Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Maxine has been a widow for less than a month. Her husband, Fred, snagged himself with a fishhook and died of blood poisoning. Maxine has no real option but to continue running Costa Verde, a small hotel that they owned and managed, perched high above the Pacific near the remote Mexican village of Puerto Barrio. The play is set in the period shortly before the United States entered World War II. The Costa Verde has Nazi guests who cheer at the bombing of London and other German victories.
On the scene comes T. Lawrence Shannon, always called Larry, a defrocked minister whose options are running out. He is a tour guide for Blake Tours and, in this instance, is shepherding a group of female Texans through Mexico. Miss Fellowes, seemingly the organizer and mother hen of this group, is agitated because Shannon refuses to take them to the hotel for which they had contracted. She also is disturbed by Shannon’s attentions to seventeen-year-old Charlotte, the youngest person in the tour group. Fellowes is indignant that Shannon made a play for Charlotte, but the subtext suggests that she is jealous because she herself has designs on the girl.
Larry comes into the hotel to see his old friend, Maxine. It soon becomes evident that Maxine lusts after him and, with her husband recently dead, she hopes for some sort of alliance with him: marriage, or the best she could get short of marriage. Her not insubstantial physical needs are being fulfilled through purely physical acts with her bellboys, a situation that makes her fear that she is losing their respect.
On this emotionally charged scene strides Hannah Jelkes, a New England woman slightly under forty years old, who is wheeling her poet-grandfather, Jonathan Coffin, whom she always calls Nonno, around the tropics. Nonno is ninety-seven years old. The two of them are as bereft of any real future as are Larry and Maxine. They have no money and had been turned away from every hotel in town. The Costa Verde is their last hope.
Maxine assures them that she has room for them and asks for payment in advance. Hannah informs her that they have no money but that they could earn their keep, Nonno by reciting his poetry to the other guests, Hannah by doing charcoal sketches of them and possibly by selling one of her watercolors. Maxine, unimpressed, agrees to let them stay, but for only one night. Meanwhile, a native boy delivers an iguana that is tied up and left to fatten beneath the veranda. When it reaches an appropriate weight, Maxine will cook it for dinner.
It becomes increasingly clear that Larry Shannon has no reasonable future to which to look forward. He speaks of rejoining the church, but the circumstances of his leaving it were...
(The entire section is 1116 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Set during World War II, The Night of the Iguana features three main characters. Shannon, a defrocked minister and recovering alcoholic, now a tour guide for a cheap Texas-based travel agency, and Hannah Jelkes meet at a shabby Mexican tourist hotel that is run by an oversexed American expatriate, Maxine. As one of Williams’s survivor characters, Maxine supports herself, hoping some day to return to the United States to manage a motel.
Shannon’s battles are internal, involving his dismissal from the church for reasons of alcoholism and sexual promiscuities. Throughout the play, he attempts to write a letter to his superior for reinstatement in the church. His failure even as a tour guide emphasizes the illusionary nature of his attempt at reinstatement. The play opens with a conflict between him and his tour group—ladies from a Baptist college in Texas—regarding their hotel for the night. Shannon insists that they stay at Maxine’s rather than, as the tour brochure states, in the town below. Their arguments are protracted through the length of the play.
Arriving penniless at the hotel at the same time as Shannon are Hannah Jelkes and her nonagenarian grandfather, Nonno, who make their living in their travels, she by drawing portraits of tourists and he by reciting poems that he writes in his memory. Hannah has a purity and strength of character which is not of the world she inhabits.
In her behavior and her many conversations with Shannon, she is a painful reminder to him of lost ideals. Her honesty and courage...
(The entire section is 642 words.)