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A Street Car Named Desire- bathing motif

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jenna halvorson

on 17 July 2015

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Transcript of A Street Car Named Desire- bathing motif

A Street Car Named Desire:
Tennessee's Baptism

The Bathing Motif, Explained:
Throughout Tennessee Williams' play, A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois bathes herself. Her pre-occupation with washing herself is a symbolic attempt to cleanse herself of her past sins. In light of her efforts to forget and shed her illicit past in the new community of New Orleans, these baths represent her efforts to cleanse herself of her odious history. Blanche retreats toward water to attempt to cleanse herself and forget reality.
In scene three, after beating his wife, Stanley proclaims: "I want water" (pg. 42). His friends then put him under the shower. Stanley also turns to water to undo a misdeed when he showers after beating Stella. The shower serves to soothe his violent temper; afterward, he leaves the bathroom feeling remorseful and calls out longingly for his wife. This explains how important bathing is in the cleansing of the characters' souls.
In the play she is constantly taking luxurious baths, which reflect her necessity to cleanse herself of her awful dealings, to rid her body of the grit of everyday life and the harsh, unforgiving world that surrounds her. Notably, she comes out and say that she feels "…all freshly bathed and scented, and feeling like a brand new human being!" In her mind, bathing is a soul cleanser for her that helps her cope with her past.
After a rude and awkward encounter with the men during their poker game, Blanche suddenly states: "I think I will bathe... My nerves are in knots." (Scene three, pg. 33-34). Stella had just been slapped inappropriately by Stanley in front of everyone. This rude gesture makes Blanche uncomfortable because it reminds her of her other (promiscuous) life. She abruptly feels the need to bathe the disgust she has for herself away.
What Was Tennessee Williams' Point?
Tennessee Williams tried to communicate that humans acquire
a sense of subconscious guilt of something they have done in their past and that they are always trying to find ways to cleanse themselves and achieve peace of mind.
Blanche's constant bathing is reminiscent of Lady Macbeth. If we look back to Lady Macbeths famous hand washing scene, where she states "Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red"
Blanche and Lady Macbeth are both very similar in the way that they bathe to seek purity and to cleanse themselves of their misdoings, and forget reality. Bath water makes her pure in her mind. Blanche is seeking rejuvenation as though the bath water were a fountain of youth.
Blanche is seeking a fresh start. She is looking to escape all the torment she is going through, constantly fighting her past and trying to move past it. Coming to visit and temporarily live with Stanley and Stella is her way of escaping to start over fresh. Blanche yearns for that new clean feeling. Mitch also represents a new fresh start that Blanche has been waiting for. Mitch is just what Blanche needs to have a happy life, but in order to have this new life she must keep her past hidden and unknown. Blanche has the inability to accept truth so she tries to hide it and wash it all away like it never happened.
~ Bathing is often used by writers to symbolize fresh starts, and in this way, Tennessee Williams explores the subject of renouncing old courses of action.
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