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...
(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...
(The entire section is 642 words.)
Act I Summary
The Night of the Iguana opens at the Costa Verde Hotel in Mexico. The hotel's proprietress, Maxine Faulk, greets her old friend, an expelled minister named Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon, as he pants his way into the hotel. Maxine tells him that her husband, Fred, has died recently. Shannon, a tour director, is distressed and has the key to his tour bus hidden in his pocket. He wants the tour to stay here because he is afraid of losing his job and he is on the verge of collapse. The reason for Shannon's distress is revealed: His tour group consists of 11 young Baptist music teachers and he has had sexual intercourse with one of them. Everyone has found out about the liaison, including the head of the group, Miss Fellowes.
Miss Fellowes gets off the bus and confronts Shannon. She insists on using the hotel's telephone to report Shannon to her local authorities and his employer. Maxine tries to give Shannon her dead husband's clothing and put him into her husband's old room. Maxine gets her employees to take the women's luggage off the bus, as Shannon has requested. Miss Fellowes returns and continues to argue with Shannon about his conduct and the tour. When she learns about the luggage, she insists that it be returned to the bus. Maxine tries to get Shannon to give up the key but he won't hear of it.
In the meantime, Hannah Jelkes, an artist of about 40 years of age, has appeared at the hotel and asked Shannon about rooms for herself and...
(The entire section is 365 words.)
Act II Summary
At the hotel several hours later, Maxine confronts Hannah. Maxine attempts to get Hannah and her grandfather to move to a boarding house, but Hannah makes herself useful then tries to sell her jade. Their conversation is interrupted by the return of Shannon and some other guests. Hannah asks Shannon about the boarding house, and he tells her it is unsuitable. Their conversation is interrupted by the entrance of Charlotte, the young woman with whom Shannon had a liaison. Shannon hides and Hannah covers for him. When Charlotte figures out that he is in his room, Shannon comes out. Charlotte tells him that they must get married, but Shannon informs her that he does not love anyone. Miss Fellowes approaches, prompting Charlotte and Shannon hide. Again, Hannah covers for them, but Miss Fellowes finds Charlotte and drags her away.
Shannon emerges wearing his minister's frock. Hannah helps him with the collar, then sketches him. Shannon tells her he has been on ' 'sabbatical'' from his church for a year, because he had sexual intercourse with a Sunday school teacher and then committed an act of heresy. He was kicked out of his church and then sent to an asylum. Hannah decides to try to sell her paintings to the Baptist teachers and leaves Shannon in charge of her grandfather. In the meantime, some of the employees return with an iguana, which is tied to the veranda to be fattened for eating. Maxine enters and offers drinks to Shannon, who refuses.
(The entire section is 460 words.)
Act III Summary
This act opens in the same place, several hours later. Shannon is in his room writing a letter to his Bishop when Maxine interrupts. Maxine tells him that she is considering moving back to the United States. She also tries to coerce him to stay at the hotel with her. He leaves to mail his letter himself when he sees the Baptist teachers gathered around the bus. Jake Latta, a man from the tour company, is with them. Jake approaches Shannon and Maxine and informs Shannon that the group of Baptist teachers will now be combined with Jake's tour group. Jake demands the key, but Shannon will not give it up. Jake believes Shannon has gone crazy. The key is finally taken from Shannon by force, and he demands severance pay. Jake leaves, taking the tour group with him.
Shannon almost follows, but Maxine makes him stay. After Maxine leaves to collect her fees from the group, Shannon nearly chokes when his cross and chain get caught on something. Hannah rescues him, but he tries to leave again. Maxine returns and has Shannon tied up to control his "crackup." At Shannon's request, Hannah talks to him. She also makes him poppyseed tea. He is upset about the sketch she drew of him and because she refuses to untie him. He is cruel to her, suggesting that she should add hemlock to Nonno's tea, and while she is bothered by it, she knows why he is acting this way. Though she still will not untie him, she does light a cigarette for him and put it in his mouth. The cigarette...
(The entire section is 493 words.)