How the Male Characters in ‘Death of a Salesman’ and ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ Conform to their Society’s Concept of Masculinity

How the Male Characters in ‘Death of a Salesman’ and ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ Conform to their Society’s Concept of Masculinity

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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 ...


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...o him with pejorative and radically charged terms such as swine and polak. Therefore it could be said Stanley cannot be blamed for protecting his marriage; however by raping his sister-in-law, surely his defensiveness goes too far and, ironically, he proves Blanche’s point of his animal-like behaviour. Eddie is also intent on preserving his honour as he demands, I want my name back after the other characters lose their respect of him when he betrays the immigrants. Having a bad name is also shown to have a negative impact in ‘Death of a Salesman.’ This is illustrated with Willy’s fantasy of the crowd shouting Loman because for Willy this shows his popularity and people’s appreciation and admiration for what he has done; ironically, however, a crowd chanting merely underlines his inferiority, as if the name is naturally tainted and associated with Willy’s failures.

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