How would one proceed with a historical biographical approach to analyzing works from Tennessee Williams?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that there is a slight danger in trying to forge links between an artist's biography and and an artist's literature when it might not be there.  Yet, I do believe that with Williams, there are some salient facts in his biography that comes out in his work.  The South as a landscape is undeniable.  Like everything else in Williams' work, there is a complex relationship between his characters and the South primarily because he and the South held a very intricate relationship.  He is a Southerner by birth, yet has to leave the South at an early age and move to Missouri, a state that holds both tenets of North and South within it, a true border state if there was one.  This notion of "the border" is something that Williams explores in his work, in terms of characters seeking to find where that line between home and displacement exists.  At the same time, the dynamics of family and personal strife within the family unit is something that was present in his own life and is seen in the characters he displays.  Expericing trouble with his own father, who doted on the younger brother, as well as a hysterical mother, one can see the fragility of family relationships, something explored in the relationship timbre of Tom and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie. At the same time, Williams was close to his sister Rose, who was institutionalized and given a lobotomy.  This is similar to the relationship explored in both The Glass Menagerie between Tom and Laura, as well as between both sisters in A Streetcar Named Desire. Finally, the idea of latent homosexuality impacting men and the relationships they cultivate is something that had a strong grasp over Williams in his own life of being gay and something we see in characters like Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

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