Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Kilroy is Tennessee Williams’s foil, his stalwart antihero, and his anti-Everyman, pathetic in his innocence yet admirable for his all-American, we-can-get-it-done philosophy. Williams invites the audience to scorn and ridicule this figure; after all, he is a pompous, vainglorious fool. Still, within his persona lies a wellspring of hopefulness and indomitable optimism, which all people, in their best moments, imagine themselves to possess. Williams invites the audience into his world of astonishing polarity, of killer opposites. This is his gift: The audience may not emerge from the theater with any particular “answers,” but they have certainly been asked to frame new questions that shake up the universe and hark back to Aristotle and his view of tragedy as something more than mere art. Kilroy’s character, forced to undergo one humiliation after another, becomes a stand-in for the process of human aging, of inevitable decline and ultimate extinction.

Ironically, then, Williams, a playwright known for depicting moral decadence, becomes a moralist in this play. His message is that life is not a dress rehearsal: Each act is irrevocable, and every gesture is a future fossil. Regret thus becomes a hell, yet the audience is left with a grain of hope. While one is still alive, possibility exists, even bliss. The denizens of Camino Real may have lost everything, but for the audience, escape is still an option. Indeed, one need not end up like Kilroy, the...

(The entire section is 595 words.)