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Women and Desire: the Unwillingness of Society to Permit Desire in Women

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Fulfillment of desire has always been a popular theme in novels, plays and short stories because it has been undeniable and problematic in women throughout history. Novels such as The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, as well as plays like A Streetcar Named Desire and "Portrait of a Madonna," by Tennessee Williams, often show what society would ensure happened to these women if they were ever to follow through and try to fulfill their desires, be them sexual desires or otherwise. According to this novels and plays, women that strive to fulfill their desires eventually come to a tragic end because the society cannot permit a woman to liberate herself from the stigma of the repressed desire without also letting go of the social status that this repressed desire imparts them. Society states that if a woman indulges in these desires without restriction, then she will be banished from her social status and perceived as polluted and unworthy.

Even at the very beginning of A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams sets the tone by having Blanche relate to Eunice the means of transportation that she took in order to get to her sister's apartment. "They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and transfer to one called Cemeteries, and ride six blocks and get off at--Elysian Fields!" (Williams 1980). The name of the street is an obvious allegation to Greek mythology where Elysian Fields is the name of the land of the dead. The journey that Blanche takes is a version of her own life where taking the road of desire has led her to social death, or rather, the expulsion from her home town of Laurel, Mississippi, and has brought her to this strange afterlife where her illusions no longer protect her and she is forced to face her reality. Blan...


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...d respectability, as did Arobin in The Awakening. In the end it is the people who are in power themselves that punish those who dare indulge their desires instead of following the already established rules of conduct. It is these people who are in charge of out-casting.

Works Cited

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. The Northon Anthology of American Literature, Sixth Edition, Volume C. Ronald Gottesman and Arnold Krupat. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003. 633-723.

Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Sixth Edition, Volume E. Jerome Klinkowitz, William Pritchard, Patricia Wallace and David Kalstone. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003. 1911-1983.

Williams, Tennessee. "Portrait of a Madonna." 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Other One-Act Plays. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2003. 89-104.


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