illustrated portrait of American playwright Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 128

Williams, Tennessee 1914–

Twice a winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, Williams is one of the most important American playwrights of the twentieth century. His work is characteristically concerned with the conflict between illusion and reality, most notably in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire. Because loneliness and disappointment are recurrent in his work, Williams has often been criticized for having a limited perception of the human condition. His later work is generally considered to be of uneven quality, none of it meeting the standards of his prize-winning plays. In addition to drama, Williams also writes novels, short stories, and screenplays. His fiction has often been criticized as being sketchy and undeveloped. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Nancy Baker Traubitz

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1370

Orpheus Descending is a better play than its dismal performance record suggests, a play which has yet to fulfill its potential in production but which even in the printed text represents a significant attempt to re-create myths in the context of our own time.

Although I will consider only those myths with obvious referents in the text to the exclusion of whatever subconscious archetypes we might posit, Williams' autobiographical impulses are important, as he superimposed and strengthened the Orpheus myth upon the myth of the battle between light and dark, the good and evil angels who war in heaven…. [Williams emphasizes] the responsibility which love places upon the poet/singer Orpheus and the pull toward life and fruitfulness that the Orpheus figure creates in those dead souls he meets in the hades of the Torrance Mercantile Store. Williams himself always considered Orpheus Descending autobiographical…. The hero/savior Orpheus of Val, as Williams calls his hero, embodies the playwright as he chooses to see himself, heart on sleeve, "a wild spirited boy who wanders into a conventional community of the South and creates the commotion of a fox in a chicken coop."…

In the play itself we are able to distinguish five separate myth patterns: the loss of Eden, the battle of angels, Christ, Orpheus, and Adonis. (pp. 57-8)

The play is set in Two River County, at once introducing the Eden motif. We learn the power in the play, Jabe Torrance, embodies sterile impotence—he and his wife have money instead of children and do not sleep together—and is dying of a spreading cancer. Jabe "bought" his wife, Lady, and brought her into his hades from a different country and race. (p. 58)

The action of the play begins with the entrance of Carol Cutrere, the outcast member of the oldest and most distinguished family in the county. In the earlier version of the play her name was Cassandra and she retains her function as a prophetess. At her behest the Negro Conjure Man gives the magic Choctaw cry and Valentine Xavior materializes in his snakeskin jacket and carrying his guitar. Almost immediately behind him is Vee, short for Veronica, wife of Sheriff Talbott. Her entrance fixes Val in the Christ role, for like Saint Veronica, who gave Christ her veil to wipe his forehead on his journey up Calvary, Vee dispenses mercy….

As the play progresses, Vee clearly identifies Val as a savior, painting him as Christ in her long contemplated picture of the Last Supper. Val understands her visions, which seek to metamorphose the horror and corruption of life among the living and dead into something of beauty. In their final confrontation, Val kneels to her as she sits in the shoe-fitting chair, symbolically re-enacting the ritual washing of the feet of the disciples. She recognizes him as the figure of Christ in...

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her vision, a vision of such brilliance it has nearly destroyed her physical sight by an influx of spiritual insight. (p. 59)

However, the legend of Christ and Saint Veronica as embodied by Val and Vee is fraught with ambiguities…. Their whole relationship is one of highly charged, barely repressed physical desire. (p. 60)

Val's function as Orpheus is less ambiguous than his function as Christ. In their first meeting, Lady, unaware of Val's presence, mutters, "I wish I was dead, dead, dead …" to which Val responds quietly, "No, you don't, Lady."… Lady cannot sleep. She is obsessed with the fire which destroyed her father and his wine garden, and with her desire to re-create it in the confectionary. She is also "cold." Val immediately gives Lady the snakeskin jacket, symbolic of regeneration, to wear and introduces the guitar, a phallic life-giver. He also tells her he is a light-bringer. "I do electric repairs."… His supernatural qualities are quickly established…. Against Lady's wish for death, Val juxtaposes the vision of the transparent birds with no legs who soar in the high blue sky near the sun and sleep on the wind, touching earth only in death…. In the Orpheus myth, Orpheus is reincarnated as a swan, thus the transparent birds associated with both the dove of the Holy Spirit and the Orphic swan help to fix Val in the roles of Christ and Orpheus. Lady accepts the vision of life Val offers and although at first she is not interested in anything but a "working relation" with Val, she would "give this mercantile store and every bit of stock in it to be that tiny bird the color of the sky."… (pp. 60-1)

