“Just remember what Huey Long said – that every man’s a king- and I’m the king around here” QUELLE!! With this statement Stanley Kowalski, one of the protagonists in “A Streetcar Named Desire” a play published in 1947 by one of the most famous authors of the South Tennessee Williams, the character captures the critical issue at stake – the underprivileged and repressed role of women in American society at the time right after the Great Depression and World War II.
The theme of an older, decadent and back then dying plantation society whose values and virtues were challenged by a new male-dominated and aggressively materialistic society of immigrants gained more and more in importance (Zapf 298). Also Tennessee Williams was aware of the increasing conflict of new and old values. Born in Columbus, Mississippi, as son of a tatterdemalion father who was driven by sex and alcohol and as son of a very much the southern belle like, oppressed and refined mother, a daughter of an Episcopalian minister, he grew up in the cultural clash of a traditional southern society (Muller 92).
In his social environment he very soon felt like an unadapted outsider. A disease that prevented him from the integration in a group of male peers, the exaggerated care by his mother and the experience of her nervous breakdowns and conniptions, his homosexuality that was taboo as well as moving from the rural area in Mississippi into an anonymous metropolis in the West made him feel weak, troubled and in a certain way oppressed (Muller 92).
These physical and mental sufferings let him slip into promiscuity and alcohol and drug abuse. To escape this undesirable, foreign and hostile reality, Williams fled into the world of writing where he could found shelter by the use of symbolism and fictional mantling in the world of illusions (Muller 93). Especially by the representation of Blanche DuBois the actual protagonist in/of “A Streetcar Named Desire”, Williams made particular use of his method/means of fictional mantling.
Conceding the play with light a special role, Tennessee Williams represents Blanche DuBois as a result of systematic oppression which caused a change in her life from a youthful, sexual innocent girl in the bright light who is aware of reality to a sexual mature woman portrayed in dimmed light not grasping reality anymore. 2. The Virtues and Values of the Old South under the Aspect of Feminism The setting of “A Streetcar Named Desire” is New Orleans in 1947, right after World War II.
The city stands for a time of change and exasperation – a time when a new male dominated society of immigrants challenged the older and now dying plantation society of the South (Pitavy-Souques 370). In both systems females are terribly suppressed. Especially in the Old South women were expected to live up to a so-called Southern gender code (Heintzelmann 274). According to Pitavy-Souques this code coerced them into the role of a “decorative object” (371), that was not granted any right to self-realization.
They were supposed to lead a life up to the principles of abstinence and pureness under the subterfuge of adoration, honor and worship (Pitavy-Souques 371). While their men devoted themselves to free sexual desire (Hovis 173) and many times as well to other passions like alcohol and drugs the women’s territory was restricted to the domestic sphere (Pitavy-Souques). They sustained the patriarchal values and virtues of the Old South, like Pitavy-Souques argues, as obedient “daughters, wives and mothers who will slave their men till they die” (371).
During the Great Depression and the Second World War this image slightly changed. The underprivileged situation of the feminine, however, cannot be denied. The deprivation of a space where they could be on their own and the transformation of women from subjects into objects still existed whereas the best status a woman could reach was to be a sexual partner in preference (Pitavy-Souques 371). 3. The Play with Light as a Means of Emphasizing the Systematic Oppression of Blanche DuBois
In his play, Tennessee Williams captures the suppressed role of women whereby he especially focuses on the female protagonist Blanche DuBois presented like a southern belle. The interior tragedy she suffers through oppression is epitomized by a perfect equilibration of realistic elements and the so-called plastic theatre (Muller 99). According to Williams this new form of plastic theatre is to verge on the truth “through transformation, through changing into other forms than those which were merely present in appearance” (8).
In short, plastic theatre approaches the truth by alienation. Achieving this in his play “A Streetcar Named Desire”, Williams appreciated new methods like the usage of a screen device and attached importance to music, to colors and to the lighting (Williams 8-13). Particular significance is put on the two latter aspects the play with light and colors. They accompany Blanche’s gradual downfall from an initial appropriate perception of truth into madness and lunacy. This development turns out to be a result of systematic oppression caused by the following circumstances.