Gender Roles in a Streetcar Named Desire
Gender Roles in A Streetcar Named Desire Throughout history empowerment and marginalization has primarily been based on gender. In the play A Streetcar Named Desire, this idea of empowerment is strongly flaunted. Tennessee Williams’ characters, primarily Stanley, Blanche, Mitch, and Stella, conform the expected roles of men and women at the time. Although World War Two temporarily allowed women a place in the work force, they were dismissed from such empowerment when the war came to a close. Characters in A Streetcar Named Desire are accurate representations of the social historical context of that time.
The power struggle between Stanley and Blanche conveys dominant ideas about gender such as the primitive nature, aggression, and brutality of men and the vulnerability and physicality of women. The establishment of traditional gender stereotypes is almost instantly provided when Stanley is highlighted as the ‘provider’. His physical masculinity and power is conveyed through a package of raw meat he ‘heaves’ carelessly at Stella and his abusive nature is shown at once through the use of blood imagery involving the ‘red stained package’.
This immediately associates Stanley with brutality, foreshadowing his violence and cruelty in the play. Although Stanley is empowered by his gender, he feels threatened when approached by Blanche, who is of higher class than him. Due to Blanche’s social standing, Stanley is unsure of controlling her. As the play progresses the struggle for power between the two becomes increasingly obvious. At first, Blanche appears victorious in the struggle.
The physical proof of the tragedies in her past stop Stanley from arguing. Here all of them are, all papers! I herby endow you with them! ” His failure to exert power threatens his pride and he is inspired to reject Blanche. Segregation between men and women is clearly defined during the poker night in scene three. “Poker shouldn’t be played in a house with women. ” This reflects the social norms and the dominant belief that women should be disassociated from masculine activities. Stella and Blanche are excluded from this form of masculine boding, and their early return causes chaos in the house.
In addition to segregation, dominance is seen once again when Stanley is unable to prevent Mitch’s desertion of the game. His violent outbursts are desperate attempts to exert his dominance. “Stanley gives a loud whack of his hand on her thigh. ” it becomes apparent that his threatening words are not enough, and he begins using violence as a physical means of controlling Stella and frightening Blanche. Although Stanley’s power works mainly to downgrade Blanche, his violent and aggressive nature also disempowers Stella. She is abused during poker night, a moment of masculine bonding.
Following the poker night she is made powerful when she retreats to Eunice’s Flat. However, she returns to disempowerment when she leaves Eunice’s flat and Stanley ‘bears her into the dark flat’. Stella’s decision to stay with Stanley is not based on choice, but rather on the fact that she must. This enforces the dominant belief that women are unable to support themselves, emotionally and financially. Similar to Stanley, Blanche also faces a power struggle. Her ultimate downfall is a result of Stanley’s cruelty and lack of understanding for human fragility.
Comments about Stanley’s ‘animal habits’ and ‘sub-human’ nature act as the agent of Blanche’s downfall. Stanley cannot deal with her mocking him in his own home and is fed up with her lies. During the final scenes his behavior conveys the male dominant ideas of cruelty and brutality. Blanche’s refusal to deal with Stanley’s rough nature causes her to retreat further into her fantasy world where she becomes increasingly vulnerable. Stanley violates Blanche in the most personal way and initiates the ultimate act of cruelty and abuse of power.
His final act of brutality acts as the climax of power struggle between Stanley and Blanche as well as all males and females. This leaves the male empowered and the female lowered and completely destroyed. Blanch Dubois’ empowerment comes purely from her class. Her southern tradition and wealth made her a woman of importance and propriety. However, in Elysian Fields her traditions and former wealth hold significance. Although her wealth was lost with the death of Belle Reve, she desperately attempts to hold on to remains of her previous life and creates a fantasy world.
Her ‘incongruous appearance’ and ‘southern tradition causes Stanley to reject her, as he cannot relate to her in anyway. The lack of impact on Stanley reflects the context of time, when tradition was being overpowered by industrialization. As Blanche begins to understand that her class has no impact on Stanley she assumes the role of a temptress. “I was flirting with your husband Stella! ” In order to gain some form of authority, Blanche uses her sexuality and physicality in effort to control Stanley.
Blanche uses her sexuality frequently to overpower others. She ‘depended on the kindness of strangers’ regularly in Laurel and her use of physicality landed her in trouble on various occasions. Following her encounter with the paperboy she states, “I’ve got to be good and keep my hands off children”. This foreshadows her frequent use of physicality as means of empowerment. Although Blanche is notorious for her use of physicality, she has no authority over Stanley and is constantly reminded of this through emotional and physical abuse.
As a representation of all females, Blanche is completely disempowered after Stanley rapes her. She creates a fantasy world to escape the harsh realties of Elysian Fields Her marginalization and downfall reflects vulnerability and reliance of females on males for stability. The dominant ideas and beliefs about gender, such as the reliance of women on men and the primitive nature and brutality of the masculine are conveyed by Tennessee Williams’ in A Streetcar Named Desire through the empowerment and marginalization of Stanley, Blanche, Mitch and Stella.
Stanley’s role as the ‘alpha male’ empowers him in almost all situations. Blanches’ tradition and social status empowered her past but her physicality empowers her present. Williams’ characters accurately portray the gender stereotypes in the time they were created, and function today to convey the dominant ideas about gender and how they work to empower and disregard people in our society today.