Tennessee Williams

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Tennessee Williams is a well known writer because of his motion picture screen plays. He is also best known for his plays. The characters of his pieces were based on people close to him like relatives and friends. Even the themes of homosexuality and alcohol were based on real life. This paper aims to discuss his biography and his literary works.

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Born on the 26th of March 1911, Thomas Lanier Williams grew up in Columbus Mississippi. His parents were Cornelius Coffin, a traveling salesman for a shoe company and Edwina Dakin, a full time housewife and daughter of a prime minister. Williams became fascinated with writing during his younger years. He showed interest on writing when he was eleven years old and his mother even bought him a typewriter to support his interest. C.C. Williams was not a good father and full of vices. He is inclined with drinking and gambling. The family of Tennessee was never at peace. His parents always argue about money since his father prefers drinking even if his salary was not enough to support their living. His father never loved him that much and even gave him a nickname “Miss Nancy” which is supposed to be given to a girl.

At the age of sixteen Tennessee had written his first story, “The Vengeance of Nitocis” and was published by Weird Tales magazine. After 2 years he went schooling at the University of Missouri majoring in Journalism. His deep south intonation made him acquire the nickname Tennessee from his schoolmates. The most imperative events of those years in Washington University were his newfound love of theater. Tennessee also joined a theatrical group. Due to financial problems he needed to leave schooling and find a job at a shoe firm that employed his father. Tennessee still sustained to work on and fabricate short stories at the same time as still working at the industrial unit. He would work at the factory during the day and work on his play at night. Tennessee’s brother forced him to be institutionalized. Tennessee was so mad at his brother he excluded him from his will.

Later when Williams was released he moved to Iowa and enrolled at the University of Iowa, where he graduated in 1938. Tennessee was working for M.G.M. (Metro Goldwin Mayer films Company). In 1945 his biggest break came with “The Glass Menagerie” which made it to the Broadway for more than a year and was awarded by the New York Drama Critics Circle. The great writer that he is, he also gained the Pulitzer Prize for “Cat on a hot tin Roof” in the year 1955. This tackles about ethical conditions of southern families. His work “The night of the Iguana” in 1961 was filmed in 1964.   Most of Tennessee’s plays were conveyed to the screen. In 1956, the screenplay “Baby Doll” was released. With Elia Kazan as the director, this is considered as Tennessee’s most important screenplay.

By this time Williams was considered to be major play writer. These screenplays made Tennessee Williams famous: A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Summer and Smoke (1948), The Rose Tattoo (1953), Cat on a Hot Tin roof (1955), Suddenly Last Summer (1958), Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), and The Night of Iguana (1961).

Hard days working in the warehouse and long nights spent typing, may have contributed to Williams’s nervous breakdown. Tennessee’s grandmother financed his return to college at Washington University. While in college, his adore for drama assisted him engrave Cairo! Shanghai! Bombay! for the Rose Arbor theater group. During the next few years he wrote many plays and poems. At Washington University, Williams’s was required to write a one-act play for a contest in his playwriting class. When he did not win, he reacted violently and left the university before the end of the year. He eventually returned to college where he graduated at the age of twenty-seven. One of his foremost ambitions is to join the Chicago’s Writers Project. But he did not make it. He decided then to go to New Orleans and there he lives on and off the French Quarter.

Since writing is his passion, his eyesight soon faded and so as his career. Although most of his plays were produced, many of them failed. During those times he worked hard to support himself aside from writing. Aside from being a play writer, he was also a teletype operator, theater usher, poetry-recycling writer and a scriptwriter.

There was a time in the life of Tennessee that he assumed that he has breast cancer and underwent a surgery. After the operation, the finding is that it is not because of breast cancer but because of too much alcohol in his body. He even needed a psychiatric assistance since everything is going bad for him. Visiting different countries like Mexico, Africa and Europe were all part of Tennessee’s life. After his mental therapy, he regains his composure to live with the help of medicines. The 24th of February 1983 marks the death of Tennessee Williams. After taking Seconals a drug he usually takes for him to fall asleep, it was stuck in his throat and from that he died.

Literary Criticism  Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams is acclaimed as America’s great dramatist of the 20th century. His name and works can be compared to the fame of Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill. From his more than forty years of critical acclaims, he became more famous for his two  masterpieces: The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire. He was also well known for the Pulitzer prizewinning drama entitled Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He managed to write more than sixty other plays, among them were Sweet Bird of Youth, Orpheus Descending,  The Night of the Iguana and The Rose Tattoo.

Gifted with an empathetic understanding of the human condition and a talent for rendering incisive psychological portraits, Williams has created some of the most enduring characters on the American stage: Amanda Wingfield, Blanche Du Bois, Stanley Kowalski, Big Daddy Pollitt, Maggie “the cat,” and Serafina Delle Rosa. In roles created by Tennessee Williams, actors such as Maureen Stapleton and Marlon Brando (as Stanley Kowalski) have launched their careers, while others, such as Laurette Taylor (as Amanda Wingfield) have delivered some of the most memorable performances of the twentieth century.

