally, with the characters in his family.

Stanley Kowalski for example is very similar to Pancho (Williams boyfriend at the time), a dominant, distinctly masculine, almost allegorical figure of the new world. Stanley is the self proclaimed “King” of the Jungle that is New Orleans and he by no means hesitates when exercising his authority in “Streetcar”. it is the decline of Belle Reve that seals her fate. Her comments like “Funerals are pretty compared to deaths” and “The Grim Reaper had put his tent up at our doorstep” show how the death of her relatives had affected and scarred her mentally. Being in the middle of that travesty has cause server emotional and mental scars for blanche. It symbolized the end of her time and the dawn of a new, unfamiliar age of the often criticized new dream.

When faced with the prospect of selling the belle reve, Blanche clings to as many affinities to Belle Reve as possible. This explains why she is dressed as if she is arriving at a “cocktail party in the garden district” and presents herself in such an old fashioned way. She is comparable to Willy, the main character from Arthur millers play “Death of a salesman” in which the man with the “massive dreams” is told that his constant follow ship of the American dream, something that he has put his life into, has resulted into a life of a lie and it is this set of “wrong dreams” that keeps Willy holding on to the past of a sweeter, more simplistic time and keeps a link to it to hide from the light of reality that scorns him so.

Similarly Blanche clings to her identity as a youthful, vivacious woman in order to keep her sane, as does Willy does his identity, in his own false reality, is of a “well liked salesman of new island”. Unfortunately Blanche’s fear of change is not her only neurotic symptom. Blanche came to the conclusion that desire is the opposite of death and so in order to escape the death of her family she made herself sexually available, “ to put on some magic” to the local soldiers, almost to the extent of being a prostitute. Williams uses this to show the effects of the old bellum south, that this apparent threating dream has caused blanched “paper lantern” of a reality.

In spite of the romantic aura that surrounds the old south there was an un doubt patriarchy influence to that day, were “brother and uncles” would sell out the homes of their female partners to conduct in, what would know be seen as, horrible acts of adulatory just for the fact they could. this patriarchal influence is reinforced by Stanley in scene 10,prompted by a combination of alcohol and mental instability, Blanche imagines that she is hosting a high class party, surrounded by amorous admirers. Stanley Kowalski interrupts her hallucination. He has just returned from the hospital. The baby will not be delivered until the morning, so he plans to get some sleep before going back to the hospital. He too appears to have been drinking, and when he opens up a bottle of beer, spilling it’s contents over his arms and torso, he says, “Shall we bury the hatchet and make it a loving-cup? “.

The rape scene becomes the strongest evidence of patriarchy; the idea of Williams using the scene to enforce the audiences imagination to register the full truth. readers of the play should remember that on the stage the effect of “inhuman voices like cries in a jungle” and sinuous shadows on the walls round blanche will be less startling to a theater audience accustomed to sophisticated stage lighting and sound effects, and ready to accept them as a part of the staging. Williams careful stage directions here indicate that he was anxious to achieve a shocking visual and sound impact in keeping with the shocking spectacle of a man breaking all of the taboo and raping his sister in law while his wife is giving birth to his child.

As a sexual outcast, the character of Blanche may easily stand for sexual outcasts in general, and notably gay men. However, it is indeed possible to suppose that, the way any writer might, Williams has put a lot of himself in Blanche, including his experience as a gay man. As does Miller; he himself worked briefly as a salesman and his experience as a school boy of working in a car parts warehouse for a miserly sum is one which is clearly echoed in this play. As Blanche ages her symptoms worsen and develop. She begins to avoid the light as her beauty begins to fade, “I can’t stand a naked light-bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action”. This line clearly sets up the key theme of illusion vs reality.

Blanche takes the naked truth the stark bare lightbulb, the rude remark and dresses it up prettily to make everyone happier and everything easier. That she speaks of talk and action as analogous to a lightbulb shows that she considers the remedy for uncouth behavior and appearance to be a paper lantern, an external cover, rather than a change from within. Besides unveiling her true age and shattering her illusion light symbolises the truth and judgement, things that Blanche would try desperately to avoid until the moment of stanely over turns her life. Stanely is the sadistic man that people somehow seem to relate to, and he will go against those that challenge his ideals, more so blanche.

