Regarding Blanche: I chose to interpret Blanche a little differently than some have. I don’t think she is a coquette (“a woman,” according to Merriam-Webster, “who endeavors without sincere affection to gain the attention and admiration of men”) – though she has her moments - as much as a woman who has used sex to punish herself, among other things, for the guilt and anguish she felt after her young husband’s suicide; there is no indication that she was promiscuous before that happened. Sex for Blanche has been a means to an end: “After the death of Allan, intimacies with strangers was all I seemed able to fill my empty heart with. I think it was panic – just panic – that drove me from one to another in search of some protection…” She is deftly manipulative, to be sure, and often dishonest, but I’m not sure what you mean by coquettish; Blanche is a grown woman, not a debutante. A lady accomplished in the art of commanding male attention goes about it subtly: she certainly doesn’t have to show the effort. In my opinion, the notion that coquettishness got Blanche into trouble is a very shallow interpretation; Blanche is also a woman of penetrating intelligence, a characteristic that seems to be overlooked quite often in favor of her sexuality and personal frailties. The decline of her life has been brought on by things much darker and deeper than the empty desire to be admired. Her agenda is much more complex and a good deal more serious than that, the stakes much higher, and she tells us so.
Blanche has issues, to be sure – serious ones. But people who have those issues are real; this was someone Tennessee knew and loved, and he wanted us to see why he loved them. Over the years critics have blamed Blanche for her own rape and her institutionalization has been characterized as appropriate; I disagree, and I think Tennessee does, too. What society saw as her departure from ‘reality’ was actually her departure from appropriate behavior; an unforgivable sin for a woman. Tennessee’s own sister was put away and subjected to one of the first wave of an epidemic of pre-frontal lobotomies performed mostly on women, not for being insane in the true sense of the word but for having some behavioral and possibly chemical issues and for being inappropriately sexual, and he never got over what had happened to his dear Rose, whom he called “the best of us;” when you place Blanche in that context it becomes clear what he was trying to tell us about her. Mostly she’s just a desperate woman with nowhere to go, in a world which has no place for her, who uses the appeal that has gained her such admiration in the past to try to find some safety, and whose behavior becomes more outrageous and departs further and further from propriety as she fails. She may retreat into idealism or outdated notions from time to time, but in many ways Blanche is incredibly strong and much more realistic than we give her credit for. In fact, I think it’s important to consider that the trip to the asylum isn’t the end of Blanche’s story; it’s just where we leave her.