Race, Class and Gender in Post WWII America

I thought Kyle’s concept of critiquing class differences in the post World War II era was really interesting. We talked a bit about the historical context in class (nice citation ;), but I think it’s interesting that he pose the aftermath of WWII as a time when class distinctions were eliminated completely. Although this is probably beside the play itself, WWII had different effects for different nationalities of immigrants. WWII is often seen as the event that unified the America of immigrants- for the “white” races. Especially in urban areas, groups like Polish immigrants, and, especially up north more, the Irish, returned home from WWII and, after fighting side by side with the ‘old stock’ Americans, like Ms. “French by extraction” DuBois herself, were finally allowed to be assimilated as Americans. On the other hand, African Americans were even further marginalized by the war. Blacks fought the same war, but in segregated regiments, and had a very difficult time assimilating back to Jim Crow America, where, after fighting two of America’s wars, they still could not use the same public restrooms. It is no coincidence that the Civil Rights Movement followed directly on the heels of WWII. To return to “Streetcar”, however, I agree completely with Kyle that WWII eliminated previous class distinctions, but I think it is important to realize that radicalized class distinctions were still present.

Kyle also quotes, “With the return of the male workforce from the War with government payments, there was a huge expansion of the American middle class; which is where the Kowalskis fit in (Richards, 11/22/10).” It was the male workforce that returned home and displaced the female workforce that has undoubtedly been working in their absence. What was Stella doing? We can guess that she, like the rest of Rosie the Riveter America, was doing her part. So why is she as submissive as she is now? Why, after having to get on without Stanley for so long, is she the weak-willed character we see? I also think that the absence of the men in during the War might have something to do with Blanche’s pedophilia- she had an affair with a seventeen year old student. Seventeen- just young enough to avoid the draft. Is her pursuit of younger men not as disturbing as we think it is, but merely just a means to an end- there were literally no other men for her to choose from? Also, involving herself with a younger man would help Blanche cement herself in the America or in the South of tomorrow- as far away from the past and failures of Belle Reve as she can get.

4 Responses to “Race, Class and Gender in Post WWII America”

  1. kfabie says:

    I’m not sure leaving home and getting a job would automatically rid Stella of her dependencies on a man. It might have made her lonely for a time, but the character trait could easily outlast a few years of Stanley, or other men, being away. Her neediness and wishy-washy personality were there before the war, and still there after. There were many women who did procure a great deal of independence during the war, doing jobs that were previously only available to men. And many of them had difficulty giving up those responsibilities when the men returned. But I would guess that most of them were women who were independent thinkers before the war, and the war effort just gave them the opportunity to do the jobs they were capable of all along. Unfortunately, most of them had to give those jobs up when the men came home.
    As for Blanche, I’ve always interpreted her not so much as a pedophile, but as being delusional about her own attractiveness and attempting to recapture her lost youth. I think in her mind, she is still the lovely young girl she thought she was at seventeen. So it makes sense that she would find it difficult to resist a man of any age. Steamy New Orleans aside, I think it is Blanche that makes this a ‘Southern’ play, as she is in many ways the quintessential, stereotypical, Southern belle.

    • meganne says:

      I agree about Blanche. Kathleen’s point about her “being delusional about her own attractiveness and attempting to recapture her lost youth” could be considered Blanche’s downfall just as much as her alcoholism in the papers we read for today’s (Tuesday) discussion. Blanche’s delusions are very similar to Amanda’s delusions in “The Glass Menagerie,” Williams’ first play. Like Blanche, Amanda often thinks of herself as the young woman with seventeen gentlemen callers on a Sunday afternoon and goes so far as to become that flighty young woman again, in manner, dress, and speech, when Jim arrives “to call on” her daughter, Laura (who poses an interesting connection to Juliana’s paper about disability studies; I use the quotes because Jim thinks that rather than calling on Laura, he’s having dinner with a friend, Tom–Amanda’s son). If Williams has these two characters being delusional about their youth and attractiveness, then what are we supposed to think he’s saying about Southern culture? That those attempting to become the new America or the new South are ultimately indicted, maybe even parodied, because they can never fully remove themselves from the old South (in a sense becoming ”you can take her out of the old South, but you can’t take the old South out of her”)?

      • lcutler says:

        Williams’ ends his play writing career in the early 1980s, but the course of our literature ends in 1947 with Streetcar. If the prevailing role of the female lead demonstrates that “you can take her out of the old South, but you can’t take the old South out of her”, and I agree with Kathleen and Meganne that it does, what happens to the old South/new South over the next 60 years of American history. As the country becomes increasingly globalized, is there even a contemporary “new South”? Do delusions and nostalgia for the old South today still have a role in any sort of regional identity. Sociologically, historically, there are definitely ills that distinctively, plague the south- poverty is still higher in the regions once considered the old deep South and, as demonstrated with the recent events of Hurricane Katrina, among others, race is still an issue. I think it was 2009 that the last segregated high school prom made an appearance in the national media- the high school was located in the heart of Mississippi. So if social ills that have been plaguing the South for centuries still exist, is there still a voice for that Old Southern culture, and all of its problems and nostaliga for the good ol’ plantation days, in contemporary literature? Professor Richards, this is especially a question for you- why do we end in 1947? And where is Southern literature today?

  2. kylehoff says:

    In response, the thesis of my paper was originally going to be about “race” instead of class, with the “French” Blanche stooping to the level of the Polack, who are “less highbrow than the Irish,” and the inclusion of Pablo (?) at the poker game. But the class dichotomy was more obvious to me in the play, so I went with that. Certainly had Williams added an African American figure, the class dichotomy would have stood, but a racial one could have been more difficult.