Val and Lady establish the sexual liaison which creates life in the depths of hades when Lady/Eurydice realizes Val/Orpheus offers life. "I NEED YOU!!!" she cries, "TO LIVE … TO GO ON LIVING!!!"… With his music and his vision of earthly life and love, Val is almost able to bring Lady out of hades. But Lady refuses to leave until Jabe is destroyed and the wine garden recreated. She tells Val, "I guess my heart knew that somebody must be coming to take me out of this hell!…—but DEATH has got to die before we go"…. But Death survives. Lady/Eurydice will not escape hades nor will she bear life within it. Her suspected pregnancy confirmed by Jabe's nurse, Lady dismisses Val—"You've given me life, you can go!"…—and, in a lovely image, compares herself to the barren fig tree in her father's wine garden…. (p. 61)

The fig tree brings together the pagan and Christian myths…. In her triumph Lady has stopped to look back at Jabe and Val has stopped to look back at Lady. The strangely rejuvenated Jabe shoots Lady and sets the waiting vigilantes on Val. What happens to Val is never completely clear. The vigilantes take rope and a blowtorch from the store and they repeatedly expostulate "—Christ!" However, we also hear dogs and remember that Vee and Val have seen chain-gang dogs tear fugitives to pieces, and Val and Lady actually hear a convict torn as the Maenads tore Orpheus…. (pp. 61-2)

The ambiguities in the Val/Orpheus—Lady/Eurydice myth are not entirely the result of an overlap with the Val/Christ—Vee/Saint Veronica or the wine garden/Eden myths. Val is an extremely handsome young man appearing for the first time on his birthday…. His attraction to the older Lady seems less strong than her's to him. He becomes almost a prisoner unable to escape Lady's need for him. We are reminded here of Adonis, so handsome at birth he is loved by Aphrodite. (p. 62)

Occasionally, the relationship between the myth and its referent within the naturalistic context of the literal action becomes tenuous. For example, we can accept Val as Jesus or Orpheus but can we also accept him as Adonis without completely reassessing Lady's character? Jesus, Orpheus, and Adonis never physically consummate their love. Can we accept physical love as analogous to divine love? Jesus, Orpheus, Adonis, and Adam all have divine progenitors, Val is a drifter with hazy origins, something of a reprobate, who, although he refuses Carol's offered ride back across the water to safety, still poses a problem as to how willingly and deliberately he sacrifices his life. While Val's jacket associates him with the ancient's snakeskin symbol of regeneration, it also carries overtones of both the serpent's bite which sent Eurydice to hades, and the snake disguise assumed by Satan in the Garden of Eden. Val thus becomes a fallen angel, but his function in the Orpheus and Eden myths becomes ambiguous. Jabe is so viciously a god of death that even the most Romantic reading of Genesis cannot easily relate him to the God of fiery justice in the myths of Eden and the fallen angels myths. Despite such ambiguities, the myths of Orpheus Descending are integral to the dramatic structure, never imposed on the naturalist action or introduced self-consciously…. Williams has managed, to a remarkable degree, to integrate five major myths into a dramatic structure. (pp. 63-4)

Nancy Baker Traubitz, "Myth as a Basis of Dramatic Structure in 'Orpheus Descending'," in Modern Drama (copyright © 1976, University of Toronto, Graduate Centre for Study of Drama; with the permission of Modern Drama), Vol. XIX, No. 1, March, 1976, pp. 57-66.

Ren Draya

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1965

Tennessee Williams is a good storyteller, as theater audiences have long known…. Unlike most playwrights who try their hands at different forms, Williams is a remarkably strong prose writer—his fiction perhaps even more consistent in quality that his drama. (p. 647)

[Williams' first collection, One Arm and Other Stories,] provides an interesting and characteristic sampling. "The Poet," "Chronicle of a Demise," and "The Yellow Bird" are clearly the experiments of a young writer. "The Yellow Bird" has some fine comic moments, but the prose is too jerky and the ending too garbled to sustain the broad humor. The other stories in the book, however, are skillfully written: in particular, "One Arm," "Desire and the Black Masseur," and "The Night of the Iguana." (pp. 647-48)

While "One Arm" succeeds as compelling narrative, it also is an early catalogue of Williams' concerns: an openly homosexual theme, the fascination with mutilation and its attendant psychic loss, the power of words … to effect change, the theme of guilt and atonement, and the importance of sex both as a means of human communication and as a channel to awaken acceptance of one's existence.

