Female Characters in The Streetcar Named Desire & The Great Gatsby: Comparative Essay
The novel, “The Great Gatsby” and the play “The Streetcar Named Desire,” contain two tragic female characters, namely Daisy and Stella, both of whom experience significant levels of abuse and neglect due to their spouses.
Examining both women, one can see that their lives are a reflection of the attitudes of some women the present wherein in their pursuit of what can only be described as “false ideals,” they end up in situations where they experience abuse and heartache. It can be seen in the case of Stella and Daisy wherein in their pursuit of what they think is their “ideal” love, they are, in fact, pursuing nothing more than a false ideal that they have placed on a pedestal.
In “The Great Gatsby,” one can see in Nick’s observation of Tom and Daisy wherein he states “…they were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money, or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” Whereas in “The Streetcar Named Desire,” Blanche states: “Blanche DuBois: What you are talking about is desire – just brutal Desire.”
Both observations show how Daisy and Stella are merely focusing on what they believe they want; in the case of Stella, it is passionate love. At the same time, for Daisy, it is a comfortable life, yet in the end, both women wind up in situations that are less than ideal from the perspective of an observer. As such, Stella and Daisy are instruments of social commentary by their respective authors who are meant to portray the negative ramifications that dependence and unmitigated desire can have on a woman’s life.
One of the most comparable characteristics of Daisy and Stella is that either woman can be considered “weak-willed,” resulting in them willingly accepting the abuse they received from their spouses instead of fighting back. For example, in Gatsby, the character of Jordan is generally portrayed as intelligent, articulate, and generally sophisticated. In contrast, in the Streetcar named Desire, Blanche is similarly described as a woman that is intelligent, articulate, and goes for what she wants.
Such characters contrast sharply with Daisy and Stella, who are all too accepting of their respective fates. They seem resigned to accept the abuse/neglect, although they could potentially do something about it (i.e., in Stella’s case, leave Stanley while Daisy could file for a divorce). Both women, in effect, become trapped within their lives; however, they are unwilling to their lack of initiative and “nerve.”
Another comparable trait that can be associated with Stella and Daisy is that both characters are initially charmed by a characteristic that they saw in their significant other, which they found “endearing” if not lovely at the time. The following quote is from Daisy as she laments on her marriage to Tom, “I married him because I thought he was a gentleman. I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn’t fit to lick my shoe”.
As can be seen, the primary reason why Daisy married Tom was due to her perception that Tom was a gentleman and had good breeding. In comparison, Stanley Kowalski was initially perceived by Stella as having a considerable degree of self-confidence and passion, which contrasted sharply with the ordered, strict, and aristocratic lifestyle that she had grown up with.
Based on what can be perceived from the story, Stella did not necessarily like the way she had grown up and, as a result, viewed Stanley as a means of leaving such a life behind. The same can be said for Daisy, who regarded the money and prestige that came with marrying Tom as a means of escaping from her previous life, which was mediocre and ordinary.
Later on, it is revealed that both characters find that the charming characteristics that initially charmed them into liking their respective significant others was merely a surface facade that hid despicable personality traits. Tom and regarded Daisy as a wife supposed to be subservient and all too willing to meet his needs. Still, he was cheating on her with another woman. The indignation he felt over the concept of her cheating on him is surprising since he was doing the same thing.
He took his wife for granted and still expected her to meet his every need by being a doting and faithful wife. When it comes to Stanley and Stella, we see that he possesses violent tendencies resulting in cases of significant domestic abuse. However, despite the similar situations of both women wherein they were drawn in by characteristics they thought indicated a right partner, they have different responses to their respective cases.
For example, despite being a victim of domestic abuse, Stella finds Stanley’s wild, passionate, violent, and animalistic nature to be attractive. Evidence of this can be seen from the following quote: “Stella: He smashed all the light bulbs with the heel of my slipper. Blanche DuBois: And you let him? Didn’t run, didn’t scream? Stella: Actually, I was sort of thrilled by it”.
This shows that despite the apparent abuse heaped upon her, Stella enjoys it on some level. From a particular perspective, the reason behind why this strange turn of events occurred is due to the aristocratic hierarchies that Stella endured. At the same time, she was a young girl making her yearn for experiences that are wild and passionate as opposed to the strict and dreary lifestyle that she had to endure.
On the other hand, the character of Daisy responded negatively to the abuses heaped upon her by Tom to the extent that she became disenchanted with her life. Daisy said it best when she stated that “…..I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool”. This shows her displeasure at her current situation and her yearning to escape.
Before proceeding, it should be noted that another similar characteristic between both female characters was their desire to escape from their spouse yet their willingness to return to them despite the abuse/disenchantment that they had to endure. Stella often escaped to her neighbor Eunice’s home when Stanley turned excessively violent while Daisy sought refuge with Gatsby only till the point that he was killed, resulting in her settling with Tom.
The women in either story are foolish for staying with their respective spouses despite the abuse and neglect received. However, what must be understood is that a common theme in both relationships is the degree of dependence both female characters had on their spouses. For example, in the case of Daisy, she had no alternative means of income aside from her relationship with Tom and was financially dependent on him.
As seen in the book, she had grown used to her lifestyle despite her misery at Tom effectively taking her for granted. As such, she endured her situation since, for her, this was the only way she knew how to live. A similar case can be seen between Stella and Stanley, wherein Stella is dependent on Stanley not only for finances but for emotional support as well. Stella thrived on the passion and “wildness” that Stanley brought into their relationship.
One can see this in the following quote, where Blanche admonishes Stella for being in an abusive relationship. Yet Stella adamantly defends that she is staying in it because she wants to: “Blanche DuBois: You’re married to a madman. Stella: I wish you’d stop taking it for granted that I’m in something I want to get out of.
Blanche DuBois: What you are talking about is desire – just brutal Desire”. From this quote alone, it can be seen that is dependence and desire. For Stella, it is a desire for passion. For Daisy, it is the desire for a comfortable life. That causes both women to stay despite the significant problems in their relationship.
Overall, through the various examples that have been presented, it can be stated that Stella and Daisy are instruments of social commentary. The authors meant to portray the negative ramifications that dependence and unmitigated desire can have on a woman’s life.
While they both achieved their respective desires of getting a comfortable life (in the case of Daisy) and of having a passionate partner (in the case of Stella), both women are neglected and abused to a considerable extent at home. Yet, neither woman truly wants to escape their situation since, for them, it is what they believe they want. Their desires have, in effect, clouded their judgment to the extent that they tend to accept the abuse they are given in exchange for the desire they want.
From such an observation, it can be assumed that the respective authors of Daisy and Stella created such characters as a cautionary tale for readers. Such characters exemplified what the authors perceived as a problem with the women during their respective times, wherein in their desire to pursue what they believed was the best outcome or the best partner, they neglected to see the problems they could face until it was too late.
Daisy said it best when she stated that “…..I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool”. Such a negative outlook is an excellent example of what not to become. A woman should not be a fool in the face of her desires; rather, she must judge whether her desires would improve her or be her ruin.
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