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A Street Car Named Desire: Dependence on Men

By brookekelly469 Feb 25, 2013 1335 Words
Dependence on Men:
A Streetcar Named Desire presents a sharp critique of the way the institutions and attitudes of postwar America placed restrictions on women’s lives. Williams uses Blanche’s and Stella’s dependence on men to expose and critique the treatment of women during the transition from the old to the new South. Both Blanche and Stella see male companions as their only means to achieve happiness, and they depend on men for both their sustenance and their self-image. Blanche recognizes that Stella could be happier without her physically abusive husband, Stanley. Yet, the alternative Blanche proposes—contacting Shep Huntleigh for financial support—still involves complete dependence on men. When Stella chooses to remain with Stanley, she chooses to rely on, love, and believe in a man instead of her sister. Williams does not necessarily criticize Stella—he makes it quite clear that Stanley represents a much more secure future than Blanche does. For herself, Blanche sees marriage to Mitch as her means of escaping destitution. Men’s exploitation of Blanche’s sexuality has left her with a poor reputation. This reputation makes Blanche an unattractive marriage prospect, but, because she is destitute, Blanche sees marriage as her only possibility for survival. When Mitch rejects Blanche because of Stanley’s gossip about her reputation, Blanche immediately thinks of another man—the millionaire Shep Huntleigh—who might rescue her. Because Blanche cannot see around her dependence on men, she has no realistic conception of how to rescue herself. Blanche does not realize that her dependence on men will lead to her downfall rather than her salvation. By relying on men, Blanche puts her fate in the hands of others.

Desire and Fate:

The theme that dominates the play is contained in its arresting and memorable title. There really was a streetcar in New Orleans that carried the word "Desire" as its destination, and another that went to "Cemeteries". When Tennessee Williams was living in New Orleans in 1946, and was working on A Streetcar Named Desire he was so struck by the names of these two streetcars that he mentioned them in an essay he wrote at the time: "Their indiscourageable progress up and down Royal Street struck me as having some symbolic bearing of a broad nature on the life in the Vieux Carré - and everywhere else for that matter" (quoted in The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams by Donald Spoto, p.129). A streetcar running unswervingly along the rails to its destination could be seen as a symbol of the inexorability of fate. To Tennessee Williams, however, the streetcar's destination, "Desire", spoke of more than an undefined force of fate. The force that drives Blanche to her destruction is desire, sexual passion. In Scene 4 when the sisters speak of sexual desire, Blanche uses the same image of a streetcar for it, "that rattle-trap street-car", and Stella ripostes, "Haven't you ever ridden on that street-car? They both know what they are talking about - and so did the playwright himself. Throughout his life Tennessee Williams was driven from one sexual encounter to another, exactly like Blanche, and like Blanche he too seemed incapable of committing himself to a permanent relationship, in his case homosexual. When Blanche longs for Mitch to marry her, she is not seeking a permanent sexual relationship but the material security of a home of her own ("The poor man's Paradise - is a little peace" - Scene 9). To be driven by desire, Tennessee Williams seems to be saying, is self-destructive, yet the victims of an overpowering passion are carried along helplessly, unable to escape. Blanche's fate is foreordained, and the playwright stresses this in the streetcar image. We might say that Stella too is driven by the same force, having abandoned herself to her passionate love for Stanley. What her final destination might be is not shown - except perhaps in Eunice? There is another image of fate in the play, one with a very respectable literary lineage. In Scenes 4, 6 and 10 Tennessee Williams introduces a roaring locomotive at a dramatic moment (Blanche's condemnation of Stanley, her description of her husband's death; just before the rape), but the random introduction of the locomotive as a symbol of fate does not carry here the impact of the streetcar metaphor, though it had been used with considerable effect by other writers (Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina, 1875-7, Emile Zola in La Bete Humaine, 1890). Related Texts:

Written: Cinderella

Cinderella, she was a weak character, who constantly submitted to other's wishes and did good. Everyday, she would look out of her window to the castle in the distance, constantly dreaming of her day of reward and pining for her Prince Charming to come and whisk her away. She was the epitome of the sacrificial lamb-a very unrealistic and helpless one at that. At the end of the day, she just got lucky. Really lucky. And then there's the feminine evil on the other end of the personality spectrum. There seems to be plenty more of these than heroines, in fact. Villains were almost always certainly female. Think Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters. Kids always have that notion but the funny thing is, in real life, stepmothers and stepsisters aren't always evil. Evil witches and ogresses are female too, just like the one that wanted to eat Hansel and Gretel. There's also the evil fairy who cursed Sleeping Beauty. Just about everywhere, you can almost always be certain that the bad guys are…bad girls.

Visual: Mad Men

For those who aren’t aware, the show focuses primarily on Don Draper, a brilliant and good looking advertising executive working on Madison Avenue in the early 1960s, along with his (initially, anyway) wife, kids, lovely home in the suburbs, and loads of personal baggage from his past. It also follows the life and times of his co-workers, both male and female, and provides a very stylized characterization of the respective roles of each gender as they co-exist in the office each day. Not surprisingly, the men are treated as superior in virtually every respect at first, and they hold the most prominent positions in the company accordingly. By contrast, the majority of the women are secretaries who simply learn to get used to the casual drinking, smoking, and sexual hi-jinks (often in the office, no less) of most of their male counterparts. For someone like myself who never experienced this time period firsthand, Mad Men offers an incredibly illuminating perspective not only of the relative “progress” of women in the workplace since that time (one main character for example, Peggy Olsen, uses her intelligence and ambition to move up the corporate ladder from Draper’s secretary to one of his right-hand (wo)men copywriters), but also of the often closeted misery of many of these people despite their seemingly happy lives. Here’s an interesting insight about that time period, and it can be stated with accuracy regardless of what one thinks of the show. Gender roles were far more clearly defined in the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s than they are today. Both men and women knew their relative “places” in society, and the majority of them conformed to those standards without too much opposition. Where men were usually viewed as the breadwinners of the family, and therefore spent their daytime hours in the office working to support their families, women were expected to essentially run the households, which could include everything from cooking, cleaning, rearing the children, and making sure their husbands were comfortable once they returned from work. The phrase “homemaker” makes sense under this characterization, since women were expected to be far more than mere live-in maids. Rather, they were groomed to take the nuts and bolts of a family (husband, children, house, kitchen, food, etc.) and create a cohesive unit. They had to make something from nothing. They had to turn a number of separate pieces into a collective home.

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