A major subject or theme of Tennessee Williams' plays is human sexuality in its various aspects. Discuss with reference to A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

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A Streetcar Named Desire conforms to the expectation that a major theme of Williams' plays is that of human sexuality. Various aspects of human sexuality are explored through the diversity and complexity of the characters. Whilst Stanley Kowalski epitomises masculinity through his primal strength and power, and the increasingly fragile Blanche DuBois attempts to cling to the feminine role of the Southern Belle, these are only aspects of their characters. The fact that their relationship is one of conflict, is representative of their worldviews. However, to reduce A Streetcar Named Desire to the level of mere 'battle of the sexes' would be too simplistic and does the play an injustice by choosing to ignore its complexities.

Superficially, at least, Blanche DuBois conforms to prevailing concepts of gender wherein she adopts characteristics that are seen to epitomise femininity. Such traits are conceived as constituting feminine behaviour, and include characteristics such as passivity, acquiescence and emotionality. Whilst these traits are certainly evident in Blanche DuBois, she is, of course, a far more complex character than such simplification would first suggest and, therefore, cannot be so easily labeled. It would be perhaps more accurate to consider Blanche in light of Judith Butler's suggestion that "gender is something that we 'do' "(Selden, 116). This concept more accurately encapsulates the sense that Blanche chooses to adopt a role of femininity, effectively playing a part by conforming to a stereotypical role, in this case, that of the Southern Belle. The adoption of this role provides Blanche with a relatively stable sense of identity, or at least an aspect of identity, necessary for her own self-preservation. As with Amanda Wingfield, in The Glass Menagerie, Blanche DuBois seems to struggle in a changing world and by adopting an aspect of identity that is associated with the past, she is able to find at least temporary comfort.

From our earliest encounter with Blanche, we are made quickly aware of her preoccupation with 'appearance'. Initially this focuses on the appearance of Stella's home, "this horrible place" (120), which compares so negatively when contrasted with the ancestral home of Belle Reve. However, Blanche's real preoccupation soon becomes evident as she chides Stella for failing to say a word about her appearance (122):

You see I still have that awful vanity about my looks even now that my looks are slipping! (123).

The fact that she 'laughs nervously' whilst looking to Stella for 'reassurance' indicates Blanche's insecurity. All that has been familiar in Blanche's world has changed, and now that age is changing her personal appearance, her insecurities are heightened. However, the dialogue between the sisters evokes a sense of ritual wherein Blanche seeks approval and Stella responds "dutifully" (123) suggesting that Blanche's insecurities are deep rooted and precede the advent of age. As Stella instructs Stanley:

...admire her dress and tell her she's looking wonderful. That's important with Blanche. Her little weakness! (132).

This is a constant motif throughout the play and Blanche's 'little weakness' reflects the fact that her sense of self-identity needs constant bolstering, especially now that her youth has passed by. It also reinforces the notion of Blanche as adopting a role and the necessity, as with any act, for an audience, preferably a sympathetic one. For Blanche an audience is necessary to enable her to perpetuate her constructed self-image. Compliments and constant reassurance are required to maintain the role she has adopted; it is therefore necessary for her 'audience' to constantly appreciate her 'performance'.

When considering Blanche's behaviour with others, we find that she is most desperate to impress her male audience, and it is at such times that she feels the need to rely heavily on her female sexuality. Indeed, the persona that she has adopted is...
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