Streetcar/Virginia Woolf Essay, Research Paper
In both, Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Streetcar name Desire , the roles of sex and power are of paramount importance and are a constant feature throughout the play. The emergence of certain characters from these two plays are emphasised by the way they portray sex and power. These two concepts are of great importance individually to the plays, but they are also linked, and work in unison to create the situations and relationships which the authors intend to explore. Whilst there are similarities in which sex and power are used in both of these texts, there are differences, which create different impressions of the people in the plays. This integral role of the characters mean that sex and power can be explored in numerous ways which develop ideas of gender conflict, physical attributes as tools of power and also the varying scale of significance that sex and power can contribute.
At the beginning of Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? , a description of the characters is given, something which is to be vital to the themes and ideas surrounding the play. This shows the sexuality of the characters by merely stating their appearance. By calling George, thin; hair going grey and Nick, well-put-together, good looking , we already have thoughts in our mind as to their sexual nature. The connotations that surround these phrases make the reader form the opinion that Nick is more sexually charged, giving him the advantage over the seemingly sexually decaying George. It doesn t do this in A Streetcar named Desire , but instead it introduces the characters on entrance to the play. This makes their entrance more powerful because we don t know what to expect. However, when the characters are introduced to the play, they are still described in a manor that conjures sexual images such as the, delicate Blanche and the, gentle Stella. In both plays, the characters are described in terms of physique and attractiveness. This is important because it gives the readers stereotypes to think of, hence a greater effect when these stereotypes are broken or reiterated.
The descriptions of George and Martha, two main characters in Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? , become very important within the opening few scenes. This is because a conversation takes place between the two, and it becomes a mini-power struggle in which Martha is loud and brash and George is controlled and well considered. Martha s fervour is highlighted by the way she, impatiently snaps at George. Such an instance occurs when they discuss a particular film but can t remember the name, and Martha insists on shouting, Dumbbell! Its from the same goddamn Bette Davis picture . This epitomises her frustration, at her own lack of knowledge, that she vents through attacks on George, trying to make him feel guilty, hence claiming power. It seems like Martha takes control because she always interrupts and shapes the way the conversation goes. She belittles George and, Good grief, do you know anything? highlights Martha s need to feel superior. Instead of bowing under her pressure, George uses sarcasm, such as, well that was probably before my time , which Martha doesn t understand, or chooses to ignore. Another way it can be seen is that Martha initiates everything in their relationship, from what we see in the opening scene, such as inviting guests over during the night. On face value, this would appear to point towards Martha holding the power in their relationship. However, George has the ability, which he shows through humour, to undermine Martha and stop her plans
, which suggests he has the extreme power amongst the two. It would seem like the power is very much shared at the start between the two characters.
The descriptions make a difference when Martha is described as, a large, boisterous woman, 52, looking somewhat younger. Ample, but not fleshy . This is because the audience may now think of her as bossy and loud. These thoughts are in mind right throughout the encounter with George which makes the balance of power shift to Martha. George s intellectual description, afore mentioned, gives the impression that he can t handle Martha. This shows that the reader automatically links sexual persona to power by using the sexual descriptions. In this respect, it can be interpreted as to who would hold the most power in the relationship.
In, A Streetcar named Desire , the same happens but to a greater extent because the characters are much more of an extreme stereotype, almost a caricature. This is because the characters are specified in terms that the audience will relate to ceratin situations and certain people, hence making the characters in, A Streetcar named Desire more like exaggerated forms of people the audience might know. This means the impressions that we have created are much more likely to be true and there is less confusion as to who holds what power and how, as in, Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? . This is because in, Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? , the powers that the characters hold aren t initially as obvious, making it harder to form a definite opinion, immediately, the, red stained package from a butchers that Stanley carries is a sign that he is a predator and carries masculine traits. From the very first description, it is possible to formulate an accurate character profile of what Stanley will be like. Also, when Blanche arrives, it tells the reader, her delicate beauty must avoid a strong light . Again, this is very true throughout the play, as her sexuality is exposed by this metaphorical strong light, this is because she is scrutinised to a greater extent than she wishes to be, something which light does to her looks, which is also very important to her. Hence she is frustrated that she is exposed on two levels, on a literal level by strong light, and on a metaphorical level by strong light which is portrayed through a deep insight into her past, as uncovered by Stanley.
