LOVE AND DEATH
IN TENNESSEE WILLIAMS

by John J. Fritscher, Ph.D.
(aka) Jack Fritscher, Ph.D
.

CHAPTER 4

TOWARD A THEORY OF ALIENATION METAPHOR:
SEX AND VIOLENCE IN WILLIAMS

        About her young husband, a "poet with Romanov blood in his veins," Mrs. Goforth dictates:

I made my greatest mistake when I put a fast car in his hands....The Police Commissioner of Monaco personally came to ask me....To inst that he [the poet-husband] go with me in the Rolls with a chauffeur at the wheel, as a protection of his life and of the lives of others. --M. le Commissionaire, I said, for me there are no others.--I know, Madame, he said, but for the others there are others.1/ 

        Alienation differs from isolation in this that it implies a point of reference, implies a quality of otherness. It is from within personal existential isolation, from within his own solitary confinement that the individual looks out to see others. And while Val Xavier's statement that "We're all of us sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins, for life"2/  is basically true, it does not rule out the lesson of otherness that Williams' characters learn or do not learn in varying degrees.

        Alienation is endemic to the American tradition: this country's alienation from mother Europe has been accomplished beyond the fondest hopes of The American Scholar; the alienation of South and North in Civil maelstrom continues today; this century has seen increase of tension between agrarian and rural sensibilities; besides these, there have always been male-female differences as well as the alienation of the sensitive versus the burger-merchant. At every turn and in every case, because of the isolation inherent in the human condition man looks out at the other and perceives the alien. The consequent Angst of incompletion drives him to various distractions3/  or compensation.

We don't all live in the same world, you know, Mrs. Goforth. Oh, we all see the same things--sea, sun, sky, human faces and inhuman faces, but--they're different in here! [Touches his forehead.] And one person's sense of reality can be another person's sense of--well, of madness!--chaos!--and...when one person's sense of reality seems too--disturbingly different from another person's...he's--avoided! Not welcome.4/ 

In Williams' plays this conflict of personal realities births various kinds of violent tensions; for everybody lives in an oubliette of isolation on the Gulf of Misunderstanding.5/  Recalling the Calvinistic importance of naming things as a means of showing dominance, one feels that Williams gives consummate emphasis to names whose value is existential identity.

Kilroy: My name's Kilroy. I'm here.
Jacques: Mine is Casanova. I'm here, too.6/ 

This existential exchange with emphasis on identity and presence is important to a writer who changed his own name7/  and whose characters either change theirs (Val Xavier,8/  Sissy (Flora) Goforth) or intend to live under the directive of their given names: Alma's soul, Blanche's whiteness, Big Daddy's paternity, Heavenly's fallen grace. Life is not "Hello from Berth." It is rather "The Long Good-bye," the recognition of alienation from others and sometimes from one's very self. This is the epitome of alienation when one becomes alienated within his own isolation. Catharine Holly's journal experience precisely describes this violent alienation from self.

        After a Mardi Gras Ball, Catharine was willingly seduced by a married man who after their intimate union--which for her destroyed the otherness between them--told her to forget. She reacted in public violence, beating on his chest, humiliating herself before everyone at the Ball.

After that, the next morning, I started writing my diary in the third person, singular, such as "She's still living this morning," meaning that I was....--"WHAT'S NEXT FOR HER? GOD KNOWS!"--I couldn't go out anymore.9/ 

This is a kind of dying when self disintegrates into pieces of self, and the first person stands outside of the self as a third person voyeur of all that de does. On the level of the art theme it might here be stated that this first to third progression in Catharine is analogously the progression from romantic to neo-romantic. The species of change is the problem.

        Change to the romantics was a good whose any deficiency art could supply. To the neo-romantic, however, change takes on a character of duality. It is more often not the romantic evolution to maturation; it is more often violent corruption of some organic whole. Williams, however, did not begin with functionally metaphoric violence. At first--and perhaps to a degree latterly--he deserved the savaging done his Streetcar by Mary McCarthy in March, 1948.10/  But long before that, at age sixteen, Tom Williams had published his first story, a violent one, in Weird Tales, July/August, 1928. Needless to say this poorly written story was sensational. Williams wrote in the March 8, 1959, New York Times:

