A Rhetoric Of Outcasts In The Plays Essay

Of Tennessee Williams Essay, Research Paper

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More than a half century has passed since critics and theater-goers recognized Tennessee Williams ( 1911-1983 ) as an of import American dramatist, whose dramas fellow dramaturge David Mamet calls & # 8220 ; the greatest dramatic poesy in the American linguistic communication & # 8221 ; ( qtd. in Griffin 13 ) . Williams & # 8217 ; s repertoire includes some 30 full-length dramas, legion short dramas, two volumes of poesy, and five

volumes of essays and short narratives. He won two Pulitzer Prizes ( for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955 ) , and was the first dramatist to have, in 1947, the Pulitzer Prize for play, the Donaldson Award, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in the same twelvemonth. Although Williams & # 8217 ; s first professionally produced drama, Battle of Angels, closed in

1940 because of hapless reviews1 and a censoring contention ( Roudane xvii ) , his early recreational productions of Candles to the Sun and Fugitive Kind were good received by audiences in St. Louis. By 1945 he had completed and opened on Broadway The Glass Menagerie, which won that twelvemonth & # 8217 ; s New York Critics Circle, Donaldson, and Sidney Howard Memorial awards. Before his decease in 1983, Williams accumulated four New York Drama Critics Awards ; three Donaldson Awards ; a Tony Award for his 1951 screenplay, The Rose Tattoo ; a New York Film Critics

Award for the 1953 movie screenplay, A Streetcar Named Desire ; the Brandeis University Creative Arts Award ( 1965 ) ; a Medal of Honor from the National Arts Club ( 1975 ) ; the $ 11,000 Commonwealth Award ( 1981 ) ; and an honorary doctor’s degree from Harvard University ( 1982 ) . He was honored by President Carter at Kennedy Center in 1979, and named Distinguished Writer in Residence at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in 1981.

In add-on to kudos from critics, Williams held for many old ages the attending of audiences in America and abroad. By 1955 his repute was steadfastly established ; that twelvemonth & # 8217 ; s Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ran for 694 public presentations ( Roudan xx ) . Some old ages after their first Broadway

tallies, four of his dramas were revived successfully there: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ( 1974 ) , Summer and Smoke ( September, 1975 ) , Sweet Bird of Youth ( October, 1975 ) , and The Glass Menagerie ( December, 1975 ) . On the twenty-four hours of Williams & # 8217 ; s decease, the New York eventide documents issued an impressive list of celebrated histrions who have performed in his dramas ; these include Jessica Tandy, Marlon Brando, Geraldine Page, Paul Newman, Maureen Stapleton, Eli Wallach, Tallulah Bankhead, Burl Ives, Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, and Bette Davis ( Leverich 5-6 ) . Whether one argues that these histrions were made celebrated by Williams & # 8217 ; s work, or that the quality of his work attracted the most popular movie and phase performing artists, the connexion between Williams and these near-legends of movie and phase establishes the dramatist as one of the most of import figures in 20th century play. R. Barton Palmer notes that Williams had more influence on the development of American film than any other 20th century dramatist. He writes:

[ U ] nlike other noted dramatists, Williams & # 8217 ; s work strongly influenced the development of the movie industry itself. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of the class of 1950ss and early 1960ss cinematic history without his dramas as beginning stuff ; and if we could conceive of such a history, it would be rather different from the 1 that really played out on the screen. To my cognition, no other writer through his plants entirely has had this sort of influence on the history of a national film. ( 205 ) Despite Williams & # 8217 ; s aglow calling, when I turned to The Modern Language Association electronic database I discovered that comparatively few scholarly scrutinies of Williams & # 8217 ; s work exist. The MLA lists merely 589 entries utilizing the form, & # 8220 ; Tennessee Williams & # 8221 ; & # 8211 ; a paltry figure compared to Eugene O & # 8217 ; Neill ( considered by many critics to be Williams & # 8217 ; s chief rival for the rubric of prime American dramatist ) . The MLA database lists more than 1,146 entries for O & # 8217 ; Neill. The figure of scholarly scrutinies of Williams & # 8217 ; s work represents a fraction of the figure of thesiss, essays, and books written about other of import American authors & # 8211 ; for illustration, the MLA database lists 4,019 entries utilizing the form & # 8220 ; William Faulkner. & # 8221 ; 2 Why has so small been written about Tennessee Williams, compared to other of import American dramatists such as O & # 8217 ; Neill? My research has yielded no satisfactory reply to this inquiry. Possibly the most common theory is that Williams & # 8217 ; s work is considered & # 8220 ; popular & # 8221 ; ; academicians have ignored his work for the same grounds modern-day bookmans avoid Tom Clancy and Stephen King. As my research continues, I find such biass common. For illustration, the 2nd most often iterated theory as to why Williams

