While many playwrights of the post-World War II era thrived in tragedy, the main element of Tennessee Williams' play, A Streetcar Named Desire does not focus on the elements of tragedy in the same way others like Arthur Miller did. While Streetcar is indeed drama and tragedy, Williams inverts the typical idea of the tragic hero by changing the circumstances. While most tragedies place a noble character amidst a hopeless situation, Williams presents his tragedy through the character Blanche, who neither is placed in a hopelessly bleak situation, nor possesses heroic attributes. Berkman is correct in stating that Blanche is not a tragic hero. While she is victim to tragic circumstance, she neither evokes pity from nobility nor is represented as a "common man."
The common tragic hero arouses pity due to his overall good intentions. While usually flawed with hubris or devotion to an unsound belief, they are overall good people, possessing true values that to which the audience can relate, and would want to possess themselves. However, due to both tragic circumstance and miscalculation, these characters are lead to a downfall. Though escape from this tragedy is possible, their own limitations prove it inevitable.
Blanche is too placed in a dire situation, due to her past. However, this situation is not portrayed (as Miller often paints) as utterly hopeless. She moves to New Orleans in hopes of finding success, and no outside force is preventing her from doing so. Only her past and denial of self prevent this. This key element prevents Blanche from being a tragic hero. Her limitations are caused by her self, not chance.
While some insist that Blanche's devotion to the arts arouses sympathy, therefore making her a heroine, these attributes are superficial and ultimately renounce any such suggestion. Her value of culture does not cause her any suffering. Although she is an English teacher, her struggle has nothing to do with art. In fact, she tries at every opportunity to block herself off from any real human understanding, preventing the transcending value that the artist aspires to.
Not only is Blanche's humanity superficial, she does not possess any aspects of the "common man" required for a tragic hero. By definition, a hero must possess noble values that society at large agree with and aspire to. Williams sets up the opportunity for this nobility in familiar circumstances. A common value of the 1940s and 50s is one that strives after intimacy in relationships as the ultimate goal of humanity. Indeed, Williams sets up Blanche for such nobility, but uses irony as a tool to contradict any notion of heroism. Berkman suggests that the values that American society in Williams' time would consider noble include "admitting of humiliating truths, the giving of compassion in the face of shock, the learning to moderate her life so that her continued individuality is compatible with the individuality of others." Blanche fails in every one of these aspects. She constantly tries to convey a misconception of the truth. Her lack of compassion caused her husband to commit suicide and her lifestyle was anything but moderate, as represented in the devotion to the most worthless possessions.
She refuses to take any sort of responsibility for her past, even when it would be acceptable by society. She strives to achieve intimacy with Mitch in order to give her life meaning, but fails in every way. Indeed, her whole downfall is a result of personal decisions, not outside circumstance. While the typical tragedy would consider Blanche's rape as the pivotal cause of her descent, Williams takes an interesting approach. Her downfall comes from her refusal to understand herself. Not only is she not a tragic hero because she audience can not understand her, no character can understand her, including herself. Her downfall is a result of Mitch's reaction to her final confession. It wasn't circumstance that caused her downfall, it was her realization that Mitch could not accept her confession. Because of her lies, she alienated herself. Even Stella could only get along with Blanche when she lied to her. Blanche's downfall came because she reached the point where neither her lies nor the truth could create any intimacy. In fact, it is her final disclosure that destroyed any hope of intimacy.
This ironic twist is surely commentary on Williams' part on tragedy. In the end, her one attempt at nobility in truthfulness is what caused her downfall. Berkman suggests that, much like T.S. Eliot, Williams believed that "human kind can not bear very much reality," and although the tragedy would have you believe that this reality is achieved through intimate relationships, Williams suggests that it is the entire humanity that Blanche embodies which prevents such reality. The tragic hero is mere fiction. Blanche represents true confusion of humanity. Williams questions not only the possibility of a tragic hero, but the entire premise of what is considered heroic.
Blanche is no more a tragic hero than Williams would consider himself to be. It is not our noble attributes which make us human, it is what isolates us from society. Using homosexuality as a metaphor for isolation, Williams wrote in his memoirs, "there is more sensibility-which is equivalent to more talent-among the "gays" of both sexes than among the "norms" (Why? They must compensate for so much.)" Williams sees himself as such an outsider. He not only isolates his characters, and indeed views himself as diametrically opposed to the tragic hero, he believes that this is what makes us human. Berkman argues, "he equates the life of the outsider with the idea that art may arise out of suffering and deprivation-a compensation for pain and loss." It is in fact our lack of heroic quality which demands personal development. Though Blanche crippled herself from any growth, she is altogether more human than any fictional tragic hero. For Williams, the tragic hero doesn't exist. Just as Berkman would believe, it is for this reason that isolation makes us most human.