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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Essay on Analysis of Streetcar Named Desire

     The play Streetcar Named Desire portrays sexism and the disparity, prejudice, and stereotypes of men and women in an era where the chaos of Second World War and its offshoot in the economy largely affected the moral sensibilities and judgment of the people living at that time. As a result, struggles on norms and values afflicted the characters as the main protagonist lost sense of balance and reality and instead adapted extremities in interpreting truthfulness, deceit and delusion to cope with the skirmishes hounding her need to survive. Other characters, including her own sister, stuck sternly to their expected roles which left the main protagonist dejected, maladjusted, and worst, crazy in an asylum.

     Like any work of fiction, playwright Tennessee Williams took inspiration from real personal circumstances in breathing life to the characters in the play. He was successful in delineating the gender roles of men and women. As portrayed by Stanley Kowalski, men are strong, flex muscles at work, earn the bread for the family, drink liquor and play poker with friends, and regard themselves as superior beings in the house. Men in the play, like Stanley and his friend Mitch Michell highly discriminate female sexuality. They believe that only pure, virgin and chaste women should be given marriage proposals while ‘experienced’ or those with shadowy past should be treated harshly like a prostitute.

    On the other hand, women ought to be submissive, meek and silent in front of their husband.  This was portrayed by Stella Kowalski, wife of Stanley and Eunice Hubell, wife of the building owner where the Kowalskis live. They should ever be willing to serve their husbands in any way, including their lustful needs and demonstrate their happiness for it. Their actions must show that they exist solely for their men. They should also be modest and chaste in the house and feel inferior to their male counterpart. They ought to expect physical and verbal lashings when they show resistance and disrespect.

     Similarly, the play effectively presented the contrast of genders in terms of occupation, behavior and attitude.  Common men or men of low degree like Stanley Kowalski and Mitch Michell should hold blue collar jobs while those who belong to the upper class should be doctors. They should be brusque and violent and cuss occasionally or speak foul language to show their manhood. They can be blunt and severe in deciding against an issue because they don’t beat around the bush. It is fine if they are untidy and smell of perspiration because these are signs of being manual laborers. They are also expected to be promiscuous by visiting brothels and other sleazy places.

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     On the other hand, women are housewives or housekeepers like Stella Kowalski and Eunice Hubell, and nurses or teachers like Blanche Dubois. They should be cultured, refined, yet simple and modest. They should bear children, stand for their man and believe on their side of the story when confronted with a controversial situation. They should cry in silence or go to a confidante to ventilate their sobbing. When inside the house, they must oblige themselves to step out of the house so that they husbands can enjoy time with friends at home. They listen to radio for enjoyment and dance to the music for self-entertainment.
     What makes this play realistic and lively is the character of Blanche Dubois, sister of Stella Kowalski. She is the ambiguous persona in the play, the lady main protagonist who did not observe stereotypes of the gender roles to the letter. She was the experimental character who moderated the extremes of gender roles or broke the gender politics prevalent at that time.

     Through Blanche Dubois, whose character was referred to as fading Southern Belle, playwright Williams took fancy of the so-called ‘Old South’ and its lost glory.  Born and raised from aristocracy and sustained by passive money coming from the family’s cotton plantation, she regarded herself as upper class, elite and educated. But due to twists of fate, the old money gradually went down the drain as it expended the living and death expenses of up to the last older member of the clan. She was left penniless, good thing she acquired education and worked as English teacher. Subsequent misfortunes, such as the suicide of her young husband who turned out to be homosexual, worsened her emptiness to nymphomania. This split personality of being prude, stemming from her family culture and educational background to being promiscuous and prurient became apparent when she finally had to migrate to New Orleans to live with her sister. What followed was harsh interplay of strict gender politics and stereotypes which Blanche Dubois opposed against the rest of the characters.

     The 1940s, characterized by post-World War II consequences, meant regrouping and picking up the pieces not just of tangible things for further use but of lives as well, to be salvaged and reconstructed. Collectively, it was the era of shallow machismo where men teased women sexually and treat them solely for their lustful consumption. They have bizarre, violent measures of putting a woman right into her ‘proper place’ either by physical assault or sexual molestations.  Family men leave all the household chores to the wives but depend on them when they become jobless.

     On the other hand, women empowerment gradually crept in against strict gender roles. They were filled in jobs normally dominated by men. They became the safety net of the American economy as they performed dual roles -- keeping the house while earning money at the same time. Because they had shown their aptitude to be equal with men in terms of becoming a force, they faced maltreatment from the men. 

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1 comment:

  1. The tussle between correctness and holding fast to stipulated regulations abandons them wore out,