The battle of the sexes has been going on for a millennium.
The way that men and women view everything from love to children to career choices is strikingly different. Today, men and women seem to be much more in sync with these views. However, in the post-World War II era of A Streetcar Named Desire and Their Eyes Were Watching God, they are very different. Although both works of literature focus on the theme of desire, the authors deal with this topic quite differently.
For example, Blanche continues to rely on and chase after men which only leads to her unhappiness and insanity; whereas, Janie learns to control her desire as she goes through her long journey of self-discovery and new-found independence. Therefore, despite the similar theme of desire, both characters embark on a journey which takes them to opposite destinations: Blanche, an insane asylum and Janie, a whole new world of self-reliance. In the play, A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche Dubois craves attention from the opposite sex to formulate her self-worth and self-confidence. She is the stereotypical woman of the time who seems unable to exist without a man to provide for and look after her. Women during this time had no ability to live on their own because of social norms.
Blanche portrays these limitations throughout the play but particularly in her thoughts following her young husband’s death when she accepts that she will now be forced “to move on to some fresh territory” (Williams 122). This desire impacts all aspects of her life: her career, her love life, her reputation, her home and eventually her sanity. In an attempt to escape her problems, she runs away to her sister’s house hoping that Stella and her husband, Stanley, will take care of her. This is when author Tennessee Williams introduces the three key motifs: Desire, Cemeteries, and Elysian Fields, all of which portrays Blanche’s voyage to her demise. In scene one, Williams mentions these three key terms, “They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at – Elysian Fields” (Williams 117). Blanche’s journey on New Orleans’ streetcars represents the journey of her own life.
The streetcar named Desire is her first pitstop. After losing her husband, she desperately longs for love and companionship and lets his death control her own life as well. Instead of redeeming herself from her past mistakes, she continues to live in a delusional fantasy, leading a life filled with sex with random men, who never cared about her. For example, Blanche exclaims, “Yes, I had many intimacies with strangers. After the death of Allan – intimacies with strangers was all I seemed able to fill my empty heart with…” (Williams 205).
At this time, she is hence obsessed by desire which she can no longer escape. This leads her to the next streetcar, Cemeteries: an obvious symbol for death. Her promiscuous lifestyle impacts all aspects of her life: her career, her love life, her reputation, her home and eventually her sanity. Blanche portrays these limitations throughout the play but particularly in her thoughts following her young husband’s death when she accepts that she will now be forced “to move on to some fresh territory” (Williams 122). This emphasizes that her life turned into the exact opposite of what it had been. Finally, Blanche stumbles upon Elysian Fields, the name of the street where Stella and Stanley live and a Greek mythical allusion.
Specifically, it’s the mythical resting place for immortals which emphasizes how Blanche’s “immortal” fantasy finally comes to an end. While Blanche is brought to the Kowalski’s house by the car named Desire, she’s also brought there by her own personal desires. This is the precursor to the play. Her uncontrollable and excessive sexual desire destroyed her credibility, got her evicted from Belle Reve, shunned from her town, and eventually, expelled from society. Thereby, desire essentially leads to death for Blanche, via the path of desire. This truly demonstrates how much havoc and loss that her desire has caused. Blanche’s undoing is a result of her allowing her desires to take control and overcome her reason which overall conveys Williams’ message that living one’s life dependent on others to fulfill one’s desires is futile.
In Their Eyes Were Watching God, however, Zora Neale Hurston relays a different message. In the beginning of the novel, Janie had a strong desire for love with only an adolescent view until she learns many lessons through her three marriages, including the major lesson, that love actually exists. These three marriages were all different in their own ways, but they all aid in Janie’s maturity and illustrate her quest for independence. Unlike Blanche’s journey, Janie had a positive outcome. In her first marriage to Logan Killicks, she learns that she must love in order to marry not the other way around. Through her marriage to Jody Starks, Janie realizes that she is not an object for a man to belittle and possess. Finally, Janie declares that Tea Cake could be a “bee to a blossom — a pear tree blossom in the spring” (Hurston 101). After Tea Cake, Janie would not have the need to love again.
Tea Cake had that position filled and he always will, alive or dead. By having Janie chase after her desire to find her one true love, Hurston emphasizes that following your desire can lead to other good things such as the knowledge and power of independence and self-discovery. In the end, the authors Hurston and Williams deal differently with the journey their characters take to obtain their heart’s desire. Hurston chooses to portray Janie as a strong, independent woman who eventually finds her self worth without the dependence on men; whereas, Williams depicts Blanche as the cliche damsel-in-distress who must rely on the power of men in order to survive.
Hurston characterizes Janie as capable and courageous while Williams’ character, Blanche is shown to have made many wrong, deceitful decisions leading to her destruction.