Presentation of female characters in a streetcar named desire and the worlds wife

Published: 2021-06-16 05:10:03
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The presentation of female characters plays a very significant role in both A Streetcar Named Desire and The World’s Wife and though these texts express similar ideas about women, there is also substantial differences. Tennessee Williams’ ASCND, tragic first produced in 1947, sets his female characters within the patriarchal society of post Second World War New Orleans society. Williams’s uses his female protagonist Blanche Dubois to explore the female repression that was present in the late 1940’s before radical feminism made an impact in the 1960’s.
In contrast, Carol Anne Duffy’s TWW published in 1999 is a sequence of dramatic monologues that reconstruct well-known fictional and real life female characters and their experiences from sources as diverse as biblical texts, fairy tales and even legends. Duffy is a feminist writer who gives her personas modern voices that express their perspectives, identities and relationships. She subverts the idea of male authority, which was long enclosed in traditional patriarchal western societies by employing a range of key ideas she promoted through decades of radical feminism. The presentation of female characters and heterosexual relationships in both texts are likely to be affected by the writer’s own homosexuality and there is also evidence of biographical elements in their narratives. While it is possible to explore these texts from different literary theoretical perspectives such as Marxists or psychoanalytical criticism, a feminist critique is likely to be most productive to explore the depiction of female characters within both texts.
Female critiques would recognize the direct depiction of female characters in both Duffy’s poems and Williams’ play and how reliant and subordinate females were towards men in the time of renewed conservatism. However, they would also pick up the varying extent in the portrayal of both. In ASCND, females such as Eunice, Stella and the protagonist Blanche Dubois are presented as vulnerable and most importantly dependent on a male figure. Dependency was a very controversial topic in the 1940’s and this is presented in ASCND through the character of Stella.
“When he’s away for a week, I nearly go crazy”. This quote defines many women of the 1940’s and the effect a male authority had in their life. However, not only does Stella run back to Stanley for emotional support but for financial support as well when she says, “this morning he gave me ten dollars to smooth things over”. It seems to me that women in the 1940’s were almost easy to be bought and manipulated by men just like how a prostitute is given money after sex. It volumes the inequality in 1940’s marriages, as the idea of financial control was given to the man of the house. Similarly, another scene where Stella depicts extreme dependency on Stanley is when she forces herself not to believe that Stanley had raped her sister when she says, “I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley” and Eunice replies, “don’t ever believe it. Life has to go on. No matter what happens, you’ve got to keep on going”. Women were seen as incomplete if they were not married in the male supremacy that was present and internalised in society.
After the women’s movement, women were allowed more positive outcomes and were awarded a voice unlike women during patriarchy. ‘Anne Hathaway’ is a poem supposedly about Anne Hathaway expressing her emotions when William Shakespeare deserted her. She uses power in her language to convey her strong emotional attachment towards him the same way Stella nearly goes crazy when Stanley is away from her. In this poem, Anne seems to ‘luxuriate in the images of language, the female body and lovemaking’. She is the assonance and he is the verb. This poem expresses her intense pleasure with Shakespeare when she describes her ‘body now a softer rhyme to his, now echo, assonance; his touch a verb dancing in the centre of a noun’. Here she is still thinking about their glorious love making by expressing intense passion.
The persona conveys that loving him will remain central in her world as she makes her head the casket of her emotions as she Refuses to construct herself as a victim and devotes the rest of her life to him because she knows that she won’t be able to live without him just like women and their way of life in the 1940’s patriarchal societies. However, Duffy contrasts the issue of sexual reliance when the persona in ‘Little Red Cap’ discovers that she doesn’t need a man in her life and that she can be independent. Unlike most female characters in ASCND, she finds her own poetic voice and disposes of him in her life in a forceful and dynamic way by taking an ‘axe to the wolf’ as she stitched him up and ended ‘dinging, all alone’.
In the 1940’s, many women were subjected to violence as a result of dependency. Violence and dominance brought out desperation in women in a society where there was a failure of feminism. The callousness of men was seen as an acceptable part of marriage within patriarchy and in ASCND, violence in Stella’s relationship radiated from the start. Scene one starts with clear elements of violence when Stanley ‘heaves the package at her’ to cook. Right from the beginning, the dominance of males is portrayed and when Stella ‘laughs breathlessly’, it shows that women didn’t really have the power of rejecting orders or standing up for themselves. Philip C. Kolin said, ‘She runs away, he chases her; she comes back with him, they make up and make love’. This expresses Stella and Stanley’s cycle of life after the time of abuse where ‘Stanley charges after Stella’. Even though Stella warns Stanley, ‘You hit me, im gonna call the police’, she acknowledges that ‘abuse’ as a part of her life when she says, “I have told you that I love him”. This portrays mental toughness in her as well as vulnerability and reflects back on the lack of female rights all women of the mid 20th century’s had and their pragmatic approach to abuse.
Mister Connors English classes-feminist criticism/Essay called: ‘small female skull’: patriarchy and philosophy in the poetry of Carol Anne Duff/y/Philip C Kolin- Eunice Hubbell and the feminist Thematics Of A Streetcar Named Desire
In TWW, Duffy displays violence in her poem ‘Mrs Beast’ where her female persona takes control and makes the male the victim. This contrasts to the violence in ASCND because men are usually the ones that inflict it rather than the female whereas in TWW, it’s the woman who expresses her lack of compassion violently. Mrs Beast uses violent imagery to express her dominance over the man as she adopts male behaviour quickly. “Do this, harder” and “Do that. Faster” connects to Blanche telling her sister what to do. Mrs Beast expresses that women had to be ‘kept out of sight’ which links to ASCND when men dominated space. However I feel like in Mrs Beast, ambiguity is created because throughout the poem, the persona does display women provocatively and prostitute like. This is a reflection to Blanche or maybe even her own sexuality.
