English

Punishment in Desire: Studying Sexuality Non-Conforming to the Heteronormative and Traditional Culture of the Twentieth Century in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

Summer Manders

Description/Abstract

The 1947 play “A Streetcar Named Desire” was written by Tennessee Williams and famous for its controversial themes such as mental illness, sexuality, and violence. This contentious commentary even brought censorship to the 1951 film adaption by removing the homosexual nature of Blanche Dubois’ husband, Allan Gray. Unlike any other text in the early twentieth century, the plot of “A Streetcar Named Desire” consists of non-traditional sex and sexuality, a construct that was strictly silenced at that time. However, the topic is important in the lives of each character as they utilize it in different ways, explaining the psychology in their actions and beliefs. The 1940’s setting is relevant to the context of the play in which sexuality outside of the heteronormative, traditional culture is prohibited.

Philosopher Michel Foucault states that “pleasure and power do not cancel or turn back against one another; they seek out, overlap, and reinforce one another.” This idea is strongly demonstrated in protagonist Blanche as she defies the societal expectations of tradition by living an extremely promiscuous life. Her use of sexuality seems radical until it reveals her use of sex as an unhealthy coping mechanism at the expense of underage boys, and this implication of pedophilia creates a perverse image for the progression of women’s sexual freedom. This essay will examine the role of sex in the lives of the characters and argue that the reoccurring theme of punishing non-traditional sex and sexuality reinforces America’s sexist views in the twentieth century.

 
Mar 13th, 10:00 AM Mar 13th, 11:00 AM

Punishment in Desire: Studying Sexuality Non-Conforming to the Heteronormative and Traditional Culture of the Twentieth Century in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

Nesbitt 2211

The 1947 play “A Streetcar Named Desire” was written by Tennessee Williams and famous for its controversial themes such as mental illness, sexuality, and violence. This contentious commentary even brought censorship to the 1951 film adaption by removing the homosexual nature of Blanche Dubois’ husband, Allan Gray. Unlike any other text in the early twentieth century, the plot of “A Streetcar Named Desire” consists of non-traditional sex and sexuality, a construct that was strictly silenced at that time. However, the topic is important in the lives of each character as they utilize it in different ways, explaining the psychology in their actions and beliefs. The 1940’s setting is relevant to the context of the play in which sexuality outside of the heteronormative, traditional culture is prohibited.

Philosopher Michel Foucault states that “pleasure and power do not cancel or turn back against one another; they seek out, overlap, and reinforce one another.” This idea is strongly demonstrated in protagonist Blanche as she defies the societal expectations of tradition by living an extremely promiscuous life. Her use of sexuality seems radical until it reveals her use of sex as an unhealthy coping mechanism at the expense of underage boys, and this implication of pedophilia creates a perverse image for the progression of women’s sexual freedom. This essay will examine the role of sex in the lives of the characters and argue that the reoccurring theme of punishing non-traditional sex and sexuality reinforces America’s sexist views in the twentieth century.