The Night of the Iguana

by Tennessee Williams

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Student Question

In The Night of the Iguana, how does Shannon form deeper connections and learn about himself?

Quick answer:

As The Night of the Iguana progresses, it is through expressing honest insight that Lawrence Shannon is able to form a new, deep connection with Hannah and to intensify his connection with his old friend Maxine. The honesty especially applies to his inappropriate sexual behavior but also encompasses his loss of faith.

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Throughout the course of the play, the former pastor Larry (Lawrence) Shannon undergoes numerous transformations. In the early scenes, the audience learns that Shannon feels at home at Maxine’s hotel: he has been there numerous times before, and Maxine and her late husband had been long-time friends of his. It also becomes apparent that Shannon repeatedly tries to escape his numerous problems rather than confront them. Two new visitors to the resort are Hannah Jelkes and her ancient grandfather, Nonno (Jonathan Coffin). Although it seems that Shannon has little in common with them, he develops an unlikely friendship with Hannah.

Shannon’s tendency to escape into casual sexual encounters and his alcohol addiction combine into a recipe for likely disaster; for sleeping with an adolescent girl, he not only loses his job but faces possible arrest. When he exhibits suicidal behavior, Maxine organizes a radical intervention by having him physically confined. Shannon must find a way to control himself within an increasingly desperate situation, and Hannah turns out to be the guide who helps him find his way. By acceding to her request to spare the life of the tethered iguana, Shannon shows both Hannah and himself that he can feel compassion for other living creatures. As Maxine gleans the reason for his action, she gains confidence that he can become a trusted companion.

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