In A Streetcar Named Desire, discuss Williams' presentation of male and female characters in the Poker Night scene, and what it suggests about how power is shared among men and women (e.g. Blanche vs Stanley, Stella vs Stanley, Blanche vs Mitch/feminine wiles vs masculine violence/sexual politics) in New Orleans society.
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In this scene, men and women are presented as occupying different and distinct spheres, but there are crossovers between the two which are significant in terms of illustrating the balance of power in this particular household. The women, Blanche and Stella, remain in the bedroom while the men, Stanley and his friends, are playing a noisy poker game in the kitchen. The kitchen appears more of a public domain where men from outside the family can congregate, and Stanley effectively banishes the women from this space, so that they retreat to the more private area of the bedroom.
In their noisy, unrestrained, hearty poker game, the men might appear to be dominant on this night, but both the women do challenge them. Their private talk is loud enough to disturb Stanley, so that he shouts over to them: 'You hens cut out that conversation in there!' Stella defies him: 'This is my house and I’ll talk as much as I want to!' She might obediently be keeping away from the poker game but when Stanley objects to her conversation, she is quite capable of answering back. Furthermore, when Stanley gets really drunk, she demands for the poker game to break up. Stella loves her husband deeply and is portrayed as quite a gentle type throughout the play, but she does not simply lie down meekly to her husband. He might overpower her physically, as he does in this scene, when in a drunken rage he hits her, but by the end of the scene the two are once more fully reconciled. Therefore, overall, both Stanley and Stella are seen to have power in their relationship with one another, in this scene.
Blanche also challenges the power of the men in this scene, and indeed throughout her stay in the Kowalski household she is always trying to take over things, re-arranging the house to her liking and trying to influence Stella against Stanley. In this scene, however, her self-assertion against the men takes a subtler form. We can see it first of all in the symbolic way that she dresses. The men are described as wearing brilliant primary colours; similarly Blanche slips into a vivid crimson robe. But the main manifestation of her power is the feminine charm that she deploys in order to entice Mitch away from the poker game. In fact he is so taken with her that he never returns to the game, ignoring Stanley’s repeated shouts for him to re-join. She lures him from the virile pastime of a poker game into soft conversation and even gets him to dance with her after turning on the radio. This last is a real affront to Stanley’s power, and in retaliation he resorts to brute force. Thus he attempts to re-assert his domination by a show of physical male strength. But it is not just Mitch who succumbs to feminine influence; at the end of this scene, an intensely apologetic Stanley has returned to his wife in the most private and intimate sphere of all: the bed.
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