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In literature, the theme of gender has been used as a way to set empowerment throughout history. In the play, written by Tennessee Williams, “A Streetcar Named Desire”, presents many gender roles and themes through the characters Stanley Kowalski, Stella Kowalski, Blanche Dubois, and Mitch. Williams effectively expresses the theme of masculinity through his male characters, Stanley and Mitch, conveying the male figure and role in society during 1947 in Downtown New Orleans. In the play, Stanley is conveyed as this dominant, aggressive character often depicted to have uncilivlised characteristic and actions.
On the other hand, Mitch is depicted as Stanley’s contrasting counterpart. He is often described as a gentle, kind, passive character. Williams expresses two forms of masculinity through these characters. These ideas will be explored.
The theme of masculinity is continuously conveyed, through the physical representation of Stanley and Mitch, expressing the stereotypes of masculinity during 1947 in New Orleans. Williams portrays Stanley’s masculinity as violent, dominate and also barbaric.
Stanley’s introduction into the play already conveys many different ideas of masculinity and helps influence the audience’s first impressions of him. For example, at the beginning of the play when Stanley enters, he is described to be wearing “blue denim work clothes” and he heaves a “red-stained package” at his wife. The description of his clothing and use of stage and setting help convey the idea of gender roles and as well as Stanley’s primitive nature. The “blue denim work clothes” is immediately associated with the working class, physical labour and as well as male providing food and funds for the household.
This helps Williams present gender roles, as the males are providers and the females are caretakers. Williams also uses props to help emphasise this “primitive” form masculinity. Stanley’s monosyllabic responses like “Meat!” and Blanche’s opinion on Stanley being somewhat ‘caveman’ like and having animal traits again help enforces and emphasizes his barbaric and “primitive” masculinity. This form of masculinity was desired as Williams presents this through Stella. Stella finds this “primal” nature to be very attractive, his carelessness of destroying the home environment and impulsive character help create excitement for her. She enjoys his spontaneous and destructive actions.
Simarily, Mitches is also described to be wearing “blue work denim clothes” which like Stanley, instantly suggest connotations with providing physical labour and providing food and funds for his household. However, Williams portrayal of Mitch’s masculinity differs heavily in comparison to Stanley. In the play, Mitch is often interpreted as a gentle, submissive male who believes in love and romance which contrast Stanley’s aggressive, confident, authoritative personality. This is seen with his first interaction with Blanche. Blanche exclaims “Thank you for being so kind! I need kindness now.” Williams portrays Mitch as a different form of masculinity, as a more “gentlemen” form of masculinity rather than a “primitive” form that Williams conveys through Stanley. Although Stanley is presented as the more dominant male, Mitch is still presented as a masculine force. Mitch demonstrates this through his physical size as he boasts to Blanche, giving her measurements on his size. This form of masculinity is also desirable as Blanche needs the attention of a caring and affectionate male to keep her sane and rational. For Blanche, Mitch’s masculine is enough to present a sexual desire but he isn’t as physical or psychologically damaging as Stanley creating this lust and impulse for Mitch.
Stanley’s relationship with Stella directly presents a very stereotypical world where weak and fragile women are surrounded by powerful, dominate male figures. Williams use of Stanley’s relationship with Stella represents the patriarchal society where women seen as beneath men. Williams uses stage directions to demonstrate Stanley’s masculinity and his traits towards women: “since earliest manhood, the center of his life has been the pleasure with women, the giving and taking of it”. This idea portrays Williams view on masculinity, it is heavily influenced by sexual desire. Stanley thoroughly enjoys the pleasures with women, it’s being his focus and drive, a masculine trait of his.
This concept is emphasized throughout the entirety of the play, through the use of mise en scene and stage directions. When Stanley enters the kitchen, Stella greets him by, “she jumps up and kisses him which he accepts with lordly composure”. The word choice of “lordly” provides connotations of him being the ‘man of the house’ and implies that he rules the household. This enforces the idea of Stella figuratively being beneath him, as well as her being literally beneath him as she must “jump” to show affection. In this scene, Stanley’s masculinity is at it’s maximum, him being in charge of his household as well as receiving physical pleasure from his woman. Stanley harsh actions towards his wife again demonstrate his physical dominance. In scene 3 Stanley lashes at Stella, beating her. Due to Stanley having this ‘lord’ complex, when he’s opposed he expresses his authority and dominance through violence. His aggressive behavior helps Williams emphasizes this “primitive” masculinity.
In contrast, Mitch’s relationship with Blanche is very romantic and unchaotic, unlike Stanley and Stella’s relationship. Williams portrays Mitch as Blanche’s escape from her suffering, as he can provide her financially as well as emotionally. Mitch seems to be Blanche’s ideals of a ‘man’ when compared to her past relationships with other males that she refers to as ‘apes’. Towards Blanche, Mitch is very formal and respectful as he calls her by “Miss DuBois”, which relates back to another form of masculinity that Williams tries to create.
In conclusion, Williams use of the two characters Stanley Kowalski and Mitch presents the two types on masculinity during the society, one being a “primitive” and “ape” like masculinity and another being more of a “gentlemen” masculinity. He does this effectively through Stanley and Mitch’s descriptions, word choice, stage directions and interactions with the female protagonists, Stella and Blanche.
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