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Streetcar Named Desire Tennessee Williams and Room by Emma Donoghue Comparative Essay

Updated on November 22, 2017

Prompt: Power and control are major themes in both ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and ‘Room’. Do you agree? Discuss

Whilst a range of themes and ideas are explored within the play ‘A Streetcar named desire’ by Tennessee Williams and the novel ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue, the idea of power and control is deeply embedded in both texts. Through the depiction of characters Old Nick and Stanley, we are confronted with two men; one violent, the other a sociopath who seeks to dominate their environments and those around them. Protagonists, Blanche and Ma, both vulnerable women are placed in situations where they are powerless and are forced to surrender to their male counterparts. Powerlessness and the need to dominate are integral to both texts.

Williams and Donoghue both exemplify the theme of power and control through their depiction of characters such as Old Nick and Stanley. Both these antagonists are portrayed as domineering and aggressive by other characters; At many times during the play Blanche refers to Stanley as ‘subhuman’, a ‘brute’ and ‘an ape’. These assertions are proved to be true in the final moments of the play where Stanley claims that he had ‘this date’ with Blanche ‘from the beginning’, just before he sexually assaults her and shatters her last effort at maintaining an illusion in order to survive. He also acts quite violently, as shown to the audience by the stage directions, as he is seen in the very beginning holding a ‘package of meat’ over his shoulder which is very suggestive of a primitive man, fresh from a kill. Similarly, Old Nick’s domineering manner is depicted to us through his constant need to control Jack and Ma’s life within Room. We, as an audience, are given a limited view of Old Nick as the novel is told through the eyes of a five-year-old boy, but we are able to infer meaning through the little information provided to us due to Jack’s narrative voice which has the flavour of a small child but the coherence of an older person. Through the small gap in Wardrobe, Jack hears ‘213 creaks’ ‘before silence’, and readers are able to recognize Old Nick’s controlling nature as the ‘creaks’ imply that he sexually assaults Ma every night. Clearly, readers can draw a connection between Stanley and Old Nick, as they both seek to dominate those who are in a vulnerable position.

Blanche and Ma are central female characters who are both placed in a situation where they are trapped and forced to submit and depend on, these dominant male figures in order to stay alive. Blanche, a faded southern belle, who we are told at the beginning of the play, has ‘lost belle Reve’ and her husband ‘Allan’, has no other choice but to live with her sister Stella, as she ‘can’t be left alone’. Her unstable mental state is also a reason why she believes she needs to be surrounded by others, where she can perhaps forget the ‘guilt’ associated with Allan’s death. So, in order to stay with Stella, Blanche realizes that she must accept Stanley’s aggressive mannerisms, as well as his ‘poker nights’ which seem much like a ‘party of apes’ in her eyes. In this sense, we can compare Blanche’s submission to Stanley’s dominating nature, to Ma’s imprisonment in Room, as she is forced to live under the control of a sociopath who is unpredictable and controlling in his actions. Ma, who is concerned about her own survival as well as that of Jack, has to succumb to Old Nick’s demands, as in Room, Old Nick is in control of everything. Despite Ma’s attempt to shield Jack from her captor, we see that Jack starts to perceive Old Nick as someone who gives them sustenance and takes care of them even though it is clear to the audience that the truth is completely on the contrary. Evidently, the audience can draw a parallel between Ma and Blanche as they are both women who are powerless against these dominating men, and who must submit to them in order to survive.


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