Author(s)

Ruth FoleyFollow

Department

English and Modern Languages

Degree

Master of Arts (MA)

Chair

Emily Heady

Primary Subject Area

Literature, American; Literature, General; Theater; Women's Studies

Keywords

marginalization, patriarchy, Tennessee Williams, victims, women

Disciplines

Dramatic Literature, Criticism and Theory | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America | Theatre and Performance Studies | Women's Studies

Abstract

Although Tennessee Williams does not openly champion the rights of women in his plays, he presents strong cases against their social alienation in a harsh and brutal world governed by men. Williams' emotional leanings, sensitivity, and intuition enable him to see life through women's eyes. In The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Summer and Smoke, Williams astutely sounds the battle cry for women to fight against male oppression. He shows how Amanda Wingfield, Laura Wingfield, Blanche Dubois, Stella Kowalski, and Alma Winemiller are held hostage to the rules governing patriarchal society and become unhappy marginalized victims. The self-contained and self-sufficient prewar South is the epitome of patriarchal society, and the setting for many of Williams' plays. In patriarchal society, gender relations are based on male domination where men control money, power, and even women. In this environment women learn to be dependent on men both economically and psychologically, and to play passive, unessential, and subordinate roles to their male counterparts. Women have to look beautiful, behave graciously, and be flirtatious in order to survive. Williams understood the plight of marginalized women through his close relationships with many females, including his sister, mother, grandmother, agent, actresses, and friends. His leanings toward effeminacy enable him to empathize with the female psyche and to object to society's demands that require women to appear younger, better looking, more innocent and less savvy than men in order to succeed. Williams capsulizes the plight of victimized women through Blanche's famous line, "Men don't even admit you exist unless they're making love to you." Williams' plays are relevant to the predicament of women in western society today, and will endure in their portrayal of women as victims until we put an end to patriarchy.

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