Williams' fiction often serves as a drawing board for themes and characters later amplified in drama…. (p. 648)

Occasionally, the works are quite similar, as with the full length play and the story of the same title: Kingdom of Earth. Both are set against the loneliness and violence of the Mississippi Delta at flood level; the play is an expansion of the characters and images from the story. Both describe a pathetic-comic love triangle, and both use raw images of nature as backdrop to the elemental emotions.

Williams' ability to approach his material from such differing vantage points enables us to examine both his narrative and his dramatic strengths—and weaknesses. An easy judgment of quality is impossible; comparative discussions are most likely to yield interesting differences rather than deficiencies. The two versions of The Night of the Iguana are illustrative.

The playwright's remarks on setting and characters for the play are a more detailed account of the descriptions which open the story. The play, a full three acts, contains many more characters and thereby more conflicts and secondary motifs than the twenty-seven page story. The drama centers on Shannon: his disintegrating emotional condition, his intellectual attraction to Hannah Jelkes, his various physical lapses, and his relationship to Maxine. In the story, Maxine is called simply "the Patrona," Shannon is not presented at all, and Miss Jelkes (a painter, here called Edith) is the focal point. Perhaps because of Williams' talent in presenting sympathetic women characters—especially southern women—the story version seems the more satisfying and complete. (p. 649)

In both story and play, the iguana is captured, left tied up all night, and finally released. Miss Jelkes of the play requests Shannon to cut it free: he recognizes the lizard's tethering as a "parallel situation" to her elderly grandfather's "dying-out effort" … to finish a last poem. But Williams does not include the grandfather in the story; the iguana as a metaphor therefore applies solely to Miss Jelkes…. The story ends with a sense of resolution: Miss Jelkes has grappled with a problem and found some understanding. In contrast, the play ends on a flabby note. Dramatic tension and excitement run down, with Shannon still taking the path of least resistance. Knowledge, understanding, acceptance are absent—perhaps impossible, given Williams' portrait of the minister. At any rate, Miss Jelkes of the story seems a more unified and interesting central character than Shannon in the play. The play attempts perhaps too much….

Another story from the One Arm collection, "The Malediction," and the short lyrical play, The Strangest Kind of Romance, are slight variations on rather than separate treatments of a theme. Both center on a little man and his loneliness. (p. 650)

In the play, the little man tries to communicate the desperation of his solitude…. This tortured message echoes through much of Williams' work. But the "body as shell" motif is left an intriguing fragment; neither play nor story is fully developed. The "Malediction" is an uneven story, but it ends with a strong sense of decision. The play is more unified but ends on a garbled and weak note. Together, however, they demonstrate Williams' skill in evoking the loneliness and terror of a vulnerable individual. (p. 651)

Clearly, Williams' plays and stories are not drastically separate artistic efforts, but subtle variations of the same voice: character, style, theme are similar. Characterization by types provides a telling illustration of the unity in Williams' work. One favorite Williams figure [is] the earthy middle-aged woman…. Another recurring character is the handsome (often dark) young man, sensual and compelling…. In contrast to these sexual beings, Williams often portrays a person (a woman, usually) repressed and fearful…. (p. 653)

The qualities of repression and fear are parts of the dominant Williams motif of the outcast: the emotional or physical cripple who suffers intense loneliness and hunger for love and acceptance. Both the 1967 "slapstick tragedy," The Mutilated, and the early story "One Arm" explicitly label physical deformities. Laura in "Portrait" is shy and secretive, but in the play [The Glass Menagerie] Williams adds a visible deformity (lame foot) to emphasize the girl's estrangement from society. (p. 654)

Lack of purpose in life is the sad corollary to lack of identity. Williams knows that we all seek "someone or something"; ultimately, we seek love—it is the something that gives life purpose. And love, of course, is Williams' primary concern. As in the plays, Williams' fictional explorations range from the bawdy to the beautiful to the bizarre. More exactly, he is concerned with the need for love and with the various relationships possible between love and sex. (pp. 654-55)

[Most] of Williams' characters, realistically, are … complex, and the search for love is … tortured. Love must include communication and sharing; the married couple in Williams' short story "The Vine" realize this need in much the same way as do the two couples in his "serious comedy," Period of Adjustment. But straight man/woman marriages are not Williams' chief interest. More often he describes nonconventional love relationships…. (p. 655)

