Do we have too-high expectations of life—of love, work, marriage, friendship, and/or family, for example—as Tennessee Williams seems to think we do?

We have too high expectations of life, at least according to Tennessee Williams, because his plays tend to dramatize the destruction and pain of life. It's possible to argue that if expectations were different, life might feel less hostile.

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In a recent documentary on Tennessee Williams (and Truman Capote), the playwright declares, “We’re all victims of rape. Society rapes the individual.” The harsh statement suggests that people generally have unrealistically high expectations of life. For many, life is not a happy, fulfilling endeavor but a source of trauma and...

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In a recent documentary on Tennessee Williams (and Truman Capote), the playwright declares, “We’re all victims of rape. Society rapes the individual.” The harsh statement suggests that people generally have unrealistically high expectations of life. For many, life is not a happy, fulfilling endeavor but a source of trauma and struggle. In his plays, Williams arguably cements his thesis that life is predatory.

In A Streetcar Named Desire, violence, assault, and disillusion dominate. Stanley beats Stella and rapes Blanche. Before she went to stay with her sister and Stanley, Blanche had trouble facing how her life had not lived up to expectations. She tried to hide the fact that her life had become mired in scandal.

In Suddenly Last Summer, life is portrayed as exploitative and merciless. In this play, a man named Sebastian uses a cousin, Catharine, to attract young men. Eventually, Sebastian is killed by a mob. His death connects to his predatory behavior. Wanting to keep her son’s sexuality a secret, Sebastian’s mom and Catharine’s aunt, Mrs. Violet Venable, attempts to lobotomize Catharine. As with A Streetcar Named Desire, Suddenly Last Summer revolves around the violence and delusions of life.

In The Glass Menagerie, life is frustrating. Amanda is vexed by her daughter Laura. Her marriage prospects aren’t great, and she’s not keen on any kind of profitable career. However, in this play, Williams appears to offer something like a silver lining. Amanda pays for Laura to attend business college. Laura ditches school and does different activities. She walks around town, visits the zoo, and checks out the art museum. These types of things might not qualify as exciting or thrilling, but they seem to agree with Laura’s temperament. Perhaps if people adjusted their expectations of life—if they didn’t feel so much pressure to do certain things or achieve specific goals—they might, like Laura, find life more congenial.

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