Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 194
Suddenly Last Summer by Tennessee Williams focuses on the life and death of Sebastian Venable, a poet who had a secret life as a gay man and is brutally murdered while on a trip to Italy with his cousin Catharine. Sebastian writes one poem every year. According to his mother,...
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Suddenly Last Summer by Tennessee Williams focuses on the life and death of Sebastian Venable, a poet who had a secret life as a gay man and is brutally murdered while on a trip to Italy with his cousin Catharine. Sebastian writes one poem every year. According to his mother, Mrs. Venable, it took Sebastian nine months to finish a single poem. Sebastian has a close relationship with his mother, and they travel to exotic locations regularly. During these trips, Sebastian uses his mother to lure young men. Mrs. Venable keeps her son’s secret safe to protect his reputation.
One day, Sebastian requests Catharine to travel with him to Italy where he also uses her to lure young men. During their visit, Sebastian is cannibalized and killed by a group of young men and Catharine witnesses the murder. Once Mrs. Venable realizes that Catharine knows Sebastian's secret and intends to reveal what happened to him, she tries to silence her to protect her son’s reputation. Mrs. Venable tries to convince Dr. Cukrowicz to perform a lobotomy on Catharine so that she can never reveal the events that led to Sebastian’s demise.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 993
Mrs. Violet Venable summons Dr. Cukrowicz to her mansion in New Orleans’s Garden District. He comes as a result of his interest in an enormous endowment from the Sebastian Venable Memorial Foundation. Mrs. Venable and Cukrowicz stroll through the exotic garden that had been the realm of Mrs. Venable’s late son, Sebastian. Mrs. Venable and Cukrowicz discuss Sebastian’s occupation, which she insists was Sebastian’s life because “a poet’s life is his work and his work is his life.” She shows the doctor one of Sebastian’s poems from his collection, Poems of Summer. She explains that her son had written only one poem a year, and it took him nine months to write a poem. The rest of the year, Mrs. Venable and Sebastian had traveled to exotic locales.
Mrs. Venable recalls one specific summer that she and Sebastian had spent in the Encantadas, where they watched sea turtle eggs hatch. As the newly hatched turtles scurried to the sea, most were devoured by birds. Cukrowicz wonders why Sebastian was fascinated by this savage display of nature. Mrs. Venable explains it was Sebastian’s search for God. The doctor asks Mrs. Venable to show her a picture of Sebastian. The photographs demonstrate how Sebastian retained his youthful beauty for twenty years.
Miss Foxhill interrupts the discussion to announce the arrival of George Holly and his mother. Mrs. Venable tells Miss Foxhill to keep the Hollys upstairs. Mrs. Venable resumes her talk with the doctor, who asks her about Sebastian’s personal, private life. Mrs. Venable explains that her son, while chased, had been chaste. She insists that he had been celibate. She explains that during their travels, they were always spoken of as a couple. Mrs. Venable explains that the previous summer, Sebastian had traveled with his cousin, Catharine Holly. It was during the trip to Cabeza de Lobo that Sebastian died. Catharine had a terrible reaction to his death and was institutionalized at St. Mary’s. Mrs. Venable tells Cukrowicz that Catharine “babbles,” vandalizing the memory of Sebastian. To stop Catharine’s rantings and ravings, Mrs. Venable wants the doctor to perform a lobotomy on Catharine; insulin shock and electric shock therapies have not silenced her.
When Miss Foxhill announces that Catharine has arrived, Mrs. Venable refuses, at first, to face her. The doctor goes alone to see Catharine. He notices Catharine with Sister Felicity standing behind her. Catharine lights a cigarette. Sister Felicity insists that Catharine extinguish the cigarette, which she does in the palm of the nun’s hand. Catharine recalls how Sebastian was “famished for blonds.” She relates to the nun how Sebastian talked about people as if they were items on a menu. Catharine tells the nun that Sebastian lived on pills and salads.
Mrs. Holly and her son, George, greet Catharine. George reveals that Sebastian had bequeathed him and Catharine fifty thousand dollars each. Mother and son insist that Catharine never again tell the story of what happened to Sebastian in Cabeza de Lobo. Catharine insists the story is true and refuses their request.
Mrs. Venable joins the scene. Cukrowicz also arrives. Catharine knows the doctor is from Lion’s View, a sanatorium where lobotomies are performed. When Mrs. Venable accuses Catharine of taking Sebastian away from her, Catharine tries to explain why she had accompanied Sebastian on his summer tour. Mrs. Venable interrupts Catharine’s explanation, denying that she had suffered a stroke and insisting that Sebastian wanted Catharine to accompany him because of a scandal Catharine made over a married man at a Mardi Gras ball.
Cukrowicz asks to be left alone with Catharine. He questions her about her feelings about Sebastian. She admits that she loved her cousin, but in a “motherly way.” When the doctor asks her what she wanted to save Sebastian from, she says from completing a terrible image of himself. Catharine tells the doctor the story of the scandal she caused at the Mardi Gras ball: Catharine’s date was too drunk to drive her home. She went for a taxi, but a man took her by the arm and offered to drive her home. The man took her to Duelling Oaks. Catharine knew the man’s intentions, but he decided against a liaison because his wife was pregnant. At home, Catharine remembered she had left Mrs. Venable’s mink stole at the ballroom. She returned and then assaulted the man. Sebastian intervened and invited her to join him on his summer tour. Telling the story agitates Catharine, and Cukrowicz gives her an injection to calm her. After she is sedated, she forces a kiss on the doctor.
The entire family gathers on the terrace, and Cukrowicz coaxes an agitated Catharine to tell her story while Mrs. Venable tries to deny the truth and preserve the myth she holds of Sebastian. After Mrs. Venable promises to keep quiet, Catharine tells of an afternoon she and Sebastian spent at Cabeza de Lobo on a private beach cordoned off from a public beach by a barbed-wire fence. Catharine says she had gone for a swim in a white bathing suit that would turn transparent when wet. She soon realized she was procuring young men for Sebastian, as his mother had before her.
The following afternoons, the crowd of homeless, hungry young men at the public beach grew, waiting for Sebastian to toss them money. Sebastian grew ill at the public display and insisted that he and Catharine go north. Before they had a chance to leave, a large band of the young men formed and made loud, percussive music on crude tin instruments. The band pursued Sebastian through the streets of Cabeza de Lobo, catching him, stripping him, and cannibalizing him.
To silence Catharine, Mrs. Venable orders the doctor to take Catharine to Lion’s View and “cut this hideous story from her brain.” Cukrowicz suggests that the Hollys consider that Catharine’s story could be true.