Self-sacrifice is one option in the face of basic questions of survival: "I think the thing to fuss over is not competitive philosophies of art or even political ideas, which are curiously outside our introverted orbit, but simply this: a method of survival!" (Williams' preface to "The Summer Belevedere," in Five Young American Poets). "How do you live?" "How do you get along?" are questions Williams has never stopped asking. His answers assume that we will, and must, suffer…. Then there is still another compensation. This one is found in the principle of atonement, the surrender of self to violent treatment by others with the idea of thereby clearing one's self of his guilt…. Since Williams posits guilt as universal, the audience (or reader) thus joins him in a communion of collective guilt and in a tacit quest for small moments of "completion" in an incomplete world. "Desire and the Black Masseur" unites the themes of guilt and atonement; the story is one of Williams' most carefully crafted and succeeds as serious, startling fiction.

Age differences mark some of the love relationships in Williams' work. The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and "Sabbatha and Solitude" provide an interesting comparison; Sabbatha is more eccentric, more bizarre, more aged than Karen Stone, but the theme of old artist and young Italian lover is the same. Williams in the 1970s seems to find more potential for "happy" endings, or at least for resolutions which emphasize acceptance and mutual recognition of dependencies. (pp. 656-57)

Roman Spring is Williams' first extended work of fiction, but in some ways it is more a play than a novel. The opening paragraph, which describes place and lighting, seems much like Williams' introductory remarks to Camino Real or Sweet Bird of Youth—the effect is visual and prepares an audience for a scene with actors…. Mrs. Stone enters the scene in the second chapter; but unity of place is preserved, and it is easy to visualize this sequence as stage action. Williams uses no quotation marks—dialogue is simply set out on the page, a device used often in his fiction. The technique adds a fluid quality to the prose; Roman Spring seems breathless, sometimes appropriately hysterical—qualities which suit the character of Mrs. Stone. The style also allows for easy inclusion of past material, in a touch of quasi-stream of consciousness…. But lacking the dramatic tension which marks so much of Williams' work, this novel seems diffuse and only erratically charged. A screen play atmosphere prevails; minor characters appear like cameo spots. (pp. 657-58)

Mrs. Stone is a credible and sympathetic character, yet the novel creates less impact than many of Williams' shorter pieces of fiction. The reader knows Mrs. Stone well but is not apt to care deeply about her. A similar problem marks … Moise and the World of Reason.

Moise and the World of Reason is Williams' longest piece of fiction to date. The novel both succeeds and fails. Many parts are dull, the characters often unbelievable or simply uninteresting. Readers will invariably identify the writer-narrator as Tennessee Williams himself; further, an old derelict playwright—whom Moise recognizes as the writer grown old—is associated with the Truck and Warehouse (TW) Theater and thus is a blunt projection of the most seedy and unattractive aspects of Williams himself.

Moise's chief success is its evocation of mood—seeking, scared, bitter-sweet—and place. Manhattan streets at night, rundown lofts, abandoned warehouses are all strongly drawn and serve as appropriate setting for this tale of loss and love…. The novel does not flow with the lyrical grace so often characteristic of Williams' prose; rather, the new work is especially marked by fragments, abrupt changes, unfinished sentences…. Williams is engaging in the popular sport of mocking the act of writing, punning, poking self-consciously at words and sentences and their attempts to describe emotions. Suspended thought, absence of resolution are marks of Moise's indecisions and fears as well as symptoms of the narrator's inability to accept a finality. But the technique is overly consc ious and seemingly contrived; it is repeated in the novel too many times to remain effective and fresh. Although Moise has a "happy" ending, it is a tale throughout of unhappiness and anguish. Unfortunately, reading the novel is an equally anguishing experience. Unlike the bulk of Williams' fiction, which is marked by a compassionate and delicate delineation of pain, Moise is marred by an awkward, tedious style. Frequently the prose is pretentiously solemn or irritatingly vapid; the characterizations are clumsy and uneven. (pp. 658-60)

Essentially [Moise] is a painter; the pigments and the canvas are her milieu, "not the words and the impossible letting of things."… Her world thus becomes untenable when she runs out of art supplies. At the end of the tale, a great package of supplies is delivered ("an act of divine Providence") so that Moise can continue her work. She is thereby protected from the ravages of the outside world. Williams had remarked in the introduction to A Streetcar Named Desire, "It is only in his work that an artist can find reality and satisfaction." And Moise and the narrator also find love…. [Her] room is the world of love and creativity; it is for these that Tennessee Williams lives. Moise is not representative of Williams' talent as a fiction writer. The large output of short stories, along with his verse and drama, stand as personal testimony to that world of love and artistry. (p. 662)

Ren Draya, "The Fiction of Tennessee Williams," in Tennessee Williams: A Tribute, edited by Jac Tharpe (copyright © 1977 by the University Press of Mississippi), University Press of Mississippi, 1977, pp. 647-62.

