Tennessee Williams’ Depiction of Blanche as a Casualty As Illustrated In His Play, A Streetcar Named Desire
“Blanche is a victim of the fact that she is a female.” With reference to the dramatic methods used in the play, and relevant controversial information, show to what extent you agree with this statement.
The play “A Streetcar Named Desire” written by Tennessee Williams portrays the character of Blanche Dubois following her from her hometown of Laurel, Mississippi to New Orleans where she is to stay with her sister Stella Kowalski and her sister’s husband Stanley Kowalski, beginning Blanche’s dependence on men, as she is still ultimately depending on her sister’s husband (Stanley) for her mental and economic recovery.Feminists believe that patriarchy not only suppresses women in such aspects as politics, economy, society, culture, education and so on, but also mistakenly defines women’s psychology as being unsound, irrational, illogical and impulsive. Under this kind of bias and discrimination, women’s psychology is easily distorted, and cannot develop healthily. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche is a contradictive lady with very complicated character, which is illustrated from the aspects of sexual desire, fantasy for bright future, and hypocrisy and pretension.
In A Streetcar Named Desire, the females, Stella Kowalski and Blanche Dubois,are portrayed as the weaker sex; women who are overpowered by those such as Stanley Kowalski, the self-aggrandizing, masculine“hero.” Blanche displays deep-seated psychological instability when she is unable to live up to her expectations as a properly raised Southern belle. Stella represents the classic example of a woman’s deference to an abusive husband (which occurs not only in the South during the time of this play, but also resounds throughout most of human history). Stanley Kowalski’s personality provides insight as to how men dominate women, convince them of their inferiority, and ultimately destroy them if unchecked. Through this theme Williams presents a negative view upon the roles of women at the time, criticising the Old South and its treatment of the female population.
Blanche and Stella are portrayed as victims of traditional Southern society in which females had few choices in life. Both sisters were raised on the plantation, Belle Reve in Laurel, Mississippi, and their primary goal in life, paralleled with Southern tradition, was to seek the security of marriage. However, both chose unsuitable husbands. Blanche, who is five years older than her sister, marries Allan Gray for love at a young age only to find her dreams shattered by her husband’s infidelity with another man. Stella, who moves to New Orleans at a young age, chooses Stanley Kowalski, an aggressive, heterosexual man of the wrong social class. However, Blanche is portrayed as the victim here, due to the fact that her marriage was unsuccessful.
Blanche’s failure to save the estate and move beyond her sordid past in Laurel leaves her with only one last hope for the future; to begin a new life with her sister in New Orleans. Unfortunately, she arrives at her new destination as a slave to her definition of womanhood, and feels compelled to lie to herself and others in order to be accepted and secure a respectable husband. She is attracted to Mitch who appears gentlemanly, and she envisions capturing him by being a perfect Southern belle, whilst hiding her promiscuous past. This involves earning a man’s respect by not “putting out” or moving too fast, giving the impression that she’s never been touched, and adhering to old-fashioned ideals of the South. Blanche even tries to recapture the more romanticized gender roles from the age of chivalry. This becomes evident when she requires Mitch to bow as he presents her with flowers and become the “Rosenkavalier” of her affections. After Mitch learns the truth about her past, and that she is not the virgin of his dreams, he refuses to show up for her birthday party, for which Blanche later reminds him that his behaviour is “utterly uncavalier.” Williams is representing that our patriarchal system teaches men that women need to be pure in order to marry them, but they typically adhere to a double standard when the roles are reversed. Blanche is a victim to this scheme of double standards, as her promiscuity is heavily frowned upon by the characters in the novel, much as it would have been within the timeframe in which the novel was set.
Domestic Violence is different to each character in this play. This is because each character has a different experience with it, and the consequences of violence in their lives have been so diverse that each has made up their own conclusion on what it is to be violent or to be a victim of it.
Stanley, for example, is by nature a violent man. He has created a stereotypical view of women in his mind, and his wife should be the embodiment of subservience and submission. When he drinks, these ideals become more powerful and make him even more violent. When his wife does not do as he says he hits her, they fight, and then there is the post-fighting lovemaking which intends to patch all mistakes. Yet, this is to him a form of aphrodisiac and violence is a way to channel his pathological views of life. Blanche becomes a victim of his violence, particularly during the rape scene.
Stella is at the receiving end of Stanley. She is the one getting the hits, surviving the fights, and then getting with him for sex after fighting. However, this to Stella is another curious form of sexual enticement and she even confesses to that much. She even expects the violence partly because of the time in history when women were treated like second class citizens, and partly because Stanley’s rough nature is what attracted her to him in the first place. Stanley’s brutality is demonstrated in many ways, a particularly prominent way being when “He hurls a plate to the floor.” He states “That’s how I’ll clear the table!” He then “seizes Stella’s arm.” This uncalled for violence is not a mere consequence of the physical inequality between the genders, but is an example of male abuse of power and position, in order to further their own dominance. Although Stella may be presented as a female victim, it is clear that Blanche suffers more, regarding violence.
