Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams navigates the relationship, or lack thereof, between Alma Winemiller and John Buchanan Jr. Alma is a minister’s daughter and is looking for a “spiritual” relationship. She is a nervous person and has been in love with John, her next-door neighbor, for years. He is a free-spirited doctor, raised by his father alone after his mother died, and he doesn’t want to be a doctor anymore. He returns home and is drinking and seeing multiple women. He is more interested in a physical relationship with Alma, and so the two do not get together. By the end of the play, Alma has realized she can have both a spiritual and a physical relationship, but it is too late; John has realized that he should be responsible and settle down, and he has become engaged. Alma takes up with a passing salesman, saying “yes” to the physical without considering the spiritual.
Alma Winemiller, the daughter of a minister in Glorious Hill, a small town in Mississippi. In the prologue, she and John Buchanan are shown as children at a fountain of Eternity in the town in the early years of the twentieth century. The scene shows their pattern as children to foreshadow their pattern as adults: attracted to each other but unable to achieve true communication because she is sensitive and primarily spiritual (as she says, Alma means soul) and he, though capable of a degree of sensitivity, is primarily physical. He is thus representative, in a sense, of the anatomy chart that he shows Alma near the end of the play. As an adult, Alma is given to panic attacks and frequently goes to John’s father for help, even in the middle of the night.
John Buchanan, the son of a physician, frequently at odds with his father. As an adult and a physician himself, he is uncertain that he wants to join his father’s practice. The Buchanans and Winemillers are next-door neighbors. In the end, John achieves an understanding of “soul” and will be a successful and empathic physician and husband.
The Reverend Winemiller
The Reverend Winemiller, Alma’s father. Incapable of empathy and lacking genuine faith, he is unsuccessful in all of his roles, as minister, father, and...
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