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The issue of the position of women in society is a central concern both in The Bell Jar (1963) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1974), and both texts challenge the standards that women were expected to abide by during the time period in which the texts were written including women’s lack of power, cultural expectations, purity, and the oppressive sexual double standard that women are commonly faced with. In The Bell Jar, Esther’s role presents a great conflict as she is torn between society’s expectation of her traditional role as a wife and her career ambitions.
Men are perceived as an “arrow into the future”, while women are “the place the arrow shoots off from”. This shows that a woman must support the husband by creating an attractive and orderly home by nurturing him and his ambitions.
However, Esther struggles to accept the tradition of being the stereotypical ‘perfect’ housewife. When thinking about what marriage would be like, she says that waking up every morning to cook and clean while her husband was at work “seemed a dreary and wasted life for a girl with fifteen years of straight A’s”.
In spite of the fact that she has an advantageous internship in New York, a promising future, and a line of potential suitors, Esther becomes disillusioned when she realises what the future has in store: women cannot have both marriage and career, and marrying someone would mean relinquishing her dreams of writing. Moreover, others perceive Buddy Willard as Esther’s ideal match as he is attractive, intellectual and ambitious.
An analogy of her life is the metaphorical “fig tree” as each fig represents a potential life however she can only choose one.
In The Bell Jar, Esther is disassociated from reality, she feels inadequate, paralyzed and is in limbo as she is unable to choose anything constructive to do with her life while all the figs seem to disintegrate in front of her eyes. In The Bell Jar, Eric discloses to Esther how ‘nauseating’ it is that young ladies from her school can be seen ‘necking madly’. His tirade does not once make reference to the young men that were undoubtedly involved. He proceeds to educate Esther regarding ‘losing his virginity’ in a whorehouse. He censures young ladies as regrettable for kissing young men, yet his own sexual history warrants no blame at all. Esther’s depression is connected to sexism since confronting the injustice of draining. Gaslighting, when somebody is convinced that their suffering is somehow not genuine, is considering all the more debilitating. Moreover, this is the end result for Esther for those initial 10 chapters of The Bell Jar; she faces a great many instances of sexual segregation and abuse, with no intelligible comprehension of what she is feeling. In both texts, the women somehow find themselves dependent on men. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois and Stella Kowalski are defined by the men in their lives; the only way to live a happy and fulfilled life is with the companionship of a man. Blanche’s life has affected her own psychological wellness. She is a ‘Southern belle’ who clings to flirtatious trappings, preferring ‘enchantment’ and the night to reality, and the light of day; a fragile, innocent version of femininity because she believes that this makes her most alluring to men. Blanche demands that Stella should endeavour to get away from the physically abusive Stanley, however, her solution also includes dependence on men which may be an illusion built in her mind for security, as she suggests that they contact the Dallas millionaire Shep Huntleigh for monetary help. Blanche’s tragic marriage in her childhood has led her to seek emotional fulfilment through associations with men, and men have exploited her apprehensive, delicate state.
Despite the fact that Blanche’s first marriage ended disastrously, she considers marriage to be her only option. Blanche views Mitch as a shelter and an approach to restore her shattered life. Although Blanche’s sexual endeavours influence alternate characters to perceive her as a dishonourable, fallen woman, these equivalent attributes are viewed as presenting strength and power in Stanley. Stanley provokes his masculinity in the poker scene making him fulfil cultural expectations in the play. The poker scene is the point at which we first observe a case of the domestic violence that Stanley uses in order to have full control over Stella. The stage directions depict Stanley’s actions as: “He advances and disappears. There is the sound of a blow. Stella cries out.” This demonstration of brutality from Stanley’s behalf seems completely irrational as Stella is carrying his baby. By impregnating Stella, Stanley has fashioned a bond that appears to be unbreakable, as Stella is currently vulnerable, depending on Stanley to care for her and the baby financially and physically. The utilisation of the words “advances” and “disappears” portrays the picture of a predator stalking its prey highlighting the power imbalance in their relationship. Williams employs Stella’s character in order to highlight gender inequality in the Southern states; yet, in addition, he features human characteristics such as “the certain needs” one has “and their consequent demands for the ’right’ mate.”
Stanley had a few influential females in his life, mainly his mother and sister whom he cherished extraordinarily and who he felt should have a superior role in society as males. Stella’s gentility is based not on illusions and tricks but on reality. She does not attempt to conceal her identity nor avoid her current conditions. Stella’s pregnancy states the genuine, physical, exposed nature of her conception of herself as a woman. Stella chooses her physical love for and dependence on Stanley over Blanche’s plans. Despite the fact that Stanley hits her, she is not in something she needs to escape from, as she discloses to Blanche. Eunice demonstrates a comparative, down-to-earth dependence on men, and she persuades Stella that she has settled on the correct decision by remaining with Stanley as opposed to trusting Blanche’s story about the rape. Stanley is in control of her life. Stella has no say in anything that happiness due to him being the provider of the family, without him she would have nothing. The image of the ‘bell jar’, as both the novel’s title and Esther’s own important metaphor “under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air” symbolises the feeling of being cut off from the world, protected from the outside because of one’s delicacy. Purity in The Bell Jar and A Streetcar Named Desire have a great impact on the lives of women. As in The Bell Jar, Buddy Willard isolated the desire of sex from the delights of comfortable family life; describing the Madonna/ Whore complex.