Distinguished by a lyrical voice that has its origins in the rhythms of Southern speech, Williams displays a brand of “personal lyricism” that has an appeal far wider than the boundaries of the U.S. geographical region where he was born ( Williams, “Williams”3). His plays, for example, have been translated into more than thirty different languages and have been performed on stages in countries all around the world.

Emerging into prominence just as the second world war came to a close, Tennessee Williams offered theatregoers a new “plastic” theatre, more caustic than the escapist dramas of the war years, but nevertheless more engagingly sensitive than the social dramas of the 1930s. Williams considered his own brand of theatre more vital than “the exhausted theatre of realistic conventions” and aimed to supplant the latter with a plastic theatre employing “unconventional techniques,” offering his audiences a view of reality distilled through a “poetic imagination” ( Williams, “Production”ix).

Nurtured by the tragic life and the lyric poetry of Hart Crane, Tennessee Williams initially found expression for his own poetic imagination by writing verse. During the 1930s, Williams would publish more than forty poems, most of them in small, literary periodicals, but two of them appeared in the prestigious Poetry magazine. Even so, Williams’s growing dissatisfaction with his own verse, the dim prospect of earning enough money to support himself by writing poetry, and his discovery in 1935 of the enchantment of hearing an audience respond to his first dramatic production–Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay!-signalled the beginning of Williams’s love affair with the theatre and marked a significant metamorphosis in the form of Williams’s artistic expression.

Something of the poet in Williams always remained, visible to commentators who, over the years, would point to the divided nature of the artist in Tennessee Williams. The “poetry” of Tennessee Williams encompasses more than the metrical qualities of his language. As Durham observes, Williams and other practitioners of the plastic theatre eschewed the verse forms that distinguish conventional poetry, opting instead for “an eclectic but organic union of both verbal and nonverbal elements of the theatre”

Just as Williams’s “artistic personality” may be said to be divided, so too may be the critical response to his plays, and along lines similar to Williams’s self-assessment. Reviewers routinely praise Williams for the lyrical, poetic aspects of his work, while critics who find fault with Williams generally point to his failures of dramatic craftsmanship. Similarly divided between praise of Williams’s lyricism and criticism of his dramatic technique, the reviews of Williams’s plays may also be grouped into three broad categories that adhere to no evenly divided or strictly demarcated chronological periods: the first group includes restrained responses to a “new” playwright who is not yet in command of his dramatic skills; the second group includes estimates of Williams’s greatness, which draw attention to the mastery of his craft or point to evidence of his maturity; finally, a third group of reviews notes when Williams departs in direction or quality from the standard established by Williams’s own masterpieces.

The Glass Menagerie

A writer who undertakes to give literary shape to roughly identical material in different genres often draws a critical response that attempts to assess his success by measuring the various offerings against each other. The dramas of Tennessee Williams have repeatedly been approached through the short stories or the poems he uses as blueprints for his plays. No book-length study of Williams’s work is without a description and an analysis, sometimes lengthily drawn out, of the successive developments through which his literary constructs acquire their final dramatic physiognomy and, more often than not, their most felicitous and successful expression.

The Glass Menagerie is a different one of Williams’s splendid play writes. This play goes on in St Louis Missouri at a residence in the year 1944. The celebrities of this play are from time of the Great Depression. The stars are Tom Wingfield, Amanda Wingfield, Laura Wingfield, and Jim O’Connor. As an artist Williams utilized his private past, his individual alcoholism and homosexuality, and his relations and associates to provide topics and icons for his plays, narratives and novels. Loads of Williams’s novels replicate the romantic Southern Gothic custom. All through the years Williams made various booming stories. But his later on plays were not very thriving, and ultimately a failed opening of his scripts commences. Because of the displeasure, Tennessee Williams became inebriated and choated on a cap in 1983. Williams one of the most courteous playwrights of era and is best acknowledged for his play, “The Glass Menagerie.” At a premature age he had to prevail over his family crises. His parents were disallowing him and that made him an unusual man, and an unalike novelist. The Glass Menagerie is a kind of dramatized social pamphlet, a play whose overall aim is to denounce, through the example of the Wingfields, the deplorable effects of capitalism.

Throughout his essay Mr. Pavlov casts the members of the Wingfield family as representatives of a social class. Thus he considers that what they experience is “the frustration, despair and confusion of the American lower class, left stunned and bleeding in the path of the economic tornado.” Further he quotes the initial stage direction describing the Wingfield neighbourhood and states that it assumes the force of a generalization about the vast middle class of the United States, “this largest and fundamentally enslaved section of American society, suffocating in apartment buildings the color of dried blood and mustard!” Mr. Pavlov’s premise raises the question of the Wingfields’ representativity and, beyond that, of the importance and function of the social elements in the play.

