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Female Oppression In A Streetcar Named Desire And A Thousand Splendid Suns

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The notion of gender is fundamental to both the texts of A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. They each centralise female characters who face oppression at the hands of their superior male counterparts as well as the pressures of surrounding society. Despite certain similarities, the unique responses of these characters are contrasting and suggest that gender conflicts can change a person’s outlook on life. Each writer draws heavily upon social contexts and the complex nature of relationships to highlight how female oppression can be presented as a fluctuation; having the power to shift based on individual situation and personal circumstances.

The oppression of females in both texts is portrayed as unpredictable, shifting between implicit and explicit often. It is clear that the male characters in both A Thousand Splendid Suns and A Streetcar Named Desire use the conventions of society to exert their power and dominate those who fall under them, notably the females. Hosseini plays on the stereotypical views and roles of women being subservient and passive as mothers and housewives to highlight the importance of societal perceptions of gender. Jalil is introduced to us in the early phases of the novel and demonstrates his acute sense of self entitlement as he firmly believes he can choose to visit his own daughter on a whim. This non-committal attitude towards family, bonds which are thought to be sacred within culture in Afghanistan, is an example of male power from the outset. It seems as if there is a conflict that comes between the duties of being a strong man and upholding the centuries old tradition of family honour as Mariam is an illegitimate child. The ill treatment that Mariam begins to experience in her premature years is implicitly shown; this gradually shifts in nature to be displayed much more outwardly. Mariam’s mother says herself, ‘like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman’ to draw attention to gender stereotypes through her own experiences with being cast out by Jalil; Nana is a bitter woman who indoctrinates her daughter with the belief that men are superior. It not only reveals the imbalance of power in Afghan society in terms of gender, but also foreshadows Mariam’s fate later in the novel. Williams similarly echoes this and portrays the central female characters as slaves to the standard conventions of society at the time. Stella is an embodiment of these views and demonstrates the fluctuating nature of female oppression through her relationship with Stanley. Women in the Old South were expected to be passive and chaste; Stella’s acceptance of the behaviours Stanley exhibits towards her illustrates this as she tolerates him with little complaint. This can be seen in …… ‘[Stanley gives a loud whack of his hand on her thigh] Sharply: “that’s not fun, Stanley.”’ It can be argued that much of A Streetcar Named Desire seeks to present the idea of female oppression as a physical abuse as well as mental torment. This shifting nature is explored by Koprince who states that ‘Stella, likewise matches the sociological profile of the battered woman; for she is essentially a submissive, self-deprecating wife who tolerates and excuses her husband’s behaviour.’ …….

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Both texts feature female characters who respond in different ways to the subjugation they each face at the hands of their oppressors. Laila becomes crafty and uses her wits to make the situation advantageous to her whereas Blanche’s character is presented as having reinvented her identity during madness to cope with trauma. Hosseini differs with Williams in the sense that the reaction does not always have to be negative. Laila arguably undergoes a transformation in character that may not have occurred otherwise. This may have been inspired by Hosseini’s other major work ‘The Kite Runner’ which focused primarily on male relationships in the Afghan community and contrasts to this novel which looks at women’s experiences. The inner strength of a woman staring at the face of oppression can be seen with Laila seeing ‘something behind this young girl’s eyes… something as hard and unyielding as a block of limestone’. This simile comparing the steely resolve behind a young girl’s eyes to a harsh mass of rock creates a powerful image in the reader’s mind of the unwieldy force of a female. Laila’s journey of personal development from a child to an independent mother who fends for her children is presented in a positive light by Hosseini which differs to Blanche. Williams crafts the character of Blanche as an extremely unstable woman who suffers greatly following her experiences with men. Her descent into insanity can be interpreted in many ways; critic Lauren Seigle describes these ambiguous presentations as ranging from ‘praising her as a fallen angel victimized by her surroundings to damning her as a deranged harlot’. Williams could have been influenced by femininity and fragility being seen as weak due to America emerging as a dominant world power at the time of writing. …….

Hosseini and Williams were both heavily influenced by the social climate at the time of writing each respective text; A Thousand Splendid Suns and A Streetcar Named Desire both draw upon the contexts of the time they were written to impact the experiences of the characters. Hosseni uses the politically challenged, war torn climate of Afghanistan to emphasise key customs that may have determined the behaviour of significant characters. He may have taken inspiration from the repressive regime in Afghanistan at the time – Taliban rule implementing a male dominated society and a strict following of traditional, oppressive ideas. Rebecca Stuhr states that Hosseini paints a ‘vivid portrait of a country shattered by a series of ideological leaders and wars imposed on it by foreign and internal forces’ to illustrate the damaging effects of a war on its people. Both Mariam and Laila have undoubtedly been altered due to experiences of war, bloodshed and death in their formative years. A Streetcar Named Desire similarly uses the concept of the American Dream that was prevalent during the time of Williams writing the play. It could be said that Stanley personifies the American Dream which contrasts to Blanche who represents the old world where class and race are still significant in society. Hosseini and Williams were both heavily influenced by the social climate at the time of writing each respective text; A Thousand Splendid Suns and A Streetcar Named Desire both draw upon the contexts of the time they were written to impact the experiences of the characters. Hosseni uses the politically challenged, war torn climate of Afghanistan to emphasise key customs that may have determined the behaviour of significant characters. He may have taken inspiration from the repressive regime in Afghanistan at the time – Taliban rule implementing a male dominated society and a strict following of traditional, oppressive ideas. Rebecca Stuhr states that Hosseini paints a ‘vivid portrait of a country shattered by a series of ideological leaders and wars imposed on it by foreign and internal forces’ to illustrate the damaging effects of a war on its people. Both Mariam and Laila have undoubtedly been altered due to experiences of war, bloodshed and death in their formative years. A Streetcar Named Desire similarly uses the concept of the American Dream that was prevalent during the time of Williams writing the play. It could be said that Stanley personifies the American Dream which contrasts to Blanche who represents the old world where class and race are still significant in society. Williams can be seen as part of the ‘Southern Gothic’ movement, characterised by a rich, even grotesque, imagination and an awareness of being part of a decaying culture. The heavy dependence on the shape of society at the time of writing suggests both authors used real life happenings to influence their personal opinions on gender perceptions and develop lead characters that reflect this.

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Female Oppression In A Streetcar Named Desire And A Thousand Splendid Suns. (2021, September 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/female-oppression-in-a-streetcar-named-desire-and-a-thousand-splendid-suns/
“Female Oppression In A Streetcar Named Desire And A Thousand Splendid Suns.” Edubirdie, 09 Sept. 2021, edubirdie.com/examples/female-oppression-in-a-streetcar-named-desire-and-a-thousand-splendid-suns/
Female Oppression In A Streetcar Named Desire And A Thousand Splendid Suns. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/female-oppression-in-a-streetcar-named-desire-and-a-thousand-splendid-suns/> [Accessed 3 Oct. 2022].
Female Oppression In A Streetcar Named Desire And A Thousand Splendid Suns [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 09 [cited 2022 Oct 3]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/female-oppression-in-a-streetcar-named-desire-and-a-thousand-splendid-suns/
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