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English Literary File_Vol 6

The Psychosocial Effects of Beauty in A Streetcar Named Desire By Paul Adams, English 428 Throughout history, civilizations across the globe have prioritized physical attractiveness and moral character as critical aspects of feminine beauty. During the Modernist period, society valued, as evident by the advertisements published in periodicals, women with youth and cleanliness in both body and spirit. These standards were especially important for those considering the prospect of marriage. As a consequence, many Modernist works focus on the extent to which female characters embody these qual-ities or attempt to do so. As with the case of A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Blanche DuBois is unable to possess these indis-pensable character-istics in full due to her promiscuous past and cynical perspective on age, yet she nevertheless attempts to create a fantasy within the minds of others and in her own to a degree, suggesting she remains the chaste, naïve, and youthful girl she once was, maintaining herself in a state in which society would gladly accept her as an eligible bachelorette. Even as the Modernist media advertised products for helping women attain or to at least give the appearance of having these desirable qualities, selections of Modernist literature give insight into the extent to which women during this period would sacrifice themselves and their identity to acquire habitual cleanliness, health, and youth. Many modernist periodicals include advertisements for soaps and other cleaning products with zealous claims. For example, The American Magazine in 1910 contained an advertisement for a bathing regimen that effectively “removes superfluous fat and gives a slender, firm stylish figure. Merely use a little twice a week in warm water when taking a bath. No need of taking drugs or starving yourself” (Landshut 110). In building credibility, the ad mentions how the saline solution has been “patronized by royalty and has become famous for centuries. Endorsed by the Medical Profession. Praised by those who have used it” (Landshut 110). Regardless whether one should be persuaded by its claims, the advertisement nevertheless reveals to readers the extent to which bathing had become an important ritual in Modernist society particularly among women with the idea of purging themselves of impurities. In A Streetcar Named Desire, bathing and the use of perfume are Figure 3 Cropped screen shot of Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois from the trailer for the film A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). Image available at Wikimedia Commons. Blanche’s central activities throughout much of the play, resulting in a borderline obsession. Just as she arrives at the home of the Kowalskis, upon meeting her sister Stella in Scene One, Blanche insists “now, then, let me look at you. But don’t you look at me, Stella, no, no, no, not till later, not till I’ve bathed and rested” (Williams 11). During the beginning of the play, the viewer is introduced to the entirety of Blanche’s predicament as she begins living with Stella and Stanley, namely adapting to working class conditions in a different culture and geographic location, satiating her alcoholism, and escaping her notoriety from working at a hotel known for its special accommodations. She is ashamed of herself. ELF 2015 (Vol. 6) 7


English Literary File_Vol 6
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