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Williams and Yates have set their works in the American, post-World War II, conformist society, they illustrate the terrible effects of this society on women through the genre of modern tragedy. A Streetcar Named Desire is set in 1947, in the atypical American setting of New Orleans, filled with diverse culture and nationalities which allows Williams to present the rising tensions between conflicting societal, racial and gender groups. Williams describes A Streetcar Named Desire as a play about the “savage and brutal forces of modern society” , although these ‘brutal forces’ seem quieted in 1955 Connecticut, the setting for Yate’s Revolutionary Road, where April still suffers from the constraints put upon women in a suburban post war society. Yates and Williams explore the pivotal issues of the hypocritical constraint of female desire; the destabilising limitations of gender roles, a fatal subjugation of female voice, paucity of individuality, repressive male dominance and their detrimental effects through the climax of Blanche’s agonising breakdown and April’s tragic death. These women deal with the issues that evolved during this era of constrictive social conformity that arose due to the evolution of society after the extraordinary turbulence of World War II: one through the form of a fluid eleven scenes play and the other through a three-part novel.
April and Blanche are restricted by the constraints of their contrasting but equally limiting societies which renders them unable to render their true nature. Blanche’s true nature can be argued to be one of aspirational determination to improve her life; Blanche tells Stella, when trying to convince her to leave Stanley, that she wants to “make myself a new life”. This aim of transformation conveys her hidden drive and the fact that she craves “a new life” illustrates her dissatisfaction with her place in society due to the choice of the word “new” rather than another life. This is linked to Blanche saying to Stella, “I don’t want realism, I want magic”, as she chooses to ignore real life, which demonstrates that she doesn’t feel as though she fits in society. In this way Blanche fails to reflect the society around her and instead rails against it. Like Blanche, April questions society, her true nature can be viewed to be as that of an outsider to society. When speaking to Frank, during the preparations for the move to Paris, April questions whether “moral” and “conventional” have the same meaning, this illustrates that she views society as corrupt because she thinks that what occurs in society then becomes what is correct – ‘convention’, hence portraying her critical nature to be part of what makes her a social outsider. Julia Milhouse views this comment as Yates way of conveying April’s role as a “rounded heroine-villain” this can be supported by April failure to be swayed by the fads and fashions that drive society, in this way she is a hero, as she keeps the progression of revolution alive. Equally, it can be argued that Blanche feels forced by societies expectations of her former status to act as a southern belle, in her first appearance she has an “uncertain manner” and is dressed in “white clothes”. The “uncertain manner” conveys the effects of her disgraced past, as society accepts her male ancestor’s affairs, but not hers, which leaves her unsure of the role she should play as a woman, shunned by the tense society she lives in. Blanche is dressed in “white”; this implies that she is attempting to uphold pretence of herself. White is symbolic of purity which is contrary to her sexually promiscuous nature that she attempts to conceal. George Hovis suspected that Blanche became ‘entrapped in the role of the belle’ . Hovis’ view is supported by society’s expectation of women to remain as pure as the Virgin Mary, who was idolised as a model figure of purity. April believes she is different so she can escape society’s entrapment, this because other characters describe her as “special”, whilst April sees the use of the word as putting her on the outside of society, others view her in a positive light, but only whilst she is conforming. After April’s move to Paris falls through she comes to the realisation that she and Frank are “just like the people” she viewed as constrained by society and she is not “special”. It can be argued that April is continuing to resist the view of herself as constrained, the use of the simile “like” creates similarity and not a direct comparison, thus showing that she still holds on to the hope of her true nature. It might be this dogged desire which leads to her untimely death and refusal to play the part that is destroying her inside. Thus, both women are arguably reflective of the social development of an American society in which their individualism was, ironically for the land of the free, considered a threat.
Like many women living in post-World War II America, Blanche and April are limited by the strict gender roles that structure their lives. Blanche is a female figure who partly broke the constraint of her gender role through having a job, in the 1940’s women were only able to take up nurturing roles, such as nursing, in which they were arguably carrying out an extension of their mothering role. It is evident that women were not supposed to be independent as socially accepted jobs such as teaching, Blanche’s profession, only provided a “pitiful salary”. The use of the word “pitiful” connotes that the pay is charitable and is reflective of the way that slaves were treated in the old South. It can be interpreted that Williams is portraying women as enslaved by their gender role, through their forced reliance on patrimony. Blanche’s forced dependence on men is comparable to April’s self-imposed reliance on Frank. This is evident from April’s inability to make decisions independent of her husband, when planning the move to Paris she says: “I’d like to get started right away”. The choice of the phrase “like to” conveys Aprils insecurity as she seeks to gain consent from Frank. Blanche and April’s dependence on men would be seen by women today as repressive, due to the contrast between the freedom women in modern America can exert and the constrained prospects of the 1940s and 1950s settings of A Streetcar Named Desire and Revolutionary Road. The end of each text creates a sense that the limitations of the defined gender roles are entrenched, as at the end of Streetcar Named Desire Stella is seduced by Stanley, as his “fingers find the opening of her blouse”. This creates continuity in the repression of woman as regardless of Stanley’s role in Blanche’s incarceration in a mental institution, Stella conforms to her role as Stanley’s wife and possession. Similarly, Yates ends Revolutionary Road with Mrs Givings, a status obsessed woman who acts as a symbol of social conformity, describing April to her husband as “unwholesome”. This criticism of a woman’s failure to conform portrays the extent to which society was indoctrinated by gender roles, creating a hopeless outlook for women, making April and Blanche reflective of women in their time and in the future.
