Female roles in tennessee williams’ the glass menagerie and a streetcar named desire essay

American playwright Tennessee Williams focused his plays on real-life characters who were in conflict with a given status quo (Thisisby, n.

pag. ). However, what made his plays noteworthy was their almost-stereotypical portrayal of women (Levy, n. pag. ). On one hand, Williams’ heroines were “ extremely sensitive, fragile, and weak” (Levy, n. pag. ).

On the other, they were “ strong-willed, stubborn, determined, and a bit masculine” (Levy, n. pag. ). One theory behind this characteristic was that “ the Williams movies are essentially character studies of women” (Levy, n. ag.

). It must be noted that Williams began writing in the 1950s, a conservative period whose notion of gender was based on aphorisms (Levy, n. pag. ). A very clear line of demarcation existed between “ proper” and “ improper” feminine behavior – a woman was either the submissive virgin who followed the rules or the slut who assumed an “ immoral” lifestyle (Levy, n. pag. ). Another explanation, according to the feminist critic Molly Haskell, was that “(women) were products of his fantasies of true love and particularly his homosexual fears of aging” (Levy, n.

pag. . Like most homosexual men, Williams was hopeful that he will experience true love (Levy, n. pag. ). However, he must have felt that his sexual preference will condemn him to a life of loneliness and isolation (Levy, n. pag.

). In sharp contrast, a woman may grow old, but she will always be able to enjoy the love and companionship of a man (Levy, n. pag. ). Amanda Wingfield of The Glass Menagerie (1945) was a strong-willed and ambitious woman (123HelpMe, n. pag.

). Unfortunately, she wouldn’t use these positive qualities of hers to improve the lot of her family. Instead of facing and solving her problems, she ran away from them by “(retreating) into (her) own separate (world) of illusion and lies” (123HelpMe, n. pag. ).

Amanda and her children, Tom and Laura, lived in poverty after her husband abandoned them (123HelpMe, n. pag. ). But rather than work hard to provide for her children, Amanda spent her time looking back at her old life as a southern belle (123HelpMe, n. pag.

). She completely relied on Tom to financially support her and Laura (123HelpMe, n. pag. ). Amanda was so fixated on her past that she unconsciously regarded her children as her means of getting back the glittering life that she lost (123HelpMe, n. pag.

). Despite Laura’s handicap (she has a crippled leg), her mother still believed that she will get herself married into a rich family (123HelpMe, n. pag. ). When Tom announced that he will be bringing home his friend Jim for dinner, Amanda immediately assumed that he will marry Laura, never mind if she haven’t even gotten to know him yet (123HelpMe, n. pag. ). She forces Laura to meet Jim, telling her that when she was younger she recevied “ seventeen gentlemen callers” (123HelpMe, n.

pag. ). It was not certain whether or not Amanda was telling the truth.

At first, Laura was hesitant about meeting Jim – her disability made her withdraw herself from other people (123HelpMe, n. pag. ). She preferred to stay at home and busy herself with her collection of glass animal figurines (123HelpMe, n. pag. ). However, Amanda managed to make her relent, chiding her that a “ proper” girl “(should not only have) a pretty face and a graceful figure.

.. she should also) have a nimble wit and a tongue to meet all occasions” (123HelpMe, n. pag. ). Amanda went on to say that “ You can’t be satisfied with just sitting at home..

.. ” (123HelpMe, n.

pag. ). After the dinner, Laura eventually opened up to Jim – they even danced in the living room (Sparknotes, n. pag.

). However, while they were dancing, they knocked over Laura’s glass unicorn, breaking its horn (Sparknotes, n. pag. ). She then commented that, as a result, it looked like “ an ordinary horse” (Sparknotes, n. pag. ). Jim kissed Laura after they danced, only to apologize and tell her that he was already in a relationship and that he was just “ carried away by the moment” (Sparknotes, n.

pag. ). The glass unicorn’s broken horn symbolized the end of Laura’s uniqueness (Sparknotes, n. pag. ). Laura was said to be unique because unlike other women (who sought happiness in material riches or in men), she was happy on her own. When she allowed her mother to influence her, she ended up sacrificing who she really was just to please other people who never appreciated her to begin with.

