The two main characters in both “Streetcar” & “Virginia Woolf” give an amazing portrayal of males trying to remain dominant in an environment where a female character is trying to “rule the roost”. Their upbringings are entirely different in both character and education, however their overall goals throughout both plays is the same; to assert their authority in their own domain. Stanley Kowalski has to deal with the aging spinster in the form of Blanche DuBois, who challenges him in many ways.
She pushes his buttons in such a way that cause him to lash out, in the end with dramatic consequences. When she witnesses, or rather overhears, Stanley striking Stella she reacts as any woman does, however she does not until later realise that Stanley’s love for Stella knows no boundaries, she views his actions as barbaric and cannot comprehend how Stella could take him back into her arms lovingly with no qualms or major reactions to him striking her, especially whilst pregnant.
Stanley has been raised to be a man’s man, to fight for your rights and to be the man of the house at all times, his attitude towards women could be called brutish by some but he has been conditioned to have this attitude by his childhood. His love for his wife is unconditional even though he sometimes treats her with a little less respect than she deserves. His view is that women were put on this planet to serve the needs of men, to cook, clean and provide a womb for a man’s child.
His love is only matched by his anger when pushed to a limit where he will explode, he sees no issue with occasionally striking his wife in order to “put her in her place” and even though by today’s standards that would be considered domestic abuse, during the time period and environment in which this play is set it was somewhat overlooked by the law; a man made the laws in his own home. His education could not be considered to be learned, by his own admission when he first meets Blanche he tells her: “I never was a very good English student”
He has learnt life skills and essential points of knowledge from growing up hard and fast, however throughout the play he does express opinions in a way that would portray him to be more educated than he lets on by using certain terms that would not be heard by the friends he associates with who have been raised in the same way as him; this could be down to Tennessee Williams’ education which has bled through his writing and given Stanley an air of education that was not intended or a subtle hint at Stanley’s true education that could put him slightly higher than then company he keeps.
. Stanley’s knowledge of the “Napoleonic Code” is something that can be dwelled upon, whether or not it was common knowledge during the age in which this play was set is a major point of interest. If it was not common knowledge that in the state of Louisiana, what belonged to a woman also belonged a man, and vice versa, then this could be an example of Williams’ worldly knowledge being echoed within the character of Stanley.
From a personal point of view I was aware that during a marriage the term “what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours” as it is often the cause of messy divorces, hence why a prenuptial agreement is often set in place at the start of a marriage in order to avoid one party taking more than they are entitled to if the worst should happen and they end up divorcing. Stanley uses this “code” to contest the fact that Stella and Blanche’s estate, Belle Reve, being “lost” due to Blanche’s actions.
He feels he should be entitled to half of the proceeds of the sale and challenges Blanche to produced a bill of sale and explain to him why there is no money. One cannot blame Stanley for wanting to know why there wasn’t an equal share that by all rights should have been given to Stella and himself; they are living in a relatively poor area in poor conditions. His love for Stella being what it is, it is not wrong for him to want to give her a better life than the one that she lives in now, as well as wanting to provide a safe, clean and prosperous upbringing for his first child with Stella.
When he finds out that there was no money obtained by Blanche when Belle Reve was “lost” he becomes angry and believes that she has spent it all on expensive furs and the like, this is the starting point for their rivalry and coupled with Blanche’s attitude towards Stanley throughout the rest of the play and her lack of appreciation towards his hospitality, is the pinnacle point that leads to Stanley’s brutal attack on her in the crucial tenth scene. George has come from a completely different upbringing.
He has been raised to maintain the proper etiquette at all times if possible, something he tries to do throughout most of the play only losing it on a few occasions. His is viewed as being a charming man who has to deal with the lunacies of his wife who continuously tests the boundaries of his anger. It seems that he is mostly dominated by his wife as she is a much more overpowering character; she would not be hard to miss in a crowd whereas George would more than likely be able to slip by in life relatively unnoticed.
During the play, George is forced to deal with the overactive imagination of his wife, the rampant advances of a career advancement seeking guest found in Nick and his poor delusional partner of Honey, George attempts to maintain an acceptable level of realism during the play until he finally shatters Martha’s world by killing their “son” which she has been building up and up in her mind; giving life to the imaginary.
Nick provides a challenging equal throughout the play, giving George the opportunity to banter with a man who is of an equal standard in life, albeit of a much younger age. Nick’s drive in life is to get ahead as much as he can by doing whatever he can, he sees an opportunity in Martha, thinking that if he sleeps with the bosses daughter then his career could be advanced considerably; he does not see this act as one that he can miss up the opportunity to overcome in order to further his career.
Throughout the evening George has to deal with his wife’s illusions and the fact that they draw in two unsuspecting bystanders, her obscene intake of alcohol and being belittled by both his wife and his guest, however having his wife targeted as a “career advancement” is the final act which pushes him over the edge and causes him to shatter the reality of both his wife, by destroying the lie that she has let engulf her for so long, and Nick and Honey’s seemingly perfect marriage, revealing the true nature of Nick to Honey.
It is hard for me to decided on a preference with regards to which main male character has a more powerful effect on the other characters in the plays selected here. Both male characters have different obstacles to deal with during the portion of their lives we are invited to view in each respective work of fiction. Stanley has an interfering sister-in-law who causes friction between himself and his wife and upsets their otherwise perfect life, whilst George has to contend with an advancement seeking guest and his oblivious wife and his own wife who lives in a self made dream world.
Upon consideration I would say that George’s actions on the night portrayed in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” would be more devastating than Stanley’s, not to imply that Stanley’s actions are not without their devastating repercussions. George’s actions bring his wife Martha to a realisation in herself, one that no doubt has saved a portion of their marriage from continual torment and have also destroyed the otherwise happy union of a young couple. He uses his intelligence rather than his brutality to do this and I feel from a personal view point that his actions show us that violence does not always solve problems.