Tennessee Williams’ Memories
Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams on March 26, 1911 in Columbus Mississippi (“Tennessee Williams”). His mother and maternal grandparents helped raise him and his sister while their father traveled for work. The family would move to St. Louis in 1923, to be with his father and this is where his writing career as a poet, a novelist, a playwright, and a short story writer would begin. While working on his writings he also took on a variety of other jobs. Mr. Williams choked to death on February 25, 1983 in New York following years of mental instability and drug and alcohol abuse. He lived a long life of personal instability while accomplishing great feats with his writing. The troubling life of Tennessee Williams is reflected in the many works he published in his lifetime. Three examples of work where the reader can find elements of his life in them are Battle of Angels, The Glass Menagerie, and A Streetcar Named Desire.
Tennessee Williams’ life is reflected in many of his works and characters through his personal life experiences, his relationships with his family, and through his own personal thoughts that caused him great strife. After suffering a breakdown in 1935 he decided to devote his life to writing and by 1940 he penned his first work, Battle of Angels. This play is filled with similarities to Mr. Williams life and personal experiences. It takes place in Mississippi the birth place of Williams. Looking at Mr. Williams’ life one can see the resemblance of the virile young drifter and the author. They both took odd jobs, traveled, and often take second fiddle to the women in their lives. The leading female character in this play is eager to be with the drifter as her husband lie dying in their apartment (Blackwell 13). Over the course of Williams’ career, he wrote essays, letters, memoirs, music lyrics, original screen plays. Some were very controversial and banned in his early career. One of the plays that was banned was the Battle of Angels. It failed in Boston and was later banned. One of his successful plays was: “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone”, which was later made into a move staring Warren Beatty.
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This was a spring forward and he then also produced three volumes of short stories. At this point he had achieved a larger audience than before. This created a better stage and spot light onto his life, his experiences, and what he really wanted everyone to know and understand. These were all great achievements for Tennessee Williams at this point, however his work from 1940’s to the 1960’s are his major writings. “These included Glass Menagerie, Summer and Smoke, A Street Car Named Desire, The Rose Tattoo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Orpheus Descending, Suddenly Last Summer, Sweet Bird of Youth, and The Night of the Iguana” (Adler, et al 5). These writings are what Williams is well known for and some of which resonate within communities even today. The Glass Menagerie is about a dysfunctional family coping with life in a St Louis tenement. While Mr. Williams authored this work in the mid 1940s, it takes place during the 1820s to 1860s, Antebellum period, and centers around family relations. The characters resemble that of his actual family, and it is often considered a semiautobiographical piece. Many feel the play is about Amanda or Laura, but in reality, it is all about Tom, his feelings, and memories (King 208). Tennessee’s father was often traveling for work when he was younger and in the play the father figure is absent. The girl in The Glass Menagerie suffers from the control of her mother and suffers from an emotional and physical disability. This character can be closely compared to Tennessee’s sister who suffered from schizophrenia.
The mother in the play is a single southern woman raising two children which is similar to his own mother. The family in the Glass Menagerie resemble Mr. Williams’ and though it is not listed as a biographical story, it does have a great similarity to people in his own life. A Streetcar Named Desire is about an aging Southern belle fleeing from her checkered past and dying husband. Blanche tries to woo her sister’s husband away from her, but the plan is foiled. This play takes place during the 20th century, roughly the 1940s in Louisiana and centers around interpersonal relations and sexuality. Mr. Williams authored this piece in 1947. “It expresses his homosexuality, which he later examines in great detail in his memoirs and is a common element in a number of his plays” (Adler, et al 4). Through many of the characters in Williams’ portrayals there is an underlying goal to find the right person. This does not always come without great adversity in his experiences. Some of the adverse situations involved people in his life that had become accustomed to a different kind of normal that most would run away from at the first glance. He portrays this aspect with some roles that show “Women who have learned to be maladjusted through adjustment to abnormal family relationships and who strive to break through their bondage in order to find a mate” (Blackwell 10).
One of these women roles that he portrays is named “Anne Winemiller in Summer and Smoke (1948)” (Blackwell 10). This character transforms from what is perceived as a spoiled wife of a preacher that does not take much responsibility as her role would expect. There are external factors that change her life in ways that were not expected such as her mother having a mental break down and moving in with her. She was finding herself in a role as mother to her mother and not wanting anything to do with her father. This kept her feeling trapped and seeking an escape route. She started sneaking around and dating a man named John Buchanan. This gave her a feeling of escape and freedom from her life. This can symbolize Mr. William’s desires to break out of the norm and in a sense did express a reckless side of him that was crying out for more than the status quo in his own life. It could also be that he wanted to express his homosexual desires as a vent or break from the expected normal life. The troubles of the family in St. Louis, Mrs. Winemiller, Blanche, and many other characters performing in Tennessee Williams’ works transpose his personal experiences, desires, and many aspects of his inner self on to the paper and stage. His relationship with his family and his life experiences, including both the good and bad, are clearly seen in his penned works. Mr. Williams uses his pen to shape the characters and stories loosely based on his life experiences. The way he uses his pen to create his stories helps make the story more personable and relatable to the reader.