Williams, Tennessee (Vol. 15)
Williams, Tennessee 1914–
Twice a winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, Williams is one of the most important American playwrights of the twentieth century. His work is characteristically concerned with the conflict between illusion and reality, most notably in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire. Because loneliness and disappointment are recurrent in his work, Williams has often been criticized for having a limited perception of the human condition. His later work is generally considered to be of uneven quality, none of it meeting the standards of his prize-winning plays. In addition to drama, Williams also writes novels, short stories, and screenplays. His fiction has often been criticized as being sketchy and undeveloped. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)
Nancy Baker Traubitz
Orpheus Descending is a better play than its dismal performance record suggests, a play which has yet to fulfill its potential in production but which even in the printed text represents a significant attempt to re-create myths in the context of our own time.
Although I will consider only those myths with obvious referents in the text to the exclusion of whatever subconscious archetypes we might posit, Williams' autobiographical impulses are important, as he superimposed and strengthened the Orpheus myth upon the myth of the battle between light and dark, the good and evil angels who war in heaven…. [Williams emphasizes] the responsibility which love places upon the poet/singer Orpheus and the pull toward life and fruitfulness that the Orpheus figure creates in those dead souls he meets in the hades of the Torrance Mercantile Store. Williams himself always considered Orpheus Descending autobiographical…. The hero/savior Orpheus of Val, as Williams calls his hero, embodies the playwright as he chooses to see himself, heart on sleeve, "a wild spirited boy who wanders into a conventional community of the South and creates the commotion of a fox in a chicken coop."…
In the play itself we are able to distinguish five separate myth patterns: the loss of Eden, the battle of angels, Christ, Orpheus, and Adonis. (pp. 57-8)
The play is set in Two River County, at once introducing the Eden...
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Tennessee Williams is a good storyteller, as theater audiences have long known…. Unlike most playwrights who try their hands at different forms, Williams is a remarkably strong prose writer—his fiction perhaps even more consistent in quality that his drama. (p. 647)
[Williams' first collection, One Arm and Other Stories,] provides an interesting and characteristic sampling. "The Poet," "Chronicle of a Demise," and "The Yellow Bird" are clearly the experiments of a young writer. "The Yellow Bird" has some fine comic moments, but the prose is too jerky and the ending too garbled to sustain the broad humor. The other stories in the book, however, are skillfully written: in particular, "One Arm," "Desire and the Black Masseur," and "The Night of the Iguana." (pp. 647-48)
While "One Arm" succeeds as compelling narrative, it also is an early catalogue of Williams' concerns: an openly homosexual theme, the fascination with mutilation and its attendant psychic loss, the power of words … to effect change, the theme of guilt and atonement, and the importance of sex both as a means of human communication and as a channel to awaken acceptance of one's existence.
Williams' fiction often serves as a drawing board for themes and characters later amplified in drama…. (p. 648)
Occasionally, the works are quite similar, as with the full length play and the story of the same title:...
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William J. Free
Critical dissatisfaction over Tennessee Williams' plays of the seventies has been almost unanimous….
[Critics charge that] Williams repeats himself by going over and over the same territory and … that his plays, for better or worse, are autobiographical. (p. 815)
Both charges against Williams do his plays an injustice by failing to take them on their own terms. Deflection of our interest from an author's work to his life, particularly in Williams' case, too often reflects a taste for lurid sexual detail rather than for art. Further more, the artist's work relates not to the outer details of his life but to the inner world of his imagination, so to jump from an account of Williams' sexual preferences to an allegorization of his plays is to ignore an important middle step, as the publication of his Memoirs should clearly establish. Few artists of our century have been more delighted to detail their private lives or more reluctant to reveal the working of their imaginations as Williams. Even the few mentions of people from his life in relationship to his plays deny that any individual is the direct model for any character or that any situation from life relates directly to any dramatic event. Williams tells us in the Memoirs that the imagination is the only place in which the artist can live, but he continues to live there privately and secretly. (p. 816)
The charge of repeating...
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