Gender Struggle in Tennessee Williams “A Streetcar Named Desire” Research Paper
The play pertains to the shift that has manipulated the balance of power witnessed just after the two World Wars. Power in the context of gender struggle is a controversial debate that acquires more than an argumentative approach. Many historians that foresee the gruesome actions and reaction of the Second World War envisage the gender struggle as one of the cold reaction, the world could ever see.
However, the reason I have referred to it as ‘cold’ is that it has come out of the worst psychological horrors, stemming from the warfare. This, we can claim is the reason for why such balance of gender power has shaped the American society towards a recurring hysterical innovation. To which this innovation has produced strong and weak gender identities, roles, and authorities which has sprung from the class wars – depicted in Tennessee William’s play “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
This research paper does not discuss the class wars or the cultural legacy arriving from it, instead it argues upon the general nature of authority given to both genders by the creator. To make the case understandable, the two female characters ‘Blanche’ and ‘Stella’ will be analysed under the shadow of some non-negotiable altruistic coalitions among which on the fore will remain their tendencies on ‘dependence’, ‘freedom’, and ‘sexual appeals’ to and for their male counterparts.
This observation is not merely the central idea of the play, but is an enhancement to the basic personality trait that goes along with the horrifying aftermath of the warfare, conducted in the name of class differences.
So, class difference, being a profound feature of the two wars, will not be discussed. What is discussed is the gender contrasting struggle that not only emerges from being differentiated into male and female according to physical appearances, but also according to role, psyche, and spiritual calling which James (122) claims to be related to “the natural mandated sexual relationship between male and female which in terms of legal provision ought to be legitimate only under one social arrangement, marriage between one male and one female.” (Emphasis added)
The play revolves around Blanche, Stella, and Stanley and illustrates how Blanche becomes an uninvited visitor to Stella (her sister) and Stanley (brother-in-law). Blanche, though fallen from social status that a marriage proposes, and has also “lost her family, her ancestral home, and her reputation” (Tischler 42) still admires an elegant taste of high lifestyle, which she expected to see in Stella. Her hopes phased out when she saw Stella living in a dark two-room apartment.
The conflicting nature of Blanche and Stella
Despite the fact Blanche and Stella are sisters, stemming from the same house; they end up in diversified directions. For Blanche, being a school teacher does not limit her to acquire an ordinary thought about the opposite gender. She does not confine herself like her sister to a particular gender norm pertaining to a husband raising family.
Instead she possesses an elite school of thought in everyday chores of life and when visits Stella, it dawn upon her the class difference with which Stella feels pride living with her husband Stanley, a low paid Polish who is a sergeant in an engineering firm , to whose child she is pregnant with. Both have their own ways of reacting towards love and exoticism.
Stella’s love for Stanley requires emotional attachment and dependency devoid of any violence, whereas Blanche’s love is based entirely on infatuation, as Blanche’s dependency is not focussed on Stanley like her sister, but is more oriented towards the opposite sex. Blanche is concerned over men and such a precise description of violence in Blanche’s personality is what makes her unique and attractive to men.
The music in the play best describes the romantic waves which go on throughout the drama. Reconciling every character through the gender identification and distinguishing between obsession and redemption is what Stella’s and Blanche’s life revolves around. Each character is a response to the psychological obsession somehow connected to represent gender superiority which is evident from the conflicting debates that always go on in between Stanley and Blanche.
These conflicts portray the true character of Blanche’s and Stanley’s obsession, who despite being so much contradictory does not present a mundane gesture of gender appeal. Bloom (26) points out “Blanche’s obsessive nature revealed in her bathing as a psychological gesture of guilt, which becomes one of the play’s recurrent symbols, along with the piano, locomotives, cats, telephones, and drink.”
In love, Blanche is liberal in nature whereas Stella is conservative and wants to see her man (Stanley) to be only hers. On the contrary, Blanche has a ‘carte blanche’ sort of attitude towards men and she feels comfortable giving a leeway to every man she knows, to understand her better. This feminine nature is much alike Stanley’s masculinity, who does not want to see a woman succumb to such mind-set, because as a man he believes freedom is reserved by nature for man only.
Dependency on their male counterparts
Scene two portrays Stanley’s bold confessions of admiration which lures Blanche when she hear “I never met a woman that didn’t know if she was good looking or not without being told, and some of them give themselves credit for more than they’ve got.” (Williams 25) This elaborates two contrasting natural paradigms that are depicted openly in the play.
On one hand Stanley is of an independent nature, dabbling around every woman, getting involved in whatever comes his way. Stanley knows how to play tricks on the women and how to make them feel good and allured.
This makes him contended and relaxed and whenever he is cheerful, he booze down alcohol. On the other, Blanche, a liberal woman always making attempts to swallow the truth presumed by her that she is open hearted and independent, albeit she is not. Her dependency on men is elaborated by the weaknesses she possesses on part of taking interest and always getting involved in an affair. Thus, she depends upon men emotionally and boozes up whenever her inner psychological strength peters out.
