Blanche DuBois appears in the first scene dressed in white, the symbol of purity and innocence. She is seen as a moth-like creature. She is delicate, refined, and sensitive. She is cultured and intelligent. She can't stand a vulgar remark or a vulgar action. She would never willingly hurt someone. She doesn't want realism; she prefers magic. She doesn't always tell the truth, but she tells "what ought to be truth." Yet she has lived a life that would make the most degenerate person seem timid. She is, in general, one of Williams' characters who do not belong in this world. And her type will always be at the mercy of the brutal, realistic world.
Early in her life, Blanche had married a young boy who had a softness and tenderness "which wasn't like a man's," even though he "wasn't the least bit effeminate looking." By unexpectedly entering a room, she found him in a compromising situation with an older man. They went that night to a dance where a polka was playing. In the middle of the dance, Blanche told her young husband that he disgusted her. This deliberate act of cruelty on Blanche's part caused her young husband to commit suicide. Earlier, her love had been like a "blinding light," and since that night Blanche has never had any light stronger than a dim candle. Blanche has always thought she failed her young lover when he most needed her. She felt also that she was cruel to him in a way that Stanley would like to be cruel to her. And Blanche's entire life has been affected by this early tragic event.
Immediately following this event, Blanche was subjected to a series of deaths in her family and the ultimate loss of the ancestral home. The deaths were ugly, slow, and tortuous. They illustrated the ugliness and brutality of life.
To escape from these brutalities and to escape from the lonely void created by her young husband's death, Blanche turned to alcohol and sexual promiscuity. The alcohol helped her to forget. When troubled, the dance tune that was playing when Allan committed suicide haunts her until she drinks enough so as to hear the shot which then signals the end of the music.
Blanche gives herself to men for other reasons. She feels that she had failed her young husband in some way. Therefore, she tries to alleviate her guilt by giving herself at random to other young men. And by sleeping with others, she is trying to fill the void left by Allan's death — "intimacies with strangers was all I seemed able to fill my empty heart with." And she was particularly drawn to very young men who would remind her of her young husband. During these years of promiscuity, Blanche has never been able to find anyone to fill the emptiness. Thus Blanche's imagined failure to her young husband and her constant encounter with the ugliness of death forced the delicate young girl to seek distraction by and forgetfulness through intimacies with strangers and through alcohol which could make the tune in her head stop.
But throughout all of these episodes, Blanche has still retained a degree of innocence and purity. She still plays the role of the ideal type of person she would like to be. She refuses to see herself as she is but instead creates the illusion of what ought to be. Thus, in her first encounters, she fails with Stanley, because she attempts to be what she thinks a lady should be rather than being frank, open, and honest as Stanley would have liked it.
Blanche's actions with Stanley are dictated by her basic nature. The woman must create an illusion. "After all, a woman's charm is fifty percent illusion." And if Blanche cannot function as a woman, then her life is invalid. She therefore tries to captivate Stanley by flirting with him and by using all of her womanly charms. She knows no other way to enter into her present surroundings. Likewise, she must change the apartment. She can't have the glaring, open light bulb. She must have subdued light. She must live in the quiet, half-lit world of charm and illusion. She does not want to see things clearly but wants all ugly truths covered over with the beauty of imagination and illusion.
But Blanche also realizes that she must attract men with her physical body. Thus, she does draw Mitch's attention by undressing in the light so that he can see the outline of her body.
When Blanche meets Mitch, she realizes that here is a strong harbor where she can rest. Here is the man who can give her a sense of belonging and who is also captivated by her girlish charms. She deceives him into thinking her prim and proper but in actuality, Blanche would like to be prim and proper. And as she later told Mitch: "inside, I never lied." Her essential nature and being have never been changed by her promiscuity. She gave of her body but not of her deeper self. To Mitch, she is ready to give her whole being.
Then Mitch forces her to admit her past life. With this revelation, Blanche is deprived of her chief attributes — that is, her illusions and her pretense. She is then forced to admit all of her past. After hearing her confessions, we see that Mitch aligns himself with the Stanley world. He cannot understand the reasons why Blanche had to give herself to so many people, and, if she did, he thinks that she should have no objections to sleeping with one more man. But Blanche's intimacies have always been with strangers. She cannot wantonly give herself to someone for whom she has an affection. Thus she forces Mitch to leave.
Later that same night when Stanley comes from the hospital, Blanche encounters the same type of brutality. Stanley rapes Blanche, assuming that she has slept with so many men in the past, one more would not matter. In actuality, Blanche's action in the first part of the play indicates that on first acquaintance, when Stanley was a stranger, she desired him or at least flirted with him. But Stanley was never able to understand the sensitivity behind Blanche's pretense. Even when Stella refers to Blanche as delicate, Stanley cries out in disbelief: "Some delicate piece she is." It is, then, Stanley's forced brutality which causes Blanche to crack up. The rape is Blanche's destruction as an individual. In all previous sexual encounters, Blanche had freely given of herself. But to be taken so cruelly and so brutally by a man who represents all qualities which Blanche found obnoxious caused her entire world to collapse.
Blanche's last remarks in the play seem to echo pathetically her plight and predicament in life. She goes with the doctor because he seems to be a gentleman and because he is a stranger. As she leaves, she says, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." Thus, Blanche's life ends in the hands of the strange doctor. She was too delicate, too sensitive, too refined, and too beautiful to live in the realistic world. Her illusions had no place in the Kowalski world and when the illusions were destroyed, Blanche was also destroyed.