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Gender Roles

In the play A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, the characters Stella Dubois and Stanley Kowalski express the stereotypical gender roles of the period. Stella Dubois is a woman completely dependent on her husband, Stanley Kowalski, who is “the king’ of the household.

Stanley believes that he is superior and can get away with whatever he wants because he is a man. What he says goes; Stella better not disrespect him without expecting to get put in “her place.” When the news breaks that Belle Reve has been lost, Stanley inserts himself completely in the matter and says, “a man has to take interest in his wife’s affairs” (44) due to the Napoleonic code. The loss of Belle Reve is a Dubois family matter, but Stanly will stop at nothing to prove that he is being “swindled,” regardless of what his wife and sister-in-law may claim. Stanly thinks that because he is a man he ought to deal with the financial affairs and pay no consideration to any women, despite whether or not they might actually know more.  Stanly has no respect for women at all. This can be seen all over the place in the play but is especially seen when Stanly rapes Blanche like it was no big deal. This can be seen again after Blanche is taken away to the mental hospital and he tries to sleep with Stella while she is uncontrollably sobbing. If Stanly had any bit of respect or decency, he never would have done those things.

Stella occupies the typical female gender role. Not only does she put up with all of Stanly’s abuse – physical and sexual – she remains completely in love with him regardless of this abuse. She “stands by her man” regardless of what horrible things he does to her because that is what is expected of her. Even though she sometimes tries to exert a small amount of authority, like when she asked Stanly to clear his plate, she is met with a rage-filled outburst from her husband. Stella would not dare try to push further or take control of the situation because she knows she has stepped out of line in her role as a wife.

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