Feminist Criticism of a Streetcar Named Desire

In Tennessee Williams’s ‘A Streetcar Named Desire”, he consistently portrays the women of the play as inferior, weak, and dependent on their male counterparts. Born and raised in Mississippi, Williams writes as a product of the faded antebellum South where lonely and vulnerable misfits are presented as competent members of society. By his own admission, he is a staunch ‘rebellious Puritan,” and through his homosexuality and views on women he portrays this in his writing. Blanche Dubois is depicted as a victim of the traditional Southern upbringing, struggling to find her place in a culture stuck in the middle of a stagnant past and a present to which they cannot adapt, dealing with alcoholism and trying to fit in to a world in which she does not belong. Her sister, Stella, represents a classic example of a female victim in patriarchal society where a woman accepts spousal abuse in order to be provided for, and deludes herself into thinking that she is happy in this role.

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 affluent plantation, Belle Reve in Laurel, Mississippi, and their primary goal in life, in accordance with Southern tradition, was to seek the security of marriage. However, both choose unsuitable husbands. Blanche, who is five years older than her sister, marries for love at a tender age only to find her dreams shattered by her husband’s infidelity with another man. Williams includes this homosexual element, possibly due to his own sexuality, as an underrepresented part of this era in the Deep South. Stella, who moves to New Orleans at a young age, chooses Stanley Kowalski, an aggressive, heterosexual man of the wrong social class, perhaps in reaction to her sister’s choice of a sexually ambiguous dreamy poet-type husband. Typically, Williams portrays the ‘good boy” in the Southern home as sissified, and the crude ‘bad boy” as the manly alternative, perhaps as a reflection of the way things were in his own family, as his dad was a drunkard who abused his mother.

Stella Kowalski and Blanche Dubois are portrayed as the weaker sex: women who are overpowered by Stanley Kowalski, the self-indulged hero and head of the family. Blanche displays deep-rooted psychological instability when she is unable to live up to her own expectations as a properly raised Southern belle. Stella represents the classic example of a woman’s deference to an abusive husband, which was common at the time. Stanley Kowalski’s personality provides insight as to how men dominated women, convinced them of their inferiority, and ultimately destroyed them if unchecked. Stella also reduces herself to animal ‘brute desire,” and is irresistibly attracted to Stanley’s masculinity. However, she is also a product of her past as Blanche reminds her: ‘You can’t have forgotten that much of our bringing up, Stella, that you just suppose that any part of a gentleman’s in his nature!”.

Blanche tells Stella that it is okay to live out a sexual fantasy with a man like Stanley, but not to build a lasting marriage with such a crude specimen of nature. Stella realizes that if she is to remain married and safe, she must accept Stanley’s crude jokes, insulting comments, hostility, sexism, and violence, as well as his mood swings and constant switches between brutality and sexual restitution if she wishes to retain a home and a father for her expected baby. This is a direct reflection of Williams’s attitude towards women, that no matter how much they have to deal with, they will always return to their masculine partners. Williams repeatedly objectifies and belittles women in his play, and in turn reflects his views on the world and women in his writing.

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