Blanche, Stella and Eliza: Brainwashed by Men

         There were many film and book combinations that would fall into a particular agenda if I were to teach a film and literature course. However, if I were to teach a section on women's issues, I definitely would choose the 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams and the 1951 film, A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Eliza Kazan, along with the 1956 play, My Fair Lady, written by Alan J. Lerner and based on George Bernard Shaw's 19l3 Pygmalion, along with the musical film, directed by George Cukor in 1964.

         Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh), a main character struggled with many women's issues, including having a strong dependence on men and self-confidence problems due to the dependence she has on men. Her sister, Stella (Kim Hunter), also had a strong dependency on a man, Stanley Kowalsky (Marlon Brando--a man that physically and verbally abused her but always begged for forgiveness. Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) dealt with many women's issues, including her social status and her somewhat dependency on a specific man. It seemed as if Eliza was frowned upon by many people because she was poorly educated and less sophisticated than other women at the time, especially in Professor Henry Higgins' (Rex Harrison) "world." All of these characters dealt with women's issues, specifically forming a dependency on men.

         Blanche DuBois was an English schoolteacher in Laurel (Oriel in the film), Mississippi, where she was kicked to the curb when the administration found out that she was having sexual relations with a teenage student. Blanche decided to stay with her sister, Stella (Kim Hunter), in a two-bedroom apartment in New Orleans--not to mention also with Stella's abusive husband, Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando). It was a tight squeeze for this not-so-close family. At this point, Blanche started to reveal her self-confident problems and her dependency on men basically without even mentioning a word. Her actions definitely said it all.

         The minute Blanche walked through the door, she was already checking herself out in the mirror. It was as if one of her weaknesses was her paranoia about her looks. Stella insisted that Stanley make a positive comment about Blanche's appearance. Why did Blanche care so much about her appearance? Again, it was her dependency on men.

         I believe both Blanche and Stella had a strong dependency on men. They believed having a man was the only way they could achieve happiness. Blanche had been married before; however, her husband had committed suicide. I know Blanche was upset about the death of her husband, although she did not mourn the death that long. She already was moving on to her next prey. During this time period, there were many restrictions placed on women's lives, and I believe these restrictions made women believe they could not live without a man. A man was suppose to love, protect, and care for his woman; but Blanche never really found such a man, which drove her to insanity.

         In today's society, it is known that a woman can survive without a man. I wish Blanche and even Stella would have known that at the time. Stella stayed with Stanley time after time, even when he had beaten her and verbally abused her. I realize Stanley was a very nice-looking man and Stella enjoyed their sexual chemistry; however, was it worth it?-definitely not. At the end of the film, Stella takes her young child and runs upstairs as a sign she is not going to return. However, I believe she will return in just a matter of hours to her husband where he will beg once again for forgiveness. I just wish I could shake some sense into these women and let them know they can live without a man!

         I believe Eliza Doolittle, the main character in the play and film, My Fair Lady, deals with many women's issues of her time. Eliza was an uneducated and poor Cockney-speaking flower girl who happened to run into Professor Henry Higgins, a sophisticated, self-confident linguistic teacher. Like Blanche, Eliza was also in a time period when men dominated women. When Eliza asked Higgins for lessons to improve her speech, he basically laughed in her face. Now if a woman had done that to a man, it would have been intolerable. Higgins then proceeded to tell Eliza that she would stay with him for six months and become transformed into a proper, educated and elegant lady for the society ball.

         Higgins was a very selfish pig who treated the woman in his life like a doll. Higgins trained Eliza to speak, dress, and act properly. It was as though she was learning new tricks, one after the other. Higgins frowned upon Eliza's social status and level of education toward the beginning of the play and the film. At the time, Eliza was smart enough to realize she did not need a man to achieve happiness. However, somehow Higgins embedded something into her mind that would make her run back in the end. Was it the social status she achieved when staying with Higgins? Or was it her dependency on Higgins?

         I believe Eliza enjoyed depending on Higgins. When she claimed to be leaving for good as she found out about Higgins' selfish bet, she ended up running back to him. I wish I could tell her that she could make it on her own, but some part of her thinks she knows that.

         All in all, I believe Blanche, Stella and Eliza were three characters that could be related to women's issue if I were teaching a film-and-literature class. Blanche, and even her sister Stella, were extremely dependent on men because society basically told them they needed a man to survive. Eliza, at the beginning, was poorly educated and was part of a lower social class, which society somewhat frowned upon. She was a strong woman in the beginning of the film but lost that strength when Higgins came into her life.

         Blanche, Stella, and Eliza ended up conforming to what society thought, which was depending on men. As a woman, I wish I could tell them they do not need a man in their lives and that they can survive on their own.

Melanie Brewer

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