Williams and Yates each highlight the class of voiceless women, at a time when the 19th amendment granted American women the right to vote. Through Blanche’s talkative nature Williams illustrates the fight that women had to endure in an attempt to get their voices heard, this can be inferred as reflective of the lack of support women’s voices received throughout history, with writer Mary Evans resorting to writing under a male pseudonym to enable her work a fair evaluation. These voiceless women are portrayed by Blanche whose voice, by the end of the play, “dies out nervously”, Blanche is highly reflective of society, as just like the Old South her influence is waning with time. The phrase ‘dies out’ is a metaphor for the way that the opportunities women gained during the 2nd World War were withdrawn, mirroring the decline of Blanche’s voice in the play. Some literary commentators have blamed the loss of Blanche’s voice on Stanley, Shirley Galloway said that ‘Stanley subdues Blanche, and all that she stands for, in the same way men have been subduing women for centuries’ although Stanley’s subduing of Blanche is reflective of the nature cross gender relations throughout history, he cannot be held solely responsible for it, as the society they live in unitedly try to restrain Blanche, which results in her decline. Similarly, Yates’ use of a multi-perspective form in Revolutionary Road which enables him to represent women’s lack of power (although not through words) in the structural and literal lack of April’s voice in the novel. As Sabrina Patrizio pronounces “her voice is contained until the very last moments of her life” , this is supported by the texts form, with few chapters focusing on her perspective whereas most of the novel comes from Frank’s point of view. The uneven distribution of the narrative is reflective of the inequality of opportunity with in Frank and April’s relationship. Thus, making April, as Sabrina Patrizio states, reflective of the ‘silenced class’ of 20th century women, like Blanche.
Blanche and April are reflective of societies changing ideals, as they both struggle against the expectation of women’s domestic lives, which drove the cultures of New Orleans along with Connecticut. The pressure of social expectation has a seismic impact on April’s opportunities; she tells Frank that they only “had another [child] to prove the first one wasn’t a mistake”. The word “prove” connotes that April was trying to conform as she is going against her own will to hide a “mistake”, so that society wouldn’t look down upon her. From the use of the word “had” it can be inferred that Yates was trying to portray women as without choice since they “had” to fulfil their function as mothers. Limitations on women’s choices has been a fundamental problem in America, with abortions being illegal up until 1975, hence the lack of freedom April felt regarding having children would have been relatable for female readers in 20th century America. The issue of women’s abortion rights is still a strongly contested issue today, with feminists strongly believing that women should have control over their own bodies. April is thus representative of the emerging feminist elements of society as she, “did it to herself”, which can be seen as her tragically taking back control over her body in defiance of the male dominated government, who tried to prohibit abortions. The fact that April’s self-induced abortion leads to her death creates a lasting image of the cost 20th century women paid for independence, by insinuating that they only gained control in death. April and Blanche refuse to conform to societies idealistic image of women as domestic goddess’: April rebels with the martyrdom of her self-destructive abortion and Blanche via her impulsive sexual promiscuity. As April is viewed with contempt by Frank for abortion their child, Blanche is shunned by society, Williams uses the metaphor “ran out of town” to describe Blanche’s exit from Laurel due to social pressures. It can be argued that the metaphor is used to create imagery of society being a powerful force to emphasise the supremacy of American ideals. Hence, April and Blanches limitations can equally be reflective of societies imposed control.
In conclusion, Williams and Yates use the descent of their female protagonists to paint a bleak picture of the future of the societies in which they live. Streetcar Named Desires extended metaphor of a journey, is wrapped up by Blanche’s forced placement into a mental institution, as her journey to “Elysian Fields” has in fact become her last stop. Williams end to this journey illustrates the end of Blanche’s culture, the Old south and her defiance of male dominance, creating a miserable outlook for social out casts in the Post War era. This entrenches the position of women in 1947 New Orleans and 1955 Connecticut as house wives’, dependent upon patrimony and forced to hide their true natures to fit in the regimented society. Yates ends Revolutionary Road with Mrs Givings, the model of the puritan American dream, passing the final blinkered judgement upon April as a “whimsical” and “unwholesome” woman, illustrating the misgivings society has passed upon April and neo-feminist women alike, as those who have conformed remain to hypocritically critique the social outsiders. The ending of the novel demonstrates society’s view of the American Revolution as one that was short lived and the death of April signifies the death of the revolutionary culture. Heightening the role of April in the novel, due to the definitive end to the revolution she represents. Although, Blanche and April are atypical, break with through April’s striving for independence and Blanche sexual promiscuity thus limiting the extent to which they reflect society. Both women represent the society of their texts as they represent different outlying factions as well as creating a critique of society as a whole through their lack of conformity.
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