For these two characters, sex is their power, but it is implemented in totally different ways. With Stanley, he uses his sexual persona, which is a strong rough edged man, to dominate people. His domination, and ultimate power, is achieved through aggressive means often resulting in violence upon his wife, Stella. He is portrayed as a very emotionally charged person who likes to talk in brutal terms, as displayed by his request of, no ifs, and or buts! and because he uses violence it clarifies his position of power in the relationship. Blanche, however, uses sex and sexuality in a different way to that of Stanley, and this happens all the way through the play, even by talking of the past, up until she is exposed, when she suddenly changes and becomes repressed and unaware of her own sexuality. This is shown by the way in which she says, whoever you are – I have always depended on the kindness of strangers as if to tell the audience that she could never depend on those she loved most. She uses her apparent innocence and beauty to manipulate others for her own benefit. She flirts and flaunts her sexuality in order to achieve this. Both Mitch and the, young collector fall foul to this manipulation because they both give her exactly what she needs at that moment in the play. The constant feature being Blanche s need to know that she has power over people and, in particular, men. The young collector is seduced by Blanche s request to kiss him, just once – softly and sweetly . It is at this moment that her relationship with Mitch is exposed for what it really is. It is the power of her sexuality that she needs to feel. She certainly felt power over the young collector, and we see that this is the desired affect over Mitch. This power gives her self-comfort, knowing that she can control someone and have power over them, using sex as a tool to do this. Again, we see sex to be very strongly linked with power, and also the two ways in which sex can be used to achieve this power.
As both plays progress, we sexuality becoming more important between characters. In, A Streetcar named Desire , it is the battle of sexual power between Blanche and Stanley that is confronted. Whilst Stella isn t a particularly powerful character within the play, she is the only one who is emotionally linked with both Stanley and Blanche. In this respect, it gives her perhaps the strongest power because they are both in desperate need of her undivided attention, with Stanley needing it because he loves her and Blanche needing it for her own comfort. This is why Stanley feels threatened by Blanches arrival and ultimate competition for Stella. This battle culminates in the most vivid link between sex and power;- the rape of Blanche. It is Stanley s way of confirming his ultimate power over Blanche, and it is ironic that it should be sex that he uses to do this. The reason for that is because Blanche had always prided herself on her sexuality, so to have that exposed and her power taken away in one act was devastating. This ended Blanche s power for good and affected her mentally as well, so she left Stanley and Stella to themselves, which Stanley saw as a victory.
Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? also sees sexuality becoming more important. Throughout the play, Martha uses the threat of having sex with the, good looking Nick as her power against George. However, when this eventually happens and George seems unmoved, Martha has used her ultimate threat and her power is frustrated, along with her sexual desire for Nick, whom she brands a, flop . This automatically hands the power over to George, as he can now take control of Martha, because she knows she s powerless to do anything that will affect George as she cries, no more games! . Also, Honey s sexuality becomes an issue towards the end, as George fails to seduce her. Honey appears throughout to be timid and not sexual, and she uses this aborted sexuality to control Nick. So, when she reveals, I want a baby , it comes as a shock to the audience. This desire for a child is heavily linked to the on-going saga of the fictional child in George and Martha s relationship. This is because in reality they are unable to have children, therefore need to create one in order to confirm their sexuality, but this is flawed. The main common ground between George and Martha is the pretence that they have a child. It is a constant feature of the play and is treated as another power struggle between the couple. This is because Martha keeps talking about their son, and George, whilst feeling uncomfortable, decides to keep up the pretence as well. Martha compensates by flirting, infidelity, and finally, the fantasy child. The reason why George doesn t like keeping up the pretence is because he knows Martha is actually criticising his inability to have children and undermining his male responsibility to reproduce. However, once Martha has slept with Nick and nullified the potential threat for George, he feels like he has the power to dictate the outcome of the fantasy child, and does this by killing it. We see the power of exposing Martha s dormant sexuality as the decisive factor in swinging the balance of power in favour of George. This is ironic because the threat which Martha used was what George was always scared of, but ultimately it lead to him having more power within their relationship and not less power as he had previously feared.
Possibly the biggest dilemma between sex and power is the impact it has on people and life. Sex, in some respects within these two plays, is a microcosm of society. This is when the power of sex is only utilised in such a way that it only affects one person or one small group of people by means of a specific incident. For example, the sexual games that occur between George, Martha, Honey and Nick only works on a micro level. The reason for this being, whilst they do things that have consequences, it is confined to a small select group of people and is over within one night. However, some links between sex and power work on a macro level. In, Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? this is conveyed through Nick, who personifies the idea of creating a super-race by using science to clone a perfect human being, using himself as an example. He says, I am going to be the wave of the future , and whilst this can be seen as a joke, it destroys all variety and art, something which George stands for. In this respect, this concept would have a far greater impact on the future of society and civilisation than all the amount of sexual games, including the, fantasy child.
The same idea can be taken from, A Streetcar named Desire . The rape of Blanche would be categorised as a microcosm of society because it only affects one person and doesn t have any sexual future impact in terms of reproduction. Whilst the rape is more controversial than the pregnancy of Stella, through Stanley, it is the latter that would be classified on the macro level. This is because it has implications for the future due to a new life, and sex and power is used to have an end result, unlike some of the previous uses of the two concepts.
Overall, as illustrated in, A Streetcar named Desire and, Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? , sex and power are very closely linked. Whilst they are used for different purposes and to achieve different objectives, as seen in the two plays, they do sometimes converge until they can t be separated. Ultimately in these two plays, they appear as one idea;- power is sex, and sex is power.