Indeed, Amanda’s stubborn refusal to let go of the past and live in the present had very damaging effects on her children, particularly on Laura. In Amanda’s desire to regain the genteel life that she once had, she expected too much from her daughter. She didn’t even bother to find out if Laura was romantically interested in Jim, or if Jim was someone whom a girl can have a serious relationship with.

It turned out that he was a selfish and unfaithful partner. Jim’s rejection will most likely compund Laura’s feelings of depression, loneliness and abandonment. Blanche Dubios, the protagonist of A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) was a woman who used to have a comfortable life, a happy marriage and a good teaching carrer (Cummings, n. pag. ).

But then she discovered that her husband, Allen Grey, was engaged in a homosexual relationship (Cummings, n. pag. ). Out of shame, Allen committed suicide (Cummings, n. pag. ).

Shattered by his death, Blanche found solace in alcohol and sexual affairs with several men (Cummings, n. pag. ). Blanche’s promiscuousity got her into more trouble. She was fired from her job due to her affair with one of her students – a 17-year-old boy (123HelpMe, n. ag. ). In addition, her relatives died, causing her to lose the family home (123HelpMe, n.

pag. ). She was eventually known as the “ town slut,” forcing her to leave her hometown of Laurel, Mississippi (Cummings, n. pag. ). She moved to New Orleans, where she lived with her sister, Stella, and her husband, Stanley Kowalski (Cummings, n. pag. ).

Blanche never told anybody the real reason for her leaving Laurel – she told Stella that she took a leave from work and that creditors foreclosed on the family home because she didn’t asisst her in maintaining it (Cummings, n. pag. ). She also denied that she was still unable to accept her husband’s homosexuality and demise, hence her drinking problem and inordinate sexual appetite (Cummings, n. pag. ). All throughout Blanche’s stay in New Orleans, she pretended that there was nothing wrong with her (Cummings, n.

pag. ). Her living in denial was symbolized by her avoidance of direct, bright light and her refusal to disclose her real age (Sparknotes, n. pag.

). Even Stella chose to act blind, deaf and dumb in the face of adversity. Stanley physically abuses her and is rude to Blanche, but she still chooses to look the other way around (Cummings, n.

ag. ). After Stanley yelled at Stella and beat her up, Blanche told her, “ In my opinion? You are married to a madman! ” (123HelpMe, n. pag. ). Stella sprung to her husband’s defense, claiming that he was really “ really gentle and loving” (Cummings, n. pag.

). Enraged, Blanche shot back, “ He acts like an animal, has an animal’s habits. Eats like one, moves like one, talks like one! ” (Cummings, n. pag. ). But what Blanche never revealed was that she was as much as an animal as Stanley.

Unfortunately, Stanley overheard Blanche’s comments about him being an animal (Cummings, n. pag. . As a result, he threatened Blanche that he will get even with her – he has gotten word about her ugly past (Sparknotes, n.

pag. ). He was able to obtain information from a “ supply man at his plant who regularly travels through Laurel and stays at the Flamingo Hotel there” (Cummings, n. pag. ). On Blanche’s birthday, Stanley finally revealed the truth to Stella: “ This is after the home-place had slipped through her lily-white fingers! She moved to the Flamingo, a second class hotel that has the adventure of not interfering in the private social life of the personalities there! The Flamingo is used to all kinds of going-on. But even the management of the Flamingo was impressed by Dame Blanche! That they requested that she turn in her key – for permanently! This happened a couple of weeks before she showed here” (123HelpMe, n.

pag. ). As for Blanche’s “ leave” from work, Stanley said: “ She’s not going back to teach school! In fact I am willing to bet you that she never had no idea of returning to Laurel! She didn’t resign temporarily from high school because of her nerves! No, siree, Bob! She didn’t. They kicked her out of that high school before the spring term ended – and I hate to tell you why the reason that step was taken! A seventeen-year-old boy-she’s gotten mixed up with! ” (123HelpMe, n.

pag. ). Blanche’s lies cost her the man she loved. When Harold Mitchell (nicknamed Mitch) first asked her out, she told him that she was Stella’s younger sister (she’s actually five years older than Stella) and that she came to New Orleans to take care of Stella (when in fact, she simply had no other place to go) (123HelpMe, n. pag. ). Blanche added that she was still single (even if she really was the widow of a homosexual who killed himself) and that she was a high school English teacher (despite the truth that she was terminated) (123HelpMe, n. pag.

