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Misguided Feminist Reaction to A Streetcar Named Desire

The dramatic climax of A Streetcar Named Desire, clearly illustrates the

mastery of author Tennessee Williams. The brilliantly constructed text, with its
tragic story and enticing characters, propels the reader to a point in which he
becomes emotionally involved in the dynamics of Williams’ world. Unfortunately,
many feminists are negatively affected by Williams’ captivating writing style. In
turn, feminists have developed an array of very strong opinions regarding the
climax, often responding with a very personal and emotive discussion of the

Concentrating on the dynamics of each character and his stance during the
climax, feminists present an intelligent discussion on the inevitability of the rape
and its effect on the characters. Unfortunately, many feminists have a tendency
to become focused on the morals of rape, rather than exploring the symbolic
nature of rape. Many feminists have also let their emotions and personal values
sway their arguments, even to the point where they personally attack
Tennessee Williams. However, a correct reading of the climax should focus on
the symbolism of the event and the positioning of characters. From this stance,
it becomes much clearer why this disturbing climax was essential, especially
when considering the shocking conclusion to the play.

The feminist’s lack of serious discussion of the necessity of the rape scene is
the weak link in their argument. While feminists concede that the character of
Blanche is a woman with more than a few “inconsistencies”, their description of
Stanley as a "monster" is not justified. Feminists neglect to consider Stanley’s
vulnerability as a factor in the rape; but they justify Blanche’s instability and
confusion as a factor, which put her in the position of victim. It is best to
consider both the preceding events and impending resolution before passing
judgment and labeling Stanley as a “monster”.

While the feminists sympathize with the character of Blanche whom they
perceive as a delicate "moth-like" creature, they should also accept the fact that
she has been mingling in the affairs of "spiders" and is now caught in the web
she has spun. This aspect of symbolism is usually not discussed by feminists,
yet it is a critical feature of the text that must be considered to obtain a more
profound understanding.

Symbolism is very important when analyzing the conclusion to the play. These
factors combined are a very important element of the text. Therefore, it is
difficult to accept many feminist arguments without linking them to the other
aspects of the play. While feminists often claim that Stanley is utterly dependent
upon other people, they do not offer reasons for this. However, it is obvious that
Elysian Fields is a society built on desire, and once deprived of this through the
intervention of Blanche, Stanley becomes very vulnerable. This is the kind of
reasoning not offered by feminists who focus only on condemning the actions of
Stanley while failing to consider his viewpoint. Therefore, when it comes to the
climax, it is very important to carefully analyze how Stanley is being presented,
as this has a dire effect on the plight of his character, both during the rape and
the conclusion.

When reading the scenes, the potent symbolism appears to be the most
prominent aspect of the text. Throughout the text, Williams has made
references to animalistic behavior and virtues. New Orleans is presented as a
jungle, a metaphor Williams uses to portray the primitive, sub-human nature of
its inhabitants. Stanley epitomizes this as he represents the brutes of society
who dominate in this jungle. Williams conveys both imagery and dialogue to
portray this notion throughout the text as Stanley performs brutish acts and
declares, "I am the king around here, so don’t you forget it." Desire is the most
powerful force in the "jungle", with all actions stemming from those attempting to
obtain it or to hold onto it. This is the motive that has brought Blanche to New
Orleans as she states: "I’ve got to keep hold of myself," since to obtain this
desire is the only way to live. It is also the foundation between Stella and
Stanley’s relationship as they long to "make noise in the night...and get the
coloured lights going."

With such virtues being the basis of this society, the rape is a climax that is
congruent to the theme of the text. Many feminists are unable to even
temporarily put aside their personal judgments regarding rape in general in
order to appreciate Williams’ motive for writing it into the text. It is an essential
part of the text and, as Stanley explains to Blanche, they "had this date with
each other from the beginning." Even feminists accept that Williams has
constructed both characters as beings who, though vulnerable because of their
personal flaws, desperately cling to the desire for life. Stanley is consumed with
the need for sexual satisfaction and Blanche perceives desire as the only form
of existence.

The dynamics between Blanche and Stanley are a prominent aspect of the text,
representing the war between gentility and the brutes. A war is not a pleasant
event. Therefore, it is to be expected that the story would involve a dramatic
and shocking climax. While feminists effectively draw battle-lines between
Blanche and Stanley, they do not realize that the rape is the climax of this war.
Feminists have approached the climax with a subjective view, and failed to
perceive the significance and meaning of the rape. In drawing definite lines
between the impact of verbal and physical abuse, feminists have recognized the
extent of the disagreements and the powers involved. However, their arguments
become hindered by the very modern tendency to examine the morals and
ethics involved in sexual assault, describing Stanley’s act as unforgivable.