Stanely is completely opposite to blanche; what you see is what you get. The descriptions of the main characters in street car of desire are very unquie and gives an insight into the wlliams critaical anyalasis of a apparent harmful ideal. Though even through this sheer oblivious patriarchal domineer that Stanley shows some critics see Stanley as a victim most notably theater director Elia kazan. “Blanche is dangerous. she is destructive. she would soon have him and Stella fighting. He’s got thing the way he want them around there and he does not want them upset by a Phony, corrupt, sick destructive woman. this makes Stanley right right! Are we going into the era of Stanley? he may be practical and right.. ut what the hell does that leave us? ” Stanley breaks through the illusion of blanche by saying “there isn’t a god dam thing but imagination thus showing that the only ting he considers is the factual truths. Ironically Williams writes this whole play based on imagination to explore the surface of things and to find a deeper truth, thus undermining the whole patriarchal dream. Though some may see Stanley as a hero, alternatively there are critics that see the opposite, as Susan Spector states “ Blanche under clurmans direction left audiences feeling they had watched a delicate woman driven insane by a brutish environment inforced by Stanley Kowalski”.

Arthur miller also dwindles in this patriarchal theme through the use of Happy. Happy,though he is relatively successful in his job, has his dad’s totally unrealistic self-confidence, and his grand dreams about getting rich quick. Happy has a “terribly competitive” and ambitious traits, but these feelings are misdirected. Unable to compete on his own terms in the business world, Happy blindly pursues women purely for the sake of doing so, further reinforcing the evidence of patriarchy that in embued in the novel. Comparable with Stanley, Happy sense of competition has gone into to the authority of sex and is the only way he can show his dominance, through the best and only way he knows how.

Of course, this, much like the world of business, fails to satisfy him. Most disturbing for Happy is the fact that he can’t figure out why all this isn’t working. Although very similar to Stanley in the patriarchal aspect the thing that is different is that Happy constantly blindly follows this dream as he perceives it as reality while Stanley uses the sense patriarchy to establish the truth. He’s followed the rules, done all the right things, yet Happy just isn’t happy. His name highlights the irony of his predicament. Just as the saddest part of Willy’s suicide is his continued delusion, the saddest part of Happy’s ending is his own persistent disbelief.

Still driven by what he feels he should want, money and a wife, he sticks to Willy’s foolish dreams to the bitter end, thereby contradicting himself. Stanley is fully aware of the power that is behind the patriarchy and uses it to “pull [Stella] off their pedestal” to further establish his dominance as seen in scene 7 and uses this to pursue his so called truth. Adding to this already messy situation is the social commentary Williams makes through his antagonist. Many critics have pointed out that Stanley is part of a new America, one comprised of immigrants of all races with equal opportunity for all. Blanche, however, is clinging to a dying social system of “aristocrats” and “working class” that is no longer applicable in the 1940s.

Modern readers especially tend to side with the more liberal idea that merit, and not ancestry, makes us who we are. Stanley pursuit of truth is simply through the fact blanche rivals him and he refuses to see how hurt and distraught blanche really is and only sees the factual truth, this is most evident when in third scene where he feels blanche is “swindling” Stella and mostly him out of the money in bell reve and constantly resites the Napoleonic code. When realized that Blanche lost belle reve his being of confidence and self belief was shattered and while “licking his lips” he plots after blanches demise. Showing how Stanley pursuit for the truth is wrong underminds the whole idea of patriarchy.

Arthur miller shows how reality and illusions conflict each other threw the use of Biff. Unlike his father and brother, Biff is self-aware and values the truth. In one argument with Willy, “will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens”. A moment of truth and essential criticism of the materialistic dream. Biff reminds us that the American Dream is not every man’s dream. Rather than seeking money and success, Biff wants a more basic life. In conclusion I agree to considerable extent that the authors in both concepts that went into the these dream which became corrupted by both material wealth and a male dominated society. Word count: 2058 With out quotes:

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