). Later, Blanche tells Mitch the truth, but only partly (Sparknotes, n. pag.

). On their date, she admitted her late husband’s homosexuality and suicide (Sparknotes, n. pag. ). On the other hand, Mitch revealed to her that he also underwent the loss of a former partner (Sparknotes, n. pag. ). But Stanley also told the truth to Mitch (Cummings, n.

pag. ). Hence, despite Stella’s insistence that Mitch will attend Blanche’s birthday party, he didn’t arrive (Cummings, n. pag.

). Stanley told his wife that Mitch has “ wised up” and that “ he’s not going to jump in a tank with a school of sharks” (Cummings, n. pag. ). Stanley then handed Blanche his birthday present to her – a one-way bus ticket to Laurel (Cummings, n.

pag. ). An argument between Stanley and Stella followed, causing Stella to go into labor (Cummings, n. pag. ).

While Stanley and Stella were in the hospital, Blanche remained in the apartment and got herself drunk (Sparknotes, n. ag. ). Mitch, also drunk, went to see her at the apartment and told her everything that he found out from Stanley (Sparknotes, n.

pag. ). Blanche confessed that everything Stanley told him about her was true, but she added that she just satisfied her need for human affection after the passing of her husband (Sparknotes, n. pag.

). Mitch replied that he can never marry her – her unchastity rendered her “(unfit) to live in the same house as his mother” (Sparknotes, n. pag. ).

He then tried to rape her; she managed to defend herself by yelling “ Fire! to alert passerbys ouside (Sparknotes, n. pag. ). Hours later, Blanche got herself even more drunk, then proceeded to pack her things (Cummings, n. pag. ). While she was packing, Stanley arrived home and asked her about her outlandish attire – a white evening gown, a pair of silver slippers, and a rhinestone tiara (Cummings, n. pag.

). Blanche invented a story about her going away on a Carribean cruise with Dallas millionaire Shep Huntleigh (Cummings, n. pag.

). She even bluffed about Mitch trying to win her back, saying, “ I have been foolish–casting my pearls before swine. . . I’m thinking not only of you but of your friend, Mr. Mitchell (who) came back (and) implored my forgiveness” (Cummings, n. pag. ).

She added that she refused despite this apology (Cummings, n. pag. ). Unfortunately, Stanley was able to prove that Blanche was lying, because he saw Mitch at the bar that he stopped over before coming home from the hospital (Cummings, n. pag.

). Stanley then went on to insult her: “ Take a look at yourself in that worn-out Mardi Gras outfit, rented for fifty cents from some rag-picker. And with that crazy crown on! What queen do you think you are? The queen of the Nile! Sitting on your throne and swilling down my liquor! ” (Cummings, n.

pag. ). Blanche tried to escape, but Stanley managed to subdue her and rape her (Cummings, n. pag. ). This finally cause Blanche to lose her mind (Cummings, n.

pag. ). Weeks later, Stella had to send her to an insane asylum (Sparknotes, n.

pag. ). Despite what happened to her sister, Stella refused to believe that her husband raped her, saying, “ I couldn’t believe her story (about the rape) and go on living with Stanley” (Cummings, n.

pag. ). As the doctor and the nurse took Blanche away, Stella could not do anything except ask herself, “ Oh, God, what have I done to my sister? ” (Cummings, n. pag.

). Amanda, Laura, Blanche and Stella all resorted to escapism to solve their problems. All four women created their respective “ imaginary worlds,” all of which they thought existed. To escape poverty, Amanda kept on looking back on her genteel childhood and forced her children to bring it back for her. To escape rejection, Laura turned to her glass animal collection. To escape grief and a scandalous past, Blanche resorted to sex, alchohol and lies.

To avoid dealing with violence, Stella pretended that it never happened. However, this only worsened and or added to their problems. In the cases of Amanda, Blanche and Stella, it even cost the love and respect of other people. Being a homosexual, Williams knew too well the feeling of having to live in denial and in fear. But he was also aware that fear and denial promote injustice and marginalization.

Hence, through his female characters, Williams hammered away at the wall of silence and raised questions that nobody wanted to ask. Without such vigilance, there can be no such thing as a free society.