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English Literary File_Vol 6

It is one of the Blanche’s greatest concerns that she should exhibit in public poor restraint with regard to alcohol consumption because it is an activity that notoriously leads to physical and psychological distress and irresponsibility, markers of poor health habits and a lack of femininity that could diminish her chances with potential romantic partners, like Stanley’s old-fashioned friend, Mitch. Regardless, after meeting with her sister, Blanche “rushes to the closet and removes the bottle; she is shaking all over and panting for breath as she tries to laugh. The bottle nearly slips from her grasp” (Williams 11). Given the involuntary movement of her hands and the clumsiness she exhibits during this scene, the play reveals early on her obsession with a probable addiction to alcohol. Even as she reassures Stella that “your sister hasn’t turned into a drunkard, she’s just all shaken up and hot and tired and dirty” (12), her very acknowledgement of the label she uses reveals to the audience and to Stella that she truly is in denial of her negative health habits. Even as she indulges herself secretly in the absence of guests, she must carry on each day with as healthy an image as possible, and image she creates through bathing, perfume, and low levels of light. As Mitch rings the door and waits for Blanche during their last significant encounter in Scene Nine, Blanche, having had “on the table beside the chair, a bottle of liquor and a glass” (139), is startled and “rushes about frantically, hiding the bottle in a closet, crouching at the mirror and dabbing her face with cologne and powder” (139). Just as the cologne may be used to cover the stench of the alcohol she consumed, the powder additionally serves to cover and mask her unwholesome appearance for that specific moment in time with Mitch. Even as Mitch’s attitude towards Blanche has changed from one of admiration to one of disdain for her constant lies about her true identity and past associations with other men, Blanche insists on continuing the façade of an innocuous Southern belle with little knowledge of the world. Just as Mitch admits he was to end his courtship with her, Blanche remembers, “oh, yes–liquor! We’ve had so much excitement around here this evening that I am boxed out of my mind! . . . Here’s something. Southern Comfort! What is that, I wonder” (142). Although she has been drinking the same liquor prior to Mitch’s visit, she hides it as a result of being consciously aware of the social implications of a single woman of marrying age drinking alone. This would suggest that as a woman engaging in this activity, she thoroughly enjoys the act of drinking itself, suggesting she could possibly be drinking in excess, which, the advertisements warn, “is often the cause of various aches and ills” (“Two Classes of Women” 97). Additionally, it violates the gender norms ascribed to by a significant number of Americans, particularly males, of this time period, and, more importantly, compromises the integrity of the character she has sustained in front of Mitch up until this point as a healthy lady of high social standing and traditional values. These traditional values—although false— further set Blanche at odds with the modernist emphasis on women’s youthful health. For the cosmetics industry during the Modernist period in the United States, one of more popular products advertised and sold due to popular demand by women of all ethnicities was skin creams aimed at leaving its user with a youthful appearance. The Crisis, as a publication with African-American culture as its foundation, often would include advertisements for these products such as those made by Kashmir Productions. The company claims that its “preparations produce new skin as well as whiten, soften and cleanse the skin. Wrinkles, blackheads, and liver spots disappear immediately. The complexion takes on the charm of color and youth” (“The Kashmir Girl” 44). While Kashmir Preparations mentions that their products produce a whitening effect, its emphasis is primarily on how the user may conceal her signs of aging while simultaneously developing a more radiant, youthful glow to the skin. In comparison, a later issue of The Crisis includes an advertisement by Yvonne Laboratories stressing the benefits women will experience from the habitual use of their exclusive and easy-to-use “Lemon Massage Cream that will work wonders with your skin. A wonderful bleaching cream for sunburns. Keeps the skin smooth, firm and youthful looking. Clears up muddy and sallow skins. Removes lines and wrinkles. Guaranteed harmless” (“A Beautiful Complexion” 142). Women of the Modernist period were hyperaware of the value society placed on youth and its preservation as women make the transition into middle age. While Blanche makes it a priority to practice good hygiene and at minimum maintain the appearance of health, no other concern dominates her being and essence more than her obsession with youth. Just as The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) ELF 2015 (Vol. 6) 9


English Literary File_Vol 6
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