Why did Tennessee Williams write the play Orpheus Descending?

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It is thought by many theater critics and scholars of Williams's work that the Orpheus-like character, Val Xavier, in this Southern Gothic drama was inspired in part by the ancient Greek myth and was written with Elvis Presley in mind.

Tennessee Williams had met Elvis Presley, liked him immensely, and saw that the seminal rock and roller had unprecedented sex appeal. Though Elvis Presley did not ultimately play the part of Val Xavier, there are parallels between the character and the musician. Williams saw the effect that Presley had on female fans, not unlike the maenads who pursued Orpheus because of his beauty and artistry.

The play has many themes common in Williams's work, such as ill-fated romantic triangles, intolerance, jealousy, the failure of the American Dream, the desire for personal freedom, and the racial conflict that plagued mid-century America (particularly in the South). This play is like the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in that lovers Val and Lady encounter forces more powerful than themselves that conspire to keep them apart. The church ladies in Williams's play, in fact, are meant to function as a Greek chorus, and Lady's husband, Jabe is rich, powerful, and controlling—in some ways god-like, but not immortal.

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