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English Literary File_Vol 6

She wishes to take an initial bath after having met her sister to figuratively wash and rid herself of her past so that she may have a new start. In Scene Two, as she leaves the bathroom and seeks to attract Stanley’s undivided attention, she shouts to him, “hello, Stanley! Here I am, all freshly bathed and scented, and feeling like a brand new human being” (Williams 36). Blanche finds an inexplicable sense of comfort in the bathing ritual and additionally in the scent she wears. Perfume historically has served a dual purpose, offering its wearer and those around a pleasant aroma and, in a more pragmatic sense, masking odors. Just as the baths physically and, in Blanche’s mind, symbolically cleanse her of the past, her love for perfume is representative of her desire to conceal her true identity and outlook on life under the pretense of Southern gentility and the values she had adopted as a young girl. Her use of perfume later in Scene Two demonstrates it has a power of its own, having an ability to influence even the behavior and temperament of Stanley, the embodiment of unyielding, ruthless authoritarianism. As Stanley begins elaborating upon the tenets of the Napoleonic code as they apply to the roles of men and women in Louisiana, the stage direction calls for Blanche to spritz “herself with her atomizer; then playfully sprays him with it. He seizes the atomizer and slams it down on the dresser. She throws back her head and laughs” (Williams 41). Stanley, with his hyper-masculine temperament, decidedly rejects the perfume because of its feminine scent; he finds wearing it would additionally compromise a fundamental aspect of his character. Unlike Blanche, Stanley is sincere, genuine, and forthright, however merciless and severe he may come across to others. He rejects the effort to mask his character behind the sweet smell of cleanliness and perfume. Stanley truthfully is what Blanche calls the “survivor of the stone age! Bearing the raw meat home from the kill of the jungle” (83), yet he never deviates from the essence of his character. Blanche, however, symbolically needs the jasmine perfume because she wishes to preserve the façade of a Southern belle, an identity she can no longer sustain due to the tragic circumstances and demise of her former husband. By spraying Stanley with the perfume, she not only exercises dominance over Stanley by attempting to change his naturally sweaty, masculine stench, but she also demonstrates to Stanley that his dissatisfaction in her wardrobe reveals his lack of taste, something she and Stella both possess as a result of their upbringing. As Blanche converses with her sister upon hearing the news of Stella’s pregnancy, she realizes Stanley, unlike men of her former social circle, is “just not the type that goes for jasmine perfume, but maybe he’s what we need to mix with our blood now that we’ve lost Belle Reve” (Williams 45). Blanche begins to understand how her heritage and the lifestyle of her childhood are incompatible with the way in which Modernist life operates, requiring one to adopt a sense of “autonomy, novelty, speed, success, and uniqueness” (Dolfsma 351) underlying any kind of façade one may present to the world. Nevertheless, she continues to showcase herself as the ideal of feminine beauty, outdated though she may be. Another characteristic valued of women during the Modernist period was the appearance of health and vitality. The Atlantic Monthly of 1910 included an advertisement for a coffee additive called Postum. The ad attracted readers by elaborating upon the positive effects of abstaining from excessive eating and drinking in order to avoid the ill effects these activities may result in. It begins, “Some are fair because they happen so. Others attain the clear, rosy complexion, smooth velvety skin, bright eyes, easy, graceful poise, as a result of carefully selected food and drink that properly nourishes the body”; the ad acknowledges that whatever the cause, “a fair complexion is the outward token of health within” (“Two Classes of Fair Women” 97). In an example from another Modernist text, the narrator of The Professor’s House (1925) by Willa Cather describes the sheer magnetism of St. Peter’s daughter Rosamund as the embodiment of what the Modernists considered healthy, vibrant, and exuding with life. Standing apart from her family members, she is recognizable for having a “colouring that was altogether different; dusky black hair, deep dark eyes, a soft white skin with rich brunette red in her cheeks and lips. Nearly everyone considered Rosamond brilliantly beautiful” (Cather 26). Her appearance is not only a spectacle in its own right, but a representation of a modern women living life with vivacity and exuberance as manifested by her appearance. Throughout A Streetcar Named Desire, in contrast, Blanche must contend with her unattractive state of being as an unhealthy alcoholic while attempting to fulfill the obligation to appear to be a vivacious, social drinker. ELF 2015 (Vol. 6) 8


English Literary File_Vol 6
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