Since he envisions Esther as his future spouse, he does not imagine that he could have passionate sex with her. Rather, he takes off his clothes in front of her as though their sexual experiences will be a clinical obligation. Since Esther is not associated with sex, he feels only a twinge of guilt at sleeping with Gladys, a passionate girl he is not planning to marry. Looking at her own emotions, Esther realises that she does not object to sex before marriage, but does object to misdirection from Buddy. She loathes the way that he presented himself as pure. Blanche appears in the first scene dressed in white, the symbol of virtue, honesty, and purity. She is viewed as a moth-like creature as she is fragile, refined, and delicate, however, She is cultured and intelligent. Also, Blanche cannot stand a vulgar remark or a vulgar action. She would never intentionally hurt someone; in addition, she doesn’t need authenticity; she inclines toward enchantment. She does not generally come clean, but she tells ‘what ought to be the truth.’ Yet has lived a life that would make the most degenerate person seem timorous, in general, she is one of Williams’ characters who does not have a place in this world. She is influenced by the male position, unable to succumb to reality as Blanche tries to convince others that things are perfectly fine however trying to mask her drinking addiction. Her type will always be at the mercy of the brutal, realistic world. Both are very delicate people and disassociate themselves from reality as a way to escape their problems in life. Blanche creates the persona of a very innocent and pure person as she fears that other men may not accept her anymore.
Excessive cleanliness provides a fresh start. In the play she repetitively takes luxurious baths, which imitate her necessity to cleanse herself of her unpleasant dealings, to purge her body of the grit of everyday life and the harsh, unforgiving world that surrounds her. Eminently, she says that she feels “…all freshly bathed and scented, and feeling like a brand new human being!”. In her mind, bathing is a soul cleanser for her that encourages her to adapt to her past. In order to gain a full understanding of the texts, it is essential to consider an interpretation from the perspective of women’s activism. A women’s activist methodology would concentrate on how the play reflects or challenges male-dominated social qualities. For instance, Stella is oppressed to Stanley; Blanche is terminated from only a few occupations open to a shrewd, taught lady, and is depicted as crazy and rationally aggravated. However, a women’s activist methodology may likewise look at how the content depicts men’s ethical double standard in connection to women, and women’s’ compassion, or absence of it, for other women. It may reflect female mistreatment inferred in the author’s technique. For instance, Blanche is presented by stage directions portraying her appearance; for Stanley, the attention is on his masculine vitality. A women’s activist may take note of that Stanley enjoys women, demanding their compliance, while Mitch romanticises them. Stanley is violent towards his pregnant spouse and later attests his power by smashing plates. This approach would take a gander at how Stella submits to Stanley, while Blanche endeavours to utilize her sexuality to oppose him. It may likewise concentrate on the sisters’ prohibition from the poker night, Blanche’s breakdown as a reaction to a male-commanded world, and Stella’s double-crossing of her sister. The way that Stella trusts Stanley’s rendition of occasions and not her sister’s, could be viewed as history being ‘composed by the victors’. Both texts are heavily informed by the authors’ personal experiences which are highlighted through the actions and feelings of multiple characters.
There are multiple comparisons drawn between Blanche and Williams’ own sister; the fundamental one being that they both experienced dysfunctional behaviour. In her youth, Rose Williams was additionally fixated on her appearance and when she hit adolescence, Tennessee Williams felt betrayed, as she would spend most of her time with other men. At the point when Rose was determined to have schizophrenia mixed type. Neurotic prevailing Williams did not want her to have a lobotomy and wanted for her to be sent to a refuge where she would be best off. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche is removed to an asylum and this could be construed as Williams venting his disappointment about Rose not getting the satisfactory consideration. Blanche says to the specialist ‘You are not the gentleman I was expecting… That man isn’t Shep Huntleigh.’ This investigates the possibility that the man who is going to save her is in certainty a fabrication of her creative ability; this would be an aftereffect of her emotional wellness issue. Toward the end of the play, Stella yells ‘Blanche! Blanche, Blanche!’, this suggests that she has lost Blanche and her mental illness has captured her much as Williams felt after Rose’s lobotomy. However, Sylvia Plath’s poor psychological well-being, which accordingly leads to her suicide in 1963, might be believed to be reflected in The Bell Jar. Demise might be considered to have an absence of significance all through her novel because of the casual way in which the protagonist and speaker, Esther Greenwood, manages death. Esther’s dad passed away when she was nine years of age, and she feels that his passing denoted the time when she changed, bringing about her psychological well-being becoming temperamental. Be that as it may, alongside her mom, she ‘had never cried for [her] father’s death’. This unmistakably shows how Esther manages a loss of life; it is a vital piece of life, and to Esther, as previously mentioned, her psychological wellness has made her view passing as more desirable than ‘sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in [her] own sour air’. Besides, Esther’s various endeavours at suicide remind the reader that Esther trusts the main ‘way out’ is demise.
In conclusion, Both The Bell Jar and A Streetcar Named Desire present women as having a fragile space in society. While the increasing emancipation of women is evident in both texts, their reliance on men highlights that they still depend on men to secure a place in society. There is, however, a clear movement towards independence which is illustrated by the conflicts that the women in both texts undergo, in the form of Esther’s conflict between her role as a wife and her career-ambitions and Stella’s struggle with domestic abuse and attempts to escape. It is clear in both texts that women are tormented by their ambiguous, transforming role in society and their sexual freedoms, which adversely impacts their mental health as they are faced with significant uncertainty.
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