Certainly, Amanda, a former Southern belle, Tom, “a poet with a job in a warehouse” and Laura, a morbidly shy “girl in glass,” three eminently atypical characters, cannot be considered epitomes of a social class. There is no denying that the family’s financial means (for all we know the $65 of Tom’s monthly pay constitute their only regular income) put them within the revenue bracket of the lower middle class. Mr. Pavlov fails to point out, however, that none of the members of the trio are integrated to the social sphere in which they are forced to live. Williams scatters his play with hints that the Wingfields, far from epitomizing their, refuse to accept their surroundings and are, in turn, rejected by the outside world. Amanda despises the Chinese laundry and Jewish delicatessen neighbourhood and rails against her stingy, speculating landlord; she has remained an active member of the D.A.R. organisation and the Acting Version introduces her with a vituperative speech against “Northern Episcopalians” who refused to give her a pew in the nearby church. Tom hates the “celotex interior! with fluorescent tubes!” of the factory; his workmates regard him with “suspicious hostility” because of his poetic activities; they consider him an outsider, “an oddly fashioned dog who trots across their path at some distance.” Laura dislikes the music from the Paradise Dance Hall; her characterial shortcomings have kept people away from her: she has never managed to make friends in St. Louis. The Wingfields are then introduced less as representatives of the lower middle class than as aliens in it, less as “petty bourgeois” than as involuntary and sometimes infuriated exiles in a petty bourgeois milieu. Objectively they may be ranked with their urban ghetto neighbours; subjectively they are miles apart from them. And this spirit of “apartness” rather than a sense of belonging is what determines their actions in the play. Williams wanted primarily to comment on the lower middle class he would, no doubt, have selected less objectionable representatives. The Glass Menagerie is a social picture. Williams nevertheless introduces obliquely the atmosphere of the outside world, through his description of a narrow areaway called Death Valley and of the tragic end of cats cornered there by vicious chows.

Short Stories

Readers of Tennessee Williams may also come from the third sex. Gay readers may find themselves on Williams’ short stories like the two short stories set in Joy Rio Theater entitled “The Mysteries of Joy Rio” and “Hard Candy”.

            The Joy Rio is a luxurious opera house which shows mass-produced myths of American masculinity, westerners shows and combinations of people who engages themselves on furtive sex. Emil Kroger is a lonely watchmaker who falls for Pablo Gonzales. Both of them suffered from caner of the bowels and are seeking for happiness even for a short span of time. There was also another character named Mr. Krupper who goes on bribing beautiful boys with candies and money in exchange for sexual pleasures. The theater in this story is not only a place where shows are watched it is also a place where the third generation meets up and enjoys the dark corners having furtive sexual encounters. This short story is full of homosexual dramas and tackles issues of aging, transient joy, ugly people and the contact of beauty with youth. Williams wanted to imply on these stories how malignancy and sodomy is connected with one’s beauty and health.


Williams is also into poem writing. He rigorously deflates the issues surrounding gay relationships and the consequences of one’s action by embracing this sexuality. There are subliminal meaning hidden in the lines of his poems like for example the “”San Sebastiano de Sodoma,” in which “Mary from Her tower/ of heaven” watches arrows pierce the throat and thigh of the martyr who was “an emperor’s concubine,” or his best known poem, “Life Story,” a hilarious depiction of post-coital attempts at communication.”


            Williams collections were mostly based on his love ones, his personality and how he sees life in general. There are certain codes in his plays where gay readings can be made possible.

A gay play that can be considered is the play entitled “A Streetcar Named Desire” this is because it has gay slangs, camp and theatrical transformations. He is indeed a playwright who avlues freedom of expression through his works. Most character in his works represents someone from their family and one that will caharcterize himself too. Like Amanda in “The Glass Menagerie” which reflects his mother. The elements of his life like mental instability, alcoholism and homosexuality can be pictured out on the issues of his works like “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. Tennessee Williams is one great playwright who values truth and passion on what he does. The bottom-line of everything he did is that he is just speaking his heart out on what he writes.

Works Cited:

Barbier, Marveen. Lives and Works University of Arizona, 1999

Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Views. New York: Yale university, 1987.

Garraty, John Mark, Carnes American National Biography. 23Ed. New

York: Oxford university press, 1999.

Kazan, Elia, Autobiography a Life .24Ed University of Arizona 1988.

Falk, Signi Lenea. Tennessee Williams. Twayne Publishers, Inc. New York. 1961.

Rader, Dotson. Tennessee – Cry of the Heart. Doubleday & Company Inc. Garden City, NY. 1985

Riley, Carolyn. Contemporary Literary Criticism 1. Gale Research Company. Book Tower. 1973

Spoto, Donald. The Kindness of Strangers – The Life of Tennessee Williams. Little, Brown And Company. Boston, Toronto. 1985

Williams, Tennessee. Memoirs. Doubleday & Company Inc. Garden City, NY.


McCann John S. The Critical Reputation of Tennessee Williams: A Reference Guide. A Reference Guide to Literature. Boston: G. K. Hall. 1983.

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Tennessee Williams. (2017, Feb 01). Retrieved from


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