William J. Free

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1637

Critical dissatisfaction over Tennessee Williams' plays of the seventies has been almost unanimous….

[Critics charge that] Williams repeats himself by going over and over the same territory and … that his plays, for better or worse, are autobiographical. (p. 815)

Both charges against Williams do his plays an injustice by failing to take them on their own terms. Deflection of our interest from an author's work to his life, particularly in Williams' case, too often reflects a taste for lurid sexual detail rather than for art. Further more, the artist's work relates not to the outer details of his life but to the inner world of his imagination, so to jump from an account of Williams' sexual preferences to an allegorization of his plays is to ignore an important middle step, as the publication of his Memoirs should clearly establish. Few artists of our century have been more delighted to detail their private lives or more reluctant to reveal the working of their imaginations as Williams. Even the few mentions of people from his life in relationship to his plays deny that any individual is the direct model for any character or that any situation from life relates directly to any dramatic event. Williams tells us in the Memoirs that the imagination is the only place in which the artist can live, but he continues to live there privately and secretly. (p. 816)

The charge of repeating himself, on the other hand, is perhaps more relevant if viewed in its proper context…. The real charge to be brought against Out Cry and Small Craft Warnings is not that they repeat Williams' earlier plays. Both plays, I believe, move into territory which Williams has not fully revealed to us in his earlier plays. But neither play succeeds completely in revealing that territory. They are failures of dramatization rather than failures of theme. Their problem is not that they are autobiographical or that they specifically repeat Williams' other work but that they are inadequate expressions of whatever is in the playwright's imagination.

Small Craft Warnings seems to me torn between two impulses, neither of which gets fully realized. [One is the theme of the dulling repetition of life, a theme which is] relatively new to Williams. The other is a stylistic device, the lyrical confession, which isn't new, but which here neither becomes integrated with the dramatization of theme nor works itself out fully. (pp. 816-17)

The newness in Small Craft Warnings is the note of boredom and weariness with life, or, more accurately, a delicate tonal quality to that weariness seldom encountered before. Quentin is not, like Blanche, for example, destroyed by the callous indifference or downright brutality of others; he is simply deadened by the repetitiousness of the act of love and by his recognition of the essential sameness of life. Blanche and most of Williams' other characters long for the inlet and the sense of community; to Quentin, the sailing isn't worth it any more. And, however much the other characters in Small Craft Warnings may resist that sense of futility, it surrounds them all.

The central problem with Small Craft Warnings is that Williams does not find an adequate dramatic expression for the matrix within which his characters exist. (p. 819)

[A] further weakness in the style of Williams' monologues [is] a weakness in the poetry of his language. (p. 820)

Quentin's imagery never leaves the hot-house world of literary symbolism. It is a free-floating imagery assembled in the writer's imagination but lacking in substantial context. Its symbolism—the fish, the chorines, the sphinx—reaches toward abstractions which are not located in time and space, not even … fully in Quentin's own experience…. [The] abstractness of Williams' symbolism contributes strongly to the sense of repetition because the level of abstraction relates the words to the entire modernist movement and leaves it essentially without concrete location.

Out Cry is a more complex play than Small Craft Warnings and in the long run a better play. But some of the same problems of unity exist in it, too, and some of the same misunderstandings about its basic nature exist in the criticism of it…. [Critics imply] that the person doing the talking is really Tennessee Williams. Such an interpretation, I believe, badly misunderstands the play.

Structurally, Williams organizes Out Cry by enclosing its earlier version, The Two-Character Play, in a play-within-a-play device. (p. 821)

Critics of Out Cry have complained specifically about the overwhelming triteness of the dialogue and the personal subjectivity of the dramatic images…. Williams has acknowledged the play's thematic closeness to his own experience. "Confinement has always been the greatest dread of my life: that can be seen in my play Out Cry."… Confinement is a legitimate fear and the playwright's subjective response a legitimate subject for drama. But here, Williams neither completely focuses his material nor makes it totally convincing.