has been comparatively ignored involves sexual prejudice–some bookmans believe that the playwright’s homosexualism makes him unfit as a critical topic. Such bias appears to be common, peculiarly from some bookmans in the new critical movement3. Regardless of the grounds for the comparative disregard of Williams and his work, the fact is that his dramas and other Hagiographas are pregnant with possibilities for scholarly research. Even if we except from scrutiny the new stuff late made available by the Williams estate, there is a great trade to be discovered about this dramatist. If we include this newly-available material–and, as bookmans, we must–it is wholly possible that we will be inundated, over the following few old ages, with so much research that what has been written–including this dissertation–will be temporarily lost. Already, adequate new information is available to afford a closer scrutiny of Williams’s work. For illustration, a considerable sum of biographical information refering Williams can be found in histories from household, friends, and professional familiarities. Sing what we now know about his life, we can reason that the castaway characters examined in this thesis seem cardinal to Williams’s poetics. Through these friendless characters Williams outlines a battle between the moral values of Nonconformists, who are castawaies because they can non, or will non, conform to the values of the dominant civilization ; and conformists, who represent that civilization. The friendless characters in Tennessee Williams’s major dramas do non endure because of the actions or fortunes that make them outcast but because of the destructive impact of conventional morality upon them. They are driven, in the struggle between their values and those of conventional morality, to 1 ) squeal their evildoings against humanity and 2 ) suffer, at their ain custodies or by puting themselves in unsafe state of affairss, in expiation for their misdemeanors of conventional morality. That Williams’s castawaies are suffering is grounds of his sentiment that the demands of conventional morality can be destructive. In a 1939 missive to his editor, agent, and literary wise man, Audrey Wood, he makes this clear: “I have merely one major subject for my work which is the destructive impact of society on the sensitive non-conformist individual” ( Letter, 1939, to Audrey Wood ) 4. I have created three classs into which Williams’s castawaies can be placed: first are sexual castawaies who, like the dramatist, offer penetration into Williams’s feelings about his ain gender ; second are spiritual castawaies, who are vehicles for the playwright’s commentary on modern-day Christianity ; and 3rd, fleeting castawaies, whose flight reflects Williams’s ain insecurity and

disaffection. These classs slackly reflect those noted by T.E. Kalem, in his scrutiny of Williams & # 8217 ; s work: & # 8220 ; the odd, the lonely, the emotionally violated & # 8221 ; ( 88 ) . Such a treble differentiation serves as a utile manner to group Williams & # 8217 ; s castawaies. What can we derive from this scrutiny of William & # 8217 ; s outcast characters? I agree with Jack Fritscher, who argues that Williams & # 8217 ; s work reveals

& # 8220 ; the more hard dualities of the interior American experience & # 8221 ; ( 7 ) . The struggle between these friendless characters and conventional morality is tied to the countless tensenesss that form 20th century America. To analyze Williams & # 8217 ; s castawaies is to open avenues toward understanding those tensenesss. Dianoia, the significance of a work or plants of literature, includes the symbols and originals that exist in the society that produced the texts ( Frye 357 ) . In repeating the dianoia of Williams & # 8217 ; s outcast characters, I will widen our apprehension of the societal and religious agon that made those characters possible.

Notes:

1 ) Despite the hapless response of Battle of Angels, Williams was awarded $ 1,000 by the National Institute of Arts and Letters for this drama in 1944.

2 ) This information comes from an MLA database hunt I conducted on April 12, 1999, in Gorgas Library at the University of Alabama. That hunt besides yielded 473 entries for Arthur Miller and 429 entries for Edward Albee.

3 ) Harmonizing to critic Alan Sinfield, & # 8220 ; EngLit & # 8221 ; ( his term for bookmans attached to the new critical motion ) , & # 8220 ; traditionally, has ne’er had ground to see any homosexualism & # 8221 ; ( 61 ) . He reports that John Crowe Ransom, perchance the most influential bookman in the new critical motion, accepted for publication a verse form from Robert Duncan and so, detecting the poet was cheery, withdrew his

credence. & # 8220 ; Ransom thought homophiles such as Duncan should & # 8217 ; sublimate & # 8217 ; their job, allow the daintiness of nuance of their esthesia come out in the guiltless parts of life and literature & # 8221 ; ( 65 ) .

4 ) For Williams, & # 8220 ; sensitive non-conformist, & # 8221 ; & # 8220 ; outcast, & # 8221 ; and & # 8220 ; fleeting & # 8221 ; look to be interchangeable footings.

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