In ASCND, Williams’ protagonist, Blanche, tries to construct a façade when she arrives in New Orleans to deceive people in thinking she’s a completely different person in order to protect her past and keep it private because she knows that it will affect the way people view her and judge her if they found out. In the patriarchal society of the 1940’s, one’s sexual image was a very polemic point. Blanche may have constructed herself as a soft person and created an identity which requires one to be “soft and attractive”, but underneath the whole façade, her main aim was to have her ‘existence admitted by someone’ and have a “One night’s shelter”. She puts herself on display mainly to alleviate her loneliness. Blanche’s hinted admission and past situation seemed like a threat especially when Stanley informed Mitch about her past.
Blanche feels like the dark is the only way in which she can feel comfortable in her own skin when she tells Mitch, “I like it dark. The dark is comforting to me”. Her avoiding the light proves her insecurities and that it’s not just her looks that she is trying to hide but emotional scars also from finding out she was ‘married to a homosexual’ at a young age then having experienced his death therefore ‘Being discharged by Mr graves for illicit sexual advances to pursue her pupils’. Blanches trying to construct her southern belle image was clearly not the ‘sober truth’ but an illusion especially for Mitch as ‘It is Mitch that prospects soar’. Blanche refers to Mitch as ‘the man she wants to pursue her’.
Philip C Kolin- Eunice hubell and the feminist thematics of a streetcar named desire Leonard Berkman-The tragic downfall of blanche dubois
Carol Anne Duffy has presented her characters with personal independence and a voice unlike Williams. However, creating a different identity to fit in was very common in her poems. In ‘’Mrs Quasimodo’, Mrs Quasimodo feels a lot of self disgust as she feels like she needs to change herself in order to be loved. This poem reinforces the fact that Blanche also thought that she needed to create a fake identity to cover the truth, as it would ruin her future. Just like Blanche, Mrs Quasimodo feels like one needs to be “perfect, vulnerable and young” and “to be slim, be slight” have your “ slender neck quoted between two thumbs”, be “beautiful with creamy skin, and tumbling auburn hair” in order to attract likewise to Blanche who doesn’t like being seen in the light. However, the contrast between Duffy’s poem and Williams’ play is that in Duffy’s poems, women always fight back and retain their poetic voice. Mrs Quasimodo destroys what she loves, not just as an act of empowerment but as an act of destruction. In ‘Mrs Quasimodo’, the female character ended up depicting female independence when she ‘pissed’ on what she loved in the sense that it’s over forever, whereas in ASCND, Williams’ characters had no choice but to obey male figures in a male dominated time period.
Sisterhood played a major role in patriarchal societies because women needed that sincere support besides just the financial support from their partners. In ASCND, Eunice is a friend to the Dubois sisters from the beginning. She almost plays the role of a caring mother as her ‘maternal attributes offer a significant source of trust’. This is proven when Eunice tells Blanche “She got the downstairs here and I got the up”.
The fact that they share a house proves their sincere bond and offers reassurance. Eunice’s guardian attributes are proved when Stella ‘runs upstairs to Eunice as a daughter would run home to her mother for protection and counsel’ When Stella decided to send Blanche to an asylum, Eunice and plays a major role ‘in turning Blanche over to the doctor’ and ‘passing on her responsibility, the role of the kind, nurturing stranger, to an individual who has the manners and grace Blanche needs and honors.’ Eunice does offer a strong feminine alternative to Stanley’s ‘male physicality’ and this is very much needed in Stella life as a form of protection. Stella sending her sister to an asylum could also be a link made to Williams’ own sister, Rose, that went to an institution which reflects back to his own personal life.
There are many links made to TWW because in Duffy’s poems, most female characters end up standing up for themselves and finding their own poetic voice and in ‘Demeter’; the persona expresses a new beginning for her and her daughter. Deep sympathy is expressed her just like Eunice’s support towards Stella. Demeter is the mother of Persephone and here, a form of security and love for her daughter is portrayed. ‘Demeter expresses that the air softened and warmed as she moved’ which proves love in the same way compromised sisterhood reinforces protection and support in ASCND.
A lot of feminine imagery depicts a more feminine and caring side to women of the 1960’s after the period of radical feminism. ‘Demeter’ shows a mothers love for her daughter just like Stella’s love for her older sister and ending the poem with ‘the small shy mouth of a new moon’, it reflects back to Blanche’s new beginning. Another example of female support is ‘’Queen Herod’. Queen Herod is a fierce tribute about the persona liberating her daughter from the next generation of male dominance. She is trying to break free from roles that were adopted within patriarchy and fight male oppression when she says, “kill each mother’s son. Do it. Spare not one”. This is a subversion of reversal. She does it to protect her daughter just like Stella tries to protect her sister.
Philip C. Kolin- Eunice Hubbell and the Feminist Thematic of a Streetcar Named Desire
In conclusion, these two pieces of texts express female characters in completely opposite ways. Duffy shows that woman can be independent and empowered as equal human beings. I also feel like Duffy has uses various poems to give assertive voices to women that originally didn’t have one. Moreover, even though some female characters feel victimized in a Duffy poem, the majority of them fight back successful and gain their poetic voice.
However, Williams uses his characters to explore societies expectations in the 1940’s and it shows that Stella conforms to the social expectations of women and accepts violence as a ‘part of life’ in order to stay with who she wants to be with, whereas Blanche stays away from conventional female roles and creates herself a façade and looks at life the way she wants it to be. Finally, I think that both these poems have different ways of depicting women mainly due to the time periods that they were written. ASCND was written before radical feminism and TWW was written after.

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