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How The Male Characters In ‘Death Of A Salesman’ And ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ Conform To Their Society’s Concept Of Masculinity

1398 words - 6 pages

Eugene August describes Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ as a profoundly male tragedy, one in which its protagonist is destroyed by a debilitating concept of masculinity . Masculinity is of course an ambiguous term and araises a gamut of views. Willy Loman, a failed salesman, embodies the deluded values and aspirations that could be said to originate from the American Dream, which infiltrates every aspect of his life. Whilst Willy is influenced by material and consumerist success, reflecting the play’s setting in the increasingly urbanized, cosmopolitan New York, Stanley Kowalski in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ defends imperilled masculinity in his less socially progressive community of Elysian Fields by resorting to primitive male behaviour in order to assert his dominance and territory. Despite the playwrights’ portrayals of masculinity, both suggest that male behaviour is shaped by their society’s concept of masculinity in order to survive.

Despite differences in their values or aspirations, the male protagonists of both plays appear to have the same disrespectful view towards women. On the night of the Poker game, in scene 3, Stanley refuses to get up when Blanche and Stella enter the room, perhaps because as females they have wrongly intruded in their masculine game: a game of risky, high stakes that relies on luck and chance; where to succeed you cannot show emotion, mental and physical weakness. Kernan states Stanley hates Blanche and has to prove his dominance by raping her. The chronological structure of the play ironically shows how respect is only shown when Blanche is nearly entirely broken. This could imply that men are kinder towards broken, unquestioning women, although it also suggests that they are insensitive hypocrites. Even though the rape of Blanche is the ultimate extension of unchallenged male authority, Stanley may not necessarily hate Blanche but rather seeks to reassert his masculinity and dominance by raping her.

World War II saw success in the female workforce as most men were centred in active military service; however, working women posed a threat to masculinity as female self-sufficiency meant that stereotypical male providers were less vital. Since the arrival of Blanche, Stella increasingly undermines Stanley’s masculinity by humiliating him in front of his friends. She asserts too much power by calling him a drunk- animal thing, thus suggesting that he is wild and aggressive. The importance of physical strength in asserting masculinity is ignored by Willy as a weakness, but used by Stanley. As a result of this, there is the sound of a blow as Stanley’s reaction is to use his strength in order to regain control. Not only does this show the extent to which men asserted their dominance, but also how domestic violence seems to be an accepted part of everyday life in Elysian Fields as even the law appears to be on the male side . However, after Stanley punches Stella we see a complete reversal in his nature...

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