A Streetcar Named Desire Feminist Reading

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Feminist reading:
The play A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams was written in the late in the late 1940’s in New Orleans, Louisiana. In literature, the patriarchy is said to oppress all women and most men. This can be seen as true during the journey of characters such as Blanche, Stella, and Mitch. On the other hand, the text also conveys how the patriarchy can empower men, through the representation of the character of Stanley.

In the play, Stella can be seen as the usual oppression of the feminine by the representation of the patriarchy in Stanley. It is made obvious throughout the play that Stanley holds some ownership or authority over his wife. This is evident in scene three when Stanley ‘gives a loud whack of his hand on Stella’s thigh’ with Stella replying “That’s not fun, Stanley” which is greeted with laughter by the other men at the poker table. This is a sign of Stanley’s believed sexual ownership over his wife, and an example of how Stella is oppressed within the marriage. Stella’s response also reinforces the idea that the women are the ‘passive’ within the hegemonic idea of what marriage ought to be. Further on in the scene, Stanley’s acts of violence towards Stella escalate. “Drunk – drunk – animal thing, you! … You lay your hands on me and I’ll-.” This portrays Stella’s reaction to the threat of Stanley’s violence, before backing away. In backing away, she recognises that she is the sentient, passive being in the relationship, and that Stanley has the authority to attack her. She knows that she is dependent on the male in society, and doesn’t want to defy Stanley. Through the representation of Stanley’s and Stella’s relationship within the play, it is made obvious that in 1940’s hegemonic discourse in society women are to be oppressed by the dominant male.

In the play, Blanche represents the female struggling with the patriarchy. On one hand, Blanche can be seen as the liberated woman, but she also has the same dependence on men as Stella. In Blanche’s past, she behaved in a way which was not seen as how a woman ought to behave, and earned herself a bad reputation for acting on her impulses and desires. This can be seen as a way Blanche has challenged the oppression of the patriarchy, and chosen to live in her own way. However, Blanche still acknowledges her belief that she needs men and to be able to function within the patriarchy in order to survive. This is made evident in Blanche’s words to the male doctor in scene eleven. “Whoever you are—I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” This is evidence of Blanche’s dependence on the male. Even though the doctor isn’t her chivalric hero, she is willing to believe he is in order to have a dominant male figure in her life whom she can depend on. Blanche sees the patriarchy and marriage as her only means of survival in 1940’s society, so she tends to cling to almost any man she comes into contact with. The conflict between Blanche’s desire to act in a way she shouldn’t and Blanche’s dependence on men in the play convey the struggle she experiences within the patriarchy.

In the play, Mitch is seen as the sensitive male who is often oppressed by the patriarchal society in which he lives, the direct opposite of Stanley. Throughout the play Mitch treats his mother with more reverence than his friends. “She says go out, so I go, but I don’t enjoy it. All the while I keep wondering how she is.” This shows Mitch’s great care and respect for his mother, which gives him a reputation of being slightly effeminate and being overly attached to his mother. This is an example of how he is oppressed by the patriarchy, as his ‘friends’ joke at his expense. He also treats Blanche in the same matter, up until he learns the truth about her in scene nine. In the play, Mitch is at the subject of criticism by more ‘patriarchal’ males for his higher respect for women within a society which has little regard and respect for the feminine, and this is an...
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