However, Blanche is the opposite. She is appalled by violence, and it is because even in her life of sin and debauchery, inside of Blanche there is a lot of hurt and emotion. When she sees her sister getting hit she immediately calls for the horror of the situation and tries to get Stella out of Stanley’s life. However, she gets in shock when she sees that Stella does not want to leave and looks actually glowing after she makes up with Stanley. After the suicide of her husband, Blanche sees nothing positive in violence, and it stops her frozen. When she becomes the victim of Stanley in the end and he rapes her, she becomes insane. That is the extent to which violence is like napalm in Blanche’s life. This ultimately displays Blanche as a victim to the patriarchy, as Stanley is the embodiment of male control over women.
A particularly complex problem for feminists is the issue of rape – the ultimate outrage. In this invasion of the female body, the woman is uniquely vulnerable to masculine attack, frequently for purposes of domination, not for sexual release. The rape victim is most often portrayed as the maiden in distress. In the case of Blanche, she has flirted with Stanley, engaged him in verbal combat, and challenged his authority. He confronts her in his role of the alpha male facing the attacker of the herd. It is less lust than power that motivates him. in her, he sees a foe. Furthermore, she is no gentle maiden facing this beast. She smashes a bottle, threatens to twist it in his face. She is, as he realizes, a “tiger,” a worthy adversary. This explains Williams’ difficulties in writing the ending of the play. He knew that the censors would want Blanche destroyed, but he was tempted to let her have a triumphal departure. This is certainly not the attitude of a man who belittles women. On the other hand, it plays into the ultimate insulting defence used frequently in courts of law; that the rape victim “asked for it.” In the case of Blanche and Stanley, she incited the outrage, he needed the victory. Both have their share of guilt, although Blanche is regarded as the victim in this situation.
“Now don’t you worry, your sister hasn’t turned into a drunkard, she’s just all shaken up and hot and tired and dirty!” This line is extremely ironic and it also denotes that alcoholism in a woman is a shameful trait, for which excuses need to be made. This connotation is not displayed in respect for the male characters within the text who are drunk. Male alcoholism is displayed as a totally respectable incident, as they are male. That fact that Blanche is a woman means that she is expected to display decorum at all times and that her gender does not allow her to become intoxicated.
Blanche also challenges the typical female stereotype because she has been highly educated. Being an English teacher by profession – breaking the norm – as women were not considered to need to be self-sufficient or to hold gainful employment as a man would always be there to rely upon. This higher education means that she can assert power and supremacy over others by using a more sophisticated vocabulary and style of language. In scene ten, when Blanche is disgraced outright by Stanley, Stanley immediately assumes power over Blanche by ending her long speeches and leaves her vocalizations depleted to an insufficient “Oh!” Williams is asserting through Blanche that within the context of the plays society, women who challenged the feminine stereotype would be forced into submission, this would be done by a deliberate attack on the area of their personality which enabled them to obtain this unwarranted potential. Blanche’s utter demise as a victim of rape, and in fact her relationship with Stanley, is the opportunity through which Williams represents this concept.
During the 1940’s, women’s roles and expectations in society were changing rapidly. Previously women had very little say in society and were stereotyped to stay home and be a good home maker and wife. The 1940’s were different, life for women was expanding, the men were at war and so the women had to step up and take the men’s place. Not only men were going to war either, the war was so big that in 1942, “The Women’s Army Corps” and “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services” were established. After these organizations were accepted congress authorized women to serve in the U.S. Navy. Back in the USA, women worked factory, and labour intensive jobs. Throughout the 1940’s the amount of women in the workforce increased by 25-35%. This was a prosperous time in women’s history. Blanche, however, was removed from her job as a teacher, as she had sexual relations with a 17 year old boy. This is another scene in which we see Blanche as a victim, who has been ostracised due to her promiscuity.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” as a whole is connected to misogyny in the sense that it criticizes the way that women in the 20th century heavily depended upon men. The women in the play (Blanche and Stella) choose to fall back on men and depend on them to help them not only economically, but also emotionally and sexually. When Blanche felt insecure, she turned to younger men in an attempt to make herself feel of value. Stella on the other hand instead relies on her husband for everything, even when he beats her she returns to him for fear of being alone. When her Blanche is raped by Stanley, Stella chooses to turn her back on her sister and believe Stanley for she knows he will continue to provide a home for her, something she feels she cannot provide for both herself and her recently born child. This again makes Blanche a victim, as she is shunned by her only remaining family, and cast aside.
Blanche is one of such females born and brought up in Old South who feels difficult in mastering her own fate and facing conflicts brought by industrialization and commercialization under the restriction and oppression of patriarchy, and only hides herself in imaginative world to release herself. Williams extends his great sympathy to this victim of patriarchy. However, it is evident from what Williams depicts about women that once they yield themselves to patriarchy, instead of straggling indomitably for their freedom, their miserable situation will not be changed. Blanche is a victim because of her gender, and this fact alone contributes to the theme of tragedy within the play.
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