The problem is not that the play is thinly veiled autobiography nor that the characters are merely superficial masks for the playwright….

The true weakness of Out Cry lies in the relationship between the symbolism of the play-within-a-play device and the content of the Two-Character Play. Williams' theatrical symbolism is, of course, derivative from Pirandello and the playwrights of the absurd, perhaps too directly so to be effective. (p. 822)

The theater metaphor draws upon the teatro del mundo tradition and, presumably, attempts to represent the total human condition. We, like [the two protagonists], have to continue our tours, even though "unexpected and unalterable circumstance" narrows our possibilities and confines us to smaller and smaller circumferences. The symbolism is shopworn and obvious, but clear. But we have much more difficulty accepting the characters in Two-Character Play as representative of the human condition. Rather, they are representative of neurotic, perhaps even psychotic, behavior. We see them not as images of ourselves but as psychopathic case histories observed from a distance. (p. 823)

[The really telling difficulty is that the world outside] is hostile and confining only in their imaginations…. Their confinement is not, then, representative of the human condition, as it is in the theater motif, but is a projection of their own warped imaginations, warped by an unusual circumstance in their lives rather than by the fundamental limitations of being human. Thus the relationship between the two levels of the play is not concentric but excentric, and our interest in the characters as case histories overpowers our ability to accept them as reflections of ourselves.

The use of theatrical symbolism is similarly unfocused. The burning rose in the carpet, the twin-headed sunflowers, and the statue which dominates the stage, "a work of great power and darkly subjective meaning,"… are either too obvious or too "darkly subjective" to exercise any controlling force over our responses. (pp. 823-24)

In both Out Cry and Small Craft Warnings, Williams' failure is neither self-repetition nor self-dramatization. It is an inability to fuse the disparate elements of his imagination into an effective whole. Too many times our interest is led outward on wild goose chases after a scattering of dramatic motifs which never really lead us back into the play. (p. 824)

Furthermore, I believe the dissatisfaction we feel with these plays comes at least in part from our subconsciously placing them in the context of the theater of the sixties. Williams, having for all practical effect lost the decade of the sixties from his life, seems to be trying to create "Theatre of the Absurd" without knowing it has already been done. Others before him, particularly Samuel Beckett, have etched the experience of confinement so deeply into our sensibilities and have done so with such control of their dramatic medium that Williams' plays seem old hat in comparison. (p. 825)

The experience of his crack-up and the encroachments of middle age have given Williams new insights into life and new thematic directions to his imagination. But if he is to make the richness of his imagination available to us again, he must find and control the means of dramatic expression better than he has done thus far in the seventies. Otherwise we will continue to feel (with sadness) the same discontents.

Since I completed the above article Williams has published, in The Theatre of Tennessee Williams, volume five, a considerably revised version of Out Cry, returning to his previous title, The Two-Character Play. The revision indicates not only that the play is of high personal value to Williams but, more importantly, that he is aware of its flaws and is in sufficient control of his talent to make headway in correcting them. Although the revised play may not stand as one of Williams' grander achievements, it demonstrates a surer grasp of dramatic technique than anything he has done in the seventies, and it deserves a new and impartial production.

The new Two-Character Play keeps the play-within-the-play relatively intact, but the scenes which enclose it have a tightness and energy lacking in Out Cry. In particular, the characters lose most of the rhetorical, introspective quality which so weakened them and which perhaps caused the impression that they were but mouthpieces for the author. Secondly, the excessive theatrical symbolism to which I objected above is largely gone. (pp. 825-26)

Williams' revisions of The Two-Character Play may not reverse the verdict against Out Cry, but they do reopen the case. More importantly, they do demonstrate a recapturing both of dramatic control and of objectivity in Williams' work. Perhaps the unburdening of himself in the Memoirs will enable Williams to escape the obsessions which have plagued his imagination during the last decade and enable him, in his twilight years, to regain his position as our most eminent living dramatist. (pp. 827-28)

William J. Free, "Williams in the Seventies: Directions and Discontents," in Tennessee Williams: A Tribute, edited by Jac Tharpe (copyright © 1977 by the University Press of Mississippi), University Press of Mississippi, 1977, pp. 815-28.


Williams, Tennessee (Vol. 111)


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