How can we describe the role of women in the play A Streetcar Named Desire?
I think that one can describe the role of women in Williams' work as complex. Tennessee Williams is such a challenging writer because he did not reduce human beings to simplistic, monochromatic individuals. He brought out so much complexity and depth to his characters, regardless of gender, that it becomes very difficult to make sweeping statements about their nature. This is by design and it is the case with women in A Streetcar Named Desire.
In such an analysis, I think that you have to immediately go to Stella and Blanche. Both sisters depict a fairly composite view of women, and of men, in general. On one hand, there is a desire to embrace something that is not there, a hope of capturing something lost, and a propensity to be crushed by the weight of one's dreams. Blanche certainly fits this and Williams uses this as an opportunity to reflect how women can represent these elements of reality.
In a social condition where so much of women's voices are silenced, Williams is able to bring out and evoke this sense of pain and suffering. Blanche experiences this in her desire to rekindle a flame of the past in so many realms that have long since been extinguished. On the other side of the coin, Williams' depiction of Stella reflects the lengths to which women and men can go in order to be practical and how to "make do" with what is there. Whereas Blanche might represent what should be or the pain of knowing that what might be can never be, Stella represents how one "gets along" in society. The sacrifices made, the trade offs endured, as well as the self-interests met are all examples of this getting along.
In presenting women in both lights, Williams is able to make clear that the role of women in both his play and society in general is a complex one and dependent on both the individual and the configuration in which the individual lives.