The Night of the Iguana Essays and Criticism
by Tennessee Williams

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The So-Called "Happy" Ending of Williams's Play

(Drama for Students)

One source of controversy among critics of Tennessee Williams's The Night of the Iguana is the decision of Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon to stay at the hotel with Maxine Faulk at the end of the play. Glenn Embrey, in his essay ‘‘The Subterranean World of The Night of the Iguana,'' argues "the ending isn't as believable as it is formally pleasing and optimistic. Even according to the overt level of drama, the ending sounds suspiciously like the product of wishful thinking. For one thing, it comes rather suddenly and unexpectedly; an hour's exposure to human compassion, a cup of poppy tea, and a bit of Oriental wisdom hardly seem sufficient to eradicate habits and attitudes hardened over ten years.’’ Embrey misses the undercurrents of the play. Shannon has no choice but to stay at the hotel, and the events of the play—particularly his interaction with Hannah, which leads to personal growth— make the decision seem like the right one. By looking at each corner of the primary character triangle—Shannon, Hannah, and Maxine Faulk, the hotel owner—the reasons for Shannon's decision and the seemingly happy ending become much more clear.

When Shannon arrives at the hotel at the beginning of Act I, he is a desperate man looking for a friend; that friend is Fred Faulk, Maxine's husband. Unfortunately, Fred is recently deceased, and Maxine is more interested in a companion to keep her company and help her run the hotel than in being Shannon's friend. Shannon's problems are numerous. Ten years earlier, he was an Episcopalian minister leading a church in Virginia. He was locked out of his church after he seduced (or was seduced by, according to Shannon) a Sunday school teacher and gave a sermon the following Sunday that was full of heresy. Shannon became a tour guide, traveling around the world. Over the years, he continued to lose jobs as he acted inappropriately towards female clients. He comes to the Costa Verde Hotel while working for Blake Tours, the only company he has not been fired from. But he has recently seduced (or been seduced by) Charlotte, a sixteen-year-old Baptist school teacher, who was a member of his latest tour group. The head of Charlotte's group, Miss Fellowes, has found out about the affair and is furious. Costa Verde is to be Shannon's refuge from this storm. He is not altogether mentally well, and he keeps the key to the bus in his pocket so the group has to stay there while he sorts out this mess. His intentions are not clearly thought out.

Shannon places the blame for his problems on everyone but himself. He believes he is followed by a "spook''—his past which haunts him. He does not even take responsibility for the seductions: he blames the girls for the affairs. He does this despite the fact that after at least two of these sexual encounters he hits the women involved, perhaps an acting out of his own guilt. Shannon is a weak man who constantly associates with weak, immature women. He is fundamentally lonely as well. By leading tour groups, he makes few real, long-term connections with people. Tourists come and go, and he never sees them again. Shannon is desperate for real contact, but does not have the means or the capacity to find it. He has to stay in control, but he cannot do it very well. When he first arrives at the hotel, Maxine immediately tries to control him and make him into Fred by putting him into Fred's clothing and Fred's room. Shannon pulls away from these offers; He is not ready to accept such a fate just yet.

Soon after Shannon's arrival, Hannah Jelkes appears, trying to find rooms for herself and her elderly grandfather, the minor poet Jonathon Coffin. The first person she meets is Shannon, who helps convince Maxine that they should stay, if only for one night. Hannah is the opposite of every woman with whom Shannon has had any type of relationship—she is a New England born and bred spinster, about 40 years of age. In many ways, Hannah has been and still is as desperately lonely as...

(The entire section is 4,702 words.)