In Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, both playwrights have shed light on the struggles women face to establish their place in the patriarchal society. While in A Doll’s House women finally triumph over patriarchy, in A Streetcar Named Desire, they end up getting defeated because they regard their dependency on men as the only way for a better future. By comparing various characters of both the plays, the reader can understand the battle which a woman has to fight to liberate her from the restrictions imposed on her in all spheres by the system governed by men.
In patriarchy, men hold complete authority over women. Ibsen has depicted this concept in Nora’s character. When she was a child, she was her father’s doll as she says “He used to call me his doll-child and he played with me the way I played with my dolls”(3.1700). She married Torvald and went to his doll’s house as she was the doll living in her husband’s doll house which is an impression of the ideal family living in a patriarchal society. Similarly, Tennessee Williams has portrayed Stella as stereotypical submissive women under patriarchy and Blanche as a woman fighting against patriarchal norms. There is a characteristic behavior associated with both the genders. Loyalty, sexual purity, and endurance define the feminine sphere while violence, lust, and hostility come under masculinity. Women are shown to be dependent on men socially, mentally and economically for their marriage and survival. For example, Stella relies on Stanley for household needs, Mrs. Linde married a businessman instead of Krogstad, her love interest, to support her sick mother and two younger brothers and the nurse Anne-Marie who sacrificed her daughter for her job as Nora’s nurse.
The characters of Nora and Blanche highlight the theme of achieving independence by overcoming all the barriers in the patriarchal society.
Both fight for achieving freedom from men, but it’s Nora, who emerges victorious at the end while Blanche ends up getting oppressed. The reason is although Blanche forces Stella to end her abusive relationship with Stanley, she allows herself to depend on men for financial assistance as she thinks Dallas millionaire Shep Huntleigh will end all her difficulties. Blanche considers marriage as an escape route out of all her miseries even after her first marriage ended awfully. Since then men have exploited her to fulfill their sexual desires. At the end of the play, she falls into a state of dilemma, incapable of distinguishing between reality and fantasy. She says “Whoever you are- I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”(11.1883) which is ironic since she always pretended to be someone who is fully aware of her needs. Blanche earned a bad reputation because she challenged the image of a typical woman in a patriarchal society by choosing to live her life in her way and fulfilling her desires.
Nora is different from Blanche in fighting for independence as she breaks the notion of women being weak, incapable, and dependent on men. “I have to stand completely alone, if I’m ever going to discover myself and the world out there”(1701) displays her bravery to stand for her right to freedom and fight male domination. The influence of patriarchy on Nora transformed her character from a docile housewife into a strong, independent, and fearless woman who is powerful enough to create the life she wants. Torvald thinks Nora as a careless child who doesn’t acknowledge the value of money. He is ready to disown her for the sake of saving his reputation. In the end, Nora realizes that her husband is unworthy of her love and takes a big step to leave him forever. A Doll’s House encourages gender equality and shows a woman’s struggle to escape “the restrictive confines of a patriarchal society” (Coller 47).
Stanley and Torvald are the epitome of patriarchal values. They both are happy in the fact that their wives need them for support. Men regard women as objects and degrade them to just tags like Torvald always calls Nora “my squirrel, my sweet little lark”(1.1655-1.1657) while Stanley calls Stella as honey baby or sweetie. Stanley asserts his dominance over Stella through actions such as giving ” a loud whack of his hand on her thigh” (3.1836) while men laugh at Stella’s response. Stanley’s character becomes more aggressive as the play progresses, for instance, throwing away the radio and abusing Stella, smashing the dinner plate and lastly, raping Blanche to prove his gender superiority. “The rape is a social gest, an act of violence that encodes Stanley’s misogyny” (Varney 330). On the other side, Torvald is similar in a way that he puts his reputation first over his wife. He is more focused on blaming Nora for the loss of his status in the society than acknowledging her love for him. He thinks Nora is spendthrift while all the money, Nora borrows goes into repaying the debt, which she took for Torvald’s well-being. He fired Krogstad for the same reason since he thinks Krogstad won’t pay him proper respect. Therefore, preserving their male ego is the sole priority for men in the patriarchal society over love and marriage.
In my opinion, women’s actions play a key role in influencing men. We see a softer side of Mitch at the starting of play as he cares for his mother and respects the feelings of Blanche. But it was Blanche’s lies which Stanley takes advantage of to manipulate Mitch against her. This, also, proves the two-faced nature of men in patriarchy. Mitch refuses to marry Blanche by saying she is not “clean enough” (10.1872) to live in the same house as his mother. But he doesn’t hesitate from making sexual advances towards her, conforming himself to the masculine aspect of patriarchy.
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