The essay "The Catastrophe of Success" was written by Williams to celebrate the third anniversary of the Chicago opening of his play The Glass Menagerie (1944). The play received enthusiastic reviews from critics and was soon sold out. Its move to Broadway in 1945 brought more critical and public attention to the playwright who won the important Circle Award. The Glass Menagerie propelled Williams into literary fame and paved the way for his other big hits of the 1950s: A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
"The Catastrophe of Success", which is nowadays often reprinted after The Glass Menagerie, describes the impact of success on Williams. From a struggling artist Williams suddenly became a literary personality, but this was far than positive for him. The essay, which displays an equal sense of irony and desperation, defines success as a catastrophe because it makes people give up the struggle for survival. One falls prey to what Williams calls "an effete way of life" which destroys an artist's creativity. In addition, success puts great pressure and demands onto the artist to continue literary production. The essay was written before the opening of A Streetcar Named Desire and Williams seems to be arguing that the depression caused by his sudden success has been overcome through the writing of the new play. Yet, depression would plague Williams throughout his life. The essay is oddly prescient of what would happen to the author in the 1960s and 1970s when critics often agreed that he was unable to replicate the success of his early plays.