Throughout the text Stanley has been presented as a self-important brute,

driven by the force of desire which enables him to thrive in the jungle that really
is his "Elysian Fields." Examining the climax, it is apparent that the animalistic
tendencies are out in full force in Stanley as he parades around in a "vivid green
silk bowling shirt" and "brilliant silk pyjamas" like a male bird displaying his
assets to prospective mates. Therefore, the rape is a result of an act of brutal
desire in its most futile form, stemming from animal impulses and hostility that
propelled the two towards each other. Enmeshed in their personal opinions
regarding rape, feminists fail to recognize the rape as an act in which each
character is at the peak of his battle which is to be the "final episode" in the
game of desire.

Many feminists concede that Blanche’s actions place her in a vulnerable

position and she must face the repercussions of her preceding verbal ferocity.
While this is true, this has a much deeper relevance to the plight of Blanche,
rather than just as a cause of the rape. This can be ascertained by the events in
the preceding scene in which Blanche delved into a state of almost madness as
she experienced hallucinations when she suddenly and painfully realized that
she would never conform to this world and stated, "I don’t want realism."
Williams has created a grim atmosphere as audiences witness Blanche at a
point of complete pathos. This is apparent as she appears almost grotesque
dressed in a "crumpled white satin evening gown and a pair of scuffed slippers,"
her dialogue filtered with lies and fantasy. However, this appears to be clever
positioning by Williams, from which one attains the essence of Blanche, the soul
of the gentile lady she once was, struggling for survival, obtaining its only voice
through the fantasies of her deteriorating body. The absolute strength of her
character is evident through the presence of the "blue piano" symbolizing not
only the spirit of New Orleans, but of Blanche herself. Therefore, instead of
dwelling on the self-destructive nature of Blanche, as feminists do when they
propose the idea of Blanche "allowing herself to become vulnerable," it is more
important to recognize the point of absolute pathos Blanche has reached, which
determines her imminent downfall. Therefore, the climax might be perceived as
a grave look into the realms of madness consuming Blanche as she
approaches the peak of her inner conflict, only to be shattered by the one force
capable of precipitating her final destruction ... Stanley.

While feminists sometimes stumble upon decent arguments during their tirades,
their main failure is always lack of supporting evidence. The personal attacks on
Williams are irrelevant and damaging to the credibility of the feminist position.
When considering the final scene, it is apparent that Williams had no intention
of justifying Stanley’s actions or "allowing" him to commit the rape with no
repercussions. There is no basis for the feminist argument that Williams
received a thrill from the intertwined sex and brutality, in turn favoring the
character of Stanley. Stanley represented the brutes of society, and the harsh
reality that feminists ignore is that events like these are, unfortunately, very
common in our society. The feminists’ argument is always damaged by their
insistence upon judging Williams’ alleged values. Feminists insist on defining
this as a male/female issue, when actually it is a clever representation of a
battle of wit and values between the dying gentile class and the new-age brutes.

As in all battles, there is a victor and a loser, a result that is revealed in the final
scene. The final scene brings together all elements of the story and thrusts
them at the reader, leaving him with a strong impression that remains in the
sub-conscious for some time. The reader emerges from the text with a bit of
sympathy for Blanche, along with confusion and hurt towards the total
ignorance of Stanley. The careful reader does not hate Stanley after he rapes
Blanche, an action clearly consistent with his nature and probably not even
considered "rape" by Stanley himself, rather the next step in this "game" with
Blanche. This is very much an animalistic trait, considering physical war to be
no more harmful than a game, as Stanley exclaimed, "let’s have some rough-
house!" However, Stanley’s credibility and any shred of respect for his character
experienced a sharp decline when he failed to intervene in the committing of
Blanche to the asylum. The audience is left with the image of Stanley consoling
his wife as "his fingers find the opening of her blouse." It is difficult to accept
that this concept of desire is stronger than any sense of humanity or
compassion in society. However, this is exactly how Williams has positioned his
audience to react to the text, stabbing at their emotions and forcing them to
accept the victory of the brutes. In doing so, the audience has received a very
grim and blatant reflection of society, stripped to the very core of its problems
and conflicts.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a magnificent play that has elicited a great

outpouring of emotion, intellect and appreciation from readers who were moved
by the story. Feminists may introduce a number of excellent points, only to lose
their argument as they focus on the morality of rape. In exploring the modern
angle of the text, Feminists have attempted to judge and scrutinize the events of
the climax to such an extent that they have been led by their emotions, thereby
hindering them from comprehending the potent reflection Williams constructed
of society. Blanche, Stanley and the rape are archetypes of society,
representing the battle between good will and survival, good and evil, class and
inhumanity, behind which the driving force is utter desire!
Works Cited and Consulted

Brownmiller, Susan. Against Our Will. New York: Bantam Books, 1975.

Dworkin, Andrea. Intercourse. New York: The Free Press, 1087

Lant, Kathleen Margaret. "A Streetcar Named Misogyny." pp. 225-238 in


Redmond, James (Editor). Violence in Drama. Cambridge University Press;


Spoto, Donald. The Kindness of Strangers. Boston: Little, Brown and Company,

Williams, Edwina Dakin. Remember Me to Tom. St. Louis: Sunrise Publishing

Company, 1963.

Williams, Tennessee. Memoirs. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc: 1975.

Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: Signet. Original

copyright 1947.