Despite disliking Stanley, Blanche likes to be praised by the opposite gender which itself is a proof of how she envisages men. Appreciation is her weakness, more than Stella and is what makes her hapless and dependant on whichever men she meets. On the contrary, Stella is only dependant upon Stanley and accepts even his rude attitude wholeheartedly. This satisfies her as a woman, and to which she takes as a valuable obsession.
On the other hand, such an attitude of Stella is desirable by Stanley and it is this nature of femininity which he intends to seek in Blanche. Unfortunately to Stanley’s discomfort, this personality trait is not confided within Blanche, because she has made this feminist perspective her strength.
The non-realistic view of Blanche versus the realist perspective of Stanley is connected by an intermediary view of Stella based entirely on morality. An imaginative hallucinatory construction is what made Blanche washed over with paranoia in the end and is the main cause of her downfall.
When she realized she has been raped, her unconscious and the ‘elite’ aura to which she takes pride in hiding her fears, could not manage her to escape. Not only does she forgive herself for the reason she knew within to opine sex without compassion is something she could not allow and that she has been raped for sex without compassion, something she can’t manage either to escape or accept.
Differences in their perceptions show off through various interesting reactions to incidents. With the rape of Blanche, it is Stanley who gets guilty conscious to the extent where he remains unwilling to carry the burden of guilt down with him and calls upon a mental institution for Blanche.
This is another approach, Stanley would have not commenced were he been able to tell truth to Stella about her sister in law. But since he is too vulnerable to defend or offend his position, he feels it better to hand over Blanche to the institute rather than declare and admit the truth to his wife. Truth, misbegotten by guilt and mistrust is what Stanley deep within believes.
Gender Stereotypical Differences
Despite all those differences that lay ahead every scene including that of the rape and violence, the stereotypical ones succeed. That is to say that stereotype characters are what confessed and nevertheless followed by the society. Therefore, there is nothing wrong to portray a particular stereotypical trait that in the case of Blanche is evident how she loses her grip over her imagined fantasy world.
If she were been connected somehow to reality, the situation would not have been that much deteriorating. For Stella and Stanley, everything goes perfect in the sense they never underwent into emotional turmoil like Blanche. Never had they envisaged something extraordinarily imaginary helped them to escape from the realities of life.
In this gender struggle, clichéd traits triumph over the manifested ones, for the reason stereotypes are easier to accept as they are mundane to the societal norms. Just in the case of Stella, who was once married and her husband died for the homosexuality he possessed was never accepted by the society. To make things worse, Stella was never able to get through her husband’s homosexual nature and to arouse feelings for her.
Thus woman is defeated by man in nature not because of her dependency trait on men, but because of she is depended more upon her inner self, her emotions, and the quest for maintaining a series of illusions the way she wants the world to be. Bloom (56) mentions this point as “Blanche is both a representative and a victim of a tradition that taught her that attractiveness, virtue, and gentility led automatically to happiness.”
Conclusion: Who wins out?
William’s play is not merely a manifestation of desire intending to demonstrate a struggle of hope and despair, but is a paradigm of what men and women actually want from the opposite gender? It is more than a sexual conflict that causes one gender to struggle against the norms that which it is associated with in an attempt either to proof for its stereotyped image or defend against it.
Gender struggle for Stella was the usual reproductive phenomenon, indicating her desire as a symbol of love to be sexual intimacy, acquired in the form of pregnancy. This way she won. For Stanley it was the usual sex drive encountered by lust fulfilled by the sexual intercourse in the form of oppression ‘rape’. He demanded to quest his sexual intimacy of Blanche, but never proposed marriage. While she was heavily drunk, he raped and won.
Whereas, for Blanche, it was not something fulfilled because she set her own standards of evaluation that did not surpassed her and add up to the repercussion of the misery of her incident. It was this misery that did not let her grasp the truth that she has been raped by Stanley, all at once.
In this case, Darwin’s sexual selection reveals two forms of mating behaviour (Buss 3), one that is evident in the usual commitment such as marriage. The other that is seen in preferred selection and does not take the form of any suggested or committed relationship. The former and the later were the illustrations in William’s play.
Winning and losing became a concern for gender because both husband and wife somehow managed to go through their dubious relationship, despite being aware of what happened to Blanche. So, unconsciously they forget each other and in order to make things work Stanley sends Blanche to the psychiatric hospital, as if she been a scapegoat.
Bloom Herald. Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: Chelsea House: 1988.
Buss M. David. The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating. New York. Basic Books: 1994.
James, Davison Hunter. Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. New York: Basic Books: 1991.
Tischler, M. Nancy. Student Companion to Tennessee Williams. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press: 2000.
Williams Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. Heinemann Inspiring Generations: 1995.
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