Gender in "A Streetcar Named Desire"
By brendonurie, Updated
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Prompt: How does playwright Tennessee Williams use the character’s actions, description, or words to make a strong statement about gender in our society? Blanche is Stella's older sister, a woman of fragile beauty and mindset who comes to stay with Stella and her husband Stanley after losing her and Stella's childhood home of Belle Reve. She is talkative and often manipulates the truth in order to impress the people in her life, especially the men in her life.
"Her delicate beauty must avoid a strong light. There is something about her uncertain manner, as well as her white clothes, that suggests a moth."
The description of Blanche's beauty as being "delicate" and how she should be hidden from the light establishes two things: her femininity and materialistic nature are a facade to hide her from herself as well as others, and her "uncertain" quality reflects her underlying self-doubt and an attempt to fool herself into thinking she's someone she's not. While her appearance is traditionally feminine, her internal struggle goes much deeper than that of the archetypal woman.
BLANCHE: What do you want? MITCH [fumbling to embrace her]: What I been missing all summer. BLANCHE: Then marry me, Mitchl MITCH: I don't think I want to marry you any more. BLANCHE: No? MITCH [dropping his hands from her waist]: You're not clean enough to bring in the house with my mother.
In this scene, Blanche and Mitch are having a heated conversation about Blanche's past and how she withheld information from him about it. When Blanche stands up for herself and tries to tell Mitch to marry her rather than just sleeping with her, Mitch tosses her aside, saying she's "not clean enough" for him. Had Blanche given in to the stereotype of women desiring nothing but sex, Mitch would likely not even think to belittle her, but her rejection of traditional femininity deems her "dirty."
Blanche's traits that go against the traditional expectations of women make her significantly more complex than meets the eye and, as a result, a more realistic portrayal of what women are like in the real world; however, the play's characters' repeated rejection of these traits makes her uniqueness into something to be feared and discouraged rather than celebrated. By recognizing women as being more important than simply fitting into societal molds, we can become more understanding of the struggles of the people around us and strive towards being the best versions of ourselves.
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