As the prior lesson examined male dominance through the characterization of Stanley, this lesson examines the social roles of women in post-war America. Blanche and Stella are a far cry from the Rosie the Riveter character--the model of the ideal woman during America's participation in World War II. Both women in this play are dependent on men in order to survive and provide for themselves. We will explore the roles of women in post-war America through a mini research project in which students will explore social expectations of women during this period. My experience has been that girls often become horrified that the expectation was for women to be subservient to men. Women were expected to exist solely in the private sphere as men were masters of the public sphere. Career opportunities for women were relegated to a few acceptable professions. This concept is completely foreign to students. The Common Core alignment is the use of technology and the Internet to find reputable sources to support this project.
In this section, I give students vocabulary words for the second part of the play. In this activity, students will create a flashcard made out of oaktag. They will put the word and definition on one side of the card along with the Latin/Greek root, synonym, connotation, and use in a sentence. On the other side, they will create or paste a graphic that describes the word's meaning. Each students will be assigned one word from the list. This activity is done for homework and submitted the next day. For the first ten minutes of class, I flip through the flashcards as a way to review the words.
In this part of the lesson, my goal is to help students understand why Stella and Blanche must seek the security of a husband in order to survive in the world. So far in the play, we have discussed why Stella would stay with Stanley after he beats her while she lives in very modest accommodations, a far cry from the affluence she lived in at Belle Reve. Fortunately, many of my students are not aware of the restricting social roles that women maintained in post-war America. A woman's reliance on men is a predominant theme in Streetcar and something many students may not be able to see intuitively because women's social roles in the twenty-first century have changed dramatically since the 1950s.
To introduce this essay, I show a quick clip from the movie Mona Lisa Smile. (I apologize for the subtitles.) The movie takes place at Wellesley College in 1953. In the movie, a progressive college professor played by Julia Roberts confronts the social roles that women of this period were expected to fill. At one point, she accuses Wellesley of being a finishing school disguised as a college. This assignment will take the form of a 1-2 page essay in which students will research and discuss the social roles of women in the 1950s and use examples from research and the play to support their ideas. (I have included three examples from the play to prompt students. My experience has been that these roles are so foreign to students that they have difficulty envisioning what they look like.) The research part of the asignment should be performed in a library or computer lab. Students will also discuss the forms of escape and illusion Blanche creates in order to cope with her failure in achieving these social expectations. Finally, students will compare and contrast the social roles of women in post-war America to the twenty-first century. My goal is for students to see that women are more educated and free to pursue any career in addition to having the choice of marrying and raising a family. These choices were not available to women sixty years ago. The second part of the assignment is for students to recognize reliable sources. They should seek a source that is affiliated with the media, an educational institution, or other reputable organization. Wikipedia is not a reliable source.
The research will take place in one class period. I usually give students a week to complete the paper. I have included some reputable links below. Students must use a minimum of three sources. Please refer to the assignment outline attached for more specific information.
To help students begin envisioning scenes without my prompting and support, they will spend the remainder of the period silently reading Scene Nine. They will finish the remainder for homework. In this section, I want them to look closely at Mitch's treatment of Blanche after he learns of her reputation in Laurel. I want students to notice that Stanley's information on Blanche has soiled her reputation and expectation of the purity that a woman should espouse in the 1950s. When Blanche cannot fit into that expectation, she is no longer desirable emotionally to Mitch. She is not "clean ehough." However, he still desires her physically. Mitch's reaction plays into the double standard that was prevalent back then and many believe still exists today.
We will discuss these points in the next class.