Study Guide

The Rose Tattoo

by Tennessee Williams

The Rose Tattoo Summary

Summary

Act 1, Scene 1
The Rose Tattoo opens with a view of a cottage, on whose front steps three neighborhood children sit. The children’s mothers are calling them home to dinner, and the play’s main character, Serafina delle Rose, appears on stage. She is looking for her own daughter, the twelve-year-old Rosa.

Next, Assunta, an old woman who practices ‘‘a simple sort of medicine,’’ arrives on the scene. Over the course of her and Serafina’s conversation, it is revealed that Serafina is deeply in love with her handsome husband, that she is extremely proud of his virility, that she is pregnant, and that her husband is a trucker who, while posing as a legitimate operator, in fact smuggles illegal goods.

Assunta leaves and another character, Estelle Hohengarten, is introduced. Serafina takes in sewing for cash. Estelle wishes her to make a shirt for a man with whom she is in love. Because Estelle behaves oddly and surreptitiously steals a framed photograph of Serafina’s husband, these actions indicate that the man with whom she is in love and with whom she is having an affair is Serafina’s husband, Rosario delle Rose.

The scene ends with a neighbor’s goat running into Serafina’s yard. This upsets Serafina as she is frightened of the woman who owns the goat, a character referred to as the ‘‘strega.’’ Rosa states that by ‘‘strega’’ Serafina means witch. The scene ends with the strega cackling maliciously at Serafina’s discomfiture and with Serafina exclaiming that the strega has given her the ‘‘evil eye’’: ‘‘Malocchio! Malocchio!’’

Act 1, Scene 2
Scene 2 is very brief. It is dawn, and Serafina is sewing, since Estelle has told her that if she has the shirt done by the next day, she will pay her substantially more than her usual price. A priest, Father De Leo, and various neighborhood women are gathered outside Serafina’s house. The police have shot Rosario, and they are deciding who must tell her. At the same time, since Rosario never came home the night before, and since Serafina can hear them outside talking, they are saying that she knows the truth already.

Act 1, Scene 3
Scene 3 takes place at noon the same day. A funeral wreath is on Serafina’s door. A doctor and Father De Leo converse; Serafina has lost the baby. Father De Leo cautions the doctor to advise Serafina not to cremate her husband. The doctor notes that the body is already cremated, since after Rosario was shot, the truck crashed and caught fire. Yet, Father De Leo believes that if the body is not buried, Serafina will put the ashes of her husband in an urn and worship them like a pagan object.

Next, Estelle Hohengarten arrives in black mourning clothing. The neighborhood women, who have been inside with Serafina, leave the house and swoop around Estelle. Unlike Serafina, they know about Rosario’s affair. They banish Estelle from Serafina’s garden.

Act 1, Scene 4
This scene takes place three years later. It is graduation day for local teens, including Rosa, Serafina’s daughter. Neighborhood mothers are at Serafina’s door, asking for their daughters’ graduation dresses, which Serafina has been commissioned to sew. She is not responding to their knocks. Inside, Rosa is nude. Her mother has locked away all of her clothes to prevent her from leaving the house. She has done this because Rosa went to a dance and met a young man in whom she is showing interest.

Miss Yorke, a teacher from the local high school, walks up at the same time Serafina bursts out of the house screaming that Rosa has cut her wrists. Miss Yorke investigates and finds that Rosa has just given herself a scratch to scare her mother. She tells Serafina to let Rosa dress for graduation. Rosa does, and she is beautiful in her white dress. Assunta, who is also present, convinces Serafina to hand over the other dresses, which Serafina does once the women assure her they have the money for them.

Act 1, Scene 5
Left alone after everyone has gone to the graduation ceremony, Serafina is worried she will miss it. She tries to pull herself together by beginning to get dressed, but her efforts are comically disastrous. In the previous scene, Serafina was dressed in a soiled pink slip and her hair was a mess. Clearly, in the three years since her husband’s death, she has, just as Father De Leo predicted, wallowed in an unhealthy mourning. Her futile attempt to dress indicates that she has forgotten how to arrange herself in a presentable manner.

As Serafina continues her struggles, two new characters enter the scene, Bessie and Flora. They are, according to Williams’s stage directions, ‘‘two female clowns of middle years and juvenile temperament.’’

The women want to pick up a blouse Flora commissioned. Serafina is distracted and searches for the wristwatch she wants to give Rosa for a graduation present. She tells Flora she was too busy making graduation dresses and does not have the blouse ready. Flora is angry because she is on her way to a parade in New Orleans and had been counting on the blouse. She threatens to complain to the Chamber of Commerce. Bessie, too, is irritated as this delay has caused them to miss the earlier train. Serafina becomes angry herself, and the women begin brawling. One outcome of this altercation is that Flora tells Serafina that the husband she was so proud of and always boasts about was having an affair with Estelle Hohengarten. Serafina is devastated, sensing that Flora is...

(The entire section is 2282 words.)