Torvald and Stanley: Unfit Husbands

         If I were to teach a course on relationships to a group of adolescents or young adults, I would use In Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play A Doll's House, filmed twice in 1973 by Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland, respectively, and Tennessee Williams' 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire, filmed in 1951 by Elia Kazan, as negative examples. Both works portray women as insufficient human beings and glorify the male characters.

         In A Doll's House, Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom) and Torvald (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins) have been married for years but never really come to know each other. The couple lack communication. For a relationship to be successful, its constituents must be open and honest with each other. Nora is trapped in a smothering marriage for many years. Torvald may have loved her, but it is impossible for him to be in love with her since he never came to know her; this is not a healthy relationship for either individual. They do not get the fulfillment or companionship they need in a relationship. Even in the book, Nora and Torvald need someone else since they do not fulfill each other's needs. Their middle man is Dr. Rank (Trevor Howard/Ralph Richardson). Nora and Torvald both divulge their innermost thoughts to their good friend, Dr. Rank. Without Dr. Rank in the picture, I believe they would not be as content. Dr. Rank fulfills their need for a companion.

         Torvald not only lacks communication skills with his wife, he also fails to recognize her competency. Nora is an extremely competent woman. She financially supports her family behind her husband's back. Torvald brings her cute gifts and pretty dresses while referring to her as a little skylark. Torvald never has a serious conversation with his wife until the truth has been revealed. Torvald does not give his wife enough credit. He treats her as an ignorant little girl who is expected to play the role of perfect little housewife. In a relationship, each individual has to give their partner the credit he or she deserves. Being looked down upon by one's significant other is unhealthy for the relationship.

         In Elia Kazan's 1951 film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, written for the stage in 1947 by Tennessee Williams, Stanley is abusive, disrespectful, and a cheater, elements which are not present in a healthy relationship. Whenever Stella (Kim Hunter) tries to correct her husband, he shuts her down immediately, telling her that it is not her place. One night while Stanley is playing poker with his friends, he treats Stella and Blanche (Vivien Leigh) like subhuman beings.

         Stanley is disrespectful toward the women in front of his guests. This situation is very condescending to the women. Stanley has a terrible temper and often abuses Stella but then makes it all better with sex. The sex is the only thing healthy in their relationship. If great sex is the only thing a relationship has to offer, it is not worth staying in. No woman deserves to be hit by her significant other. Stella is sucked into believing that it is not Stanley's fault: "He just likes to hit things." So many women get sucked in to abusive relationships and think such behavior is acceptable, but it is not acceptable. Abuse may generate long-term effects in the victims.

         Stanley is not only disrespectful and abusive, he is also a cheater; and like the saying goes, "Once a cheater, always a cheater." Humans are creatures of pattern. Patterns may be broken, but they are generally continuous. Stanley cheats on Stella by raping her sister, Blanche. Who is to say that he will not do it again? Rape is a serious crime that, in the modern world, may lead to imprisonment. Stella should not have taken this situation lightly. She should have further investigated it before making up her mind that it probably was not true. Stella is sucked into this sexually gratifying relationship and is too blind to leave. Women need to realize that certain situations, such as cheating and rape, are not acceptable in healthy, loving relationships.

         Women are not insufficient human beings and should not have to accept condescending situations. A Doll's House and A Streetcar Named Desire both portray unhealthy relationships. These two works should be looked at as negative examples of relationships.

Jill Pierce

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