If you're well acquainted with my writings since then, I don't have to tell you that is set the keynote for most of the work that has followed. My first four plays, two of them performed in St. Louis, were correspondingly violent or more so. My first play professionally produced and aimed at Broadway was Battle of Angels and it was about as violent as you can get on the stage....During the nineteen years since then I have only produced five plays that are not violent....What surprised me is the degree to which both critics and audience have accepted this barrage of violence. I think I was surprised, most of all, by the acceptance and praise of Suddenly Last Summer. When it was done off Broadway, I thought I would be critically tarred and feathered...with not future haven except in translation for theatres abroad, who might mistakenly construe my work as a castigation of American morals, not understanding that I write about violence in American life only because I am not so well acquainted with the society of other countries.11/ 

Violence, however, defined as any lack of proper order knows no special country. The most widely read book of Western civilization, the Bible, shows order made from chaos almost immediately turned back to chaos as creature and creator became alienated and men were violently expelled into a suddenly violent environment. Such violence of environment mirrored the internal violence; the Creator gave to nature the appearance of man's internal disintegrated reality. Hannah says: "Sometimes outside disturbances...are an almost welcome distraction from inside disturbances."12/  Not only do nature's disorders mirror man's, they provide man therapy as he tries to restore order to nature, tries to regain the Edenic appearance. But the appearance and the reality are too disparate and man most often sits upright in tension. Hannah tells Shannon "that everything has its shadowy side."13/  As if in complement, Silva Vacarro and Baby Doll make rapid etiological exchange of Williams' philosophy of violence:

Silva: ...I believe in the presence of evil spirits.
Baby Doll: What evil spirits you talking about now?
Silva: Spirits of violence--and cunning--malevolence--cruelty--treachery--destruction....
Baby Doll: Oh, them's just human characteristics.
Silva: They're evil spirits that haunt the human heart and take possession of it, and spread from one human heart to another human heart the way that a fire goes springing from leaf to leaf and branch to branch in a tree till a forest is all aflame with it--the birds take flight--the wild things are suffocated...everything green and beautiful is destroyed.14/ 

Thus, in what he diagnoses as a lamentable human condition, Williams sees a violence much more devastating than that violence's sporadic eruption in murder, arson, rape, and castration. Critics are often distracted by the sensationalism of this surface violence; theirs is an unfortunate distraction, for Williams intends the external violence rather as metaphor of the more subtle violence he diagnoses in all mankind. Williams attempted to countermand this impression in Orpheus Descending. Vee Talbott talk of beatings, lynchings, and runaway convicts torn to pieces by hounds as example of violence. Val amends her definition:

Violence ain't quick always. Sometimes it's slow. Some tornadoes are slow. Corruption--rots men's hearts and--rot is slow.15/ 

Corruption is quiet violence; it is the alienation of parts within the whole. It is the violence of Williams' concern. Change says: "Princess, the age of some people can only be calculated by the level of--level of--rot in them. And by that measure I'm ancient."16/  This--not the castration--is for Williams' message as Chance closes the play asking the audience "for your recognition of me in you." Into this metaphorical web signifying internal corruption Williams easily fits his "southernmost" garden locales. Shannon says:

It's always been tropical countries I took ladies through. Does that, does that--huh?--signify something, I wonder. Maybe. Fast decay is a thing of hot climates, steamy hot, wet climates.17/ 

This amply reinforces the previous conclusion that Williams writes about the south of the human condition.

        Corruption is disorder. The artist by definition is a creator who imposes order on disconnected chaos. He takes the literal, superficial happening and invest it with layers of meaning a literalist cannot tolerate. Anything can be invested; everything is grist for the artist's mill. Thus even violence can be raised to metaphor

as it elucidates theme, intensifies mood, and delineates character....The violence gives aesthetic value to the incongruous, the ugly, the repulsive, and the chaotic which these sensitive observes [Southern writers] see in their world. It expresses the suffering of inarticulate and the dispossessed persons. It questions an optimistic faith in progress and human self-sufficiency by asserting the darkness in the heart of man. It protests that without some formal ordering of his experience man will be overwhelmed by the accidental and the relative. By expressing in the mode of violence the destructive forces in society and in human nature, these Southerners affirm their sense of order through the very disorder which violates it.18/ 

Robert E. Fitch, Dean of Christian Ethics at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, is representative of the Williams critics who descry surface sensationalism. Dean Fitch calls Williams the High Priest of La Mystique de la Merde which he defines as "the deification of dirt, or the apotheosis of ordure, or just plain mud mysticism.19/  Fitch points out, however, almost accidentally, the translation Williams makes of Calvinist theology into literary metaphor:

No one wishes to deny the deep corruption of which human nature is capable. But when we obliterate both character and intelligence in a fixation on sex and obscurity, we are arriving at a doctrine of total depravity. And this doctrine in the hands of a skilled literary artist is even more repulsive than in the teachings of a theologian.20/ 

Williams comes from a generally Calvinist background that has injected an element of violence into his artistic vision. Vee Talbott of Battle and Orpheus is, perhaps, his most explicit portrait of the afflicted artist. Vee is concerned with that essential poetic quality, vision. In both plays, driven by religious guilt, Vee begins to paint, not pictures quaintly pastoral, but pictures associated with sex and primitive religious experience. She paints imaginative treatments of the Church of the Resurrection, its phallic steeple blood red. Her

personality, frustrated in its contact with externals, has turned deeply inward. She has found refuge in religion and primitive art and has become known as an eccentric. Although a religious fanatic, a mystic, she should not be made ridiculous,...not be devoid of all dignity or pathos.21/ 

At Val Xavier's arrival Vee is completing her painting of the Twelve Apostles.

Dolly: She's been painting them for twelve years, one each year. She says that she sees them in visions. But every one of them looks like some man around Two River County. She told Birdie Wilson that she was hoping she'd have a vision of Jesus next Passion Week so she could paint Him, too.22/ 

Naturally, Vee makes the Val-Savior identification in her vision and paints him as Christ ("Passion week always upset her."23/ ) after experiencing a violent sexual vision of her Savior. Beulah and Dolly repeat that Vee saw Him in the cottonwood tree. The lynching tree....Exactly where time an' time again you see couples parked in cars with all the shades pulled down! And what did he do? He stretched out his hand and touched yuh.

Dolly: Where? [Vee...touches her bosom.] ...He made a pass at you?...He made a pass at you?24/ 

In Vee coalesces a vision of sex, religion, violence, and art in a way derided by disorder. The fact is that the biography of Christ lends itself well as Western archetype to all four categories. Vee tells Val that she saw her Savior on Holy Saturday, the day before the Resurrection, and was blinded. Because of such shock treatment Vee comes to the artist-orderer's vision of life's duality.

Vee: ...You know we live in light and shadow, that's, that's what we live in, a world of--light and--shadow....
Val: Yes. In light and shadow. [He nods with complete understanding and agreement. They are like two children who (through the vision of art) have found life's meaning, simply and quietly, along a country road]....Without no plan, no training, you started to paint as if God had touched your fingers....You made some beauty out of this dark country....25/ 

For those who cannot stand the generic artists' tension-pain of creation Williams chronicles several unsatisfactory ways out: drink, drugs, sexual promiscuity. These are all variations of self-violence that mask the deeper Angst of existence. Frustration at existence leads to violent aggression against oneself or others. Sebastian's sick aggression against self is singularly unfruitful as he sets himself up for his masochistic sacrifice. Sandra in Battle of Angels confesses to Val her own frustration:

You should have killed me, before I kill myself. I will someday. I have an instinct for self-destruction. I'm running away from it all the time....All over the God damn country with something after me every inch of the way!26/ 

Sandra is pursued like Shannon whose psychic masochism, bound like Val's mysticism in the Passion of Christ, is spooked to violence. The Princess, Lady-Myra, Sissy Goforth, Baby Doll, Maggie, and Brick are all likewise sparked to their own peculiar kinds of self-violence: the Princess is bent on destruction failing her comeback; Lady-Myra forces her husband Jabe (whom Williams names Death) into killing her; Sissy, who wold never dream of doing herself violence, does herself the worst violence by deliberately obfuscating her chance for salvation with Chris; Maggie and Baby Doll both subject themselves to violent situations because, childless, they both are out of harmony with themselves. None of them are like the satisfied Serafina whose pregnancy integrates her self-ideal of female fertility, puts two lives in one body, and symbolizes the love of her new husband. Shannon, the male questor, is violent to himself: he cuts his neck attempting to drown himself in the sea. As a result, he has to be lashed into a hammock, a voluptuous crucifixion, that he sincerely enjoys for the painless atonement-assuagement of his guilt at his rage at God.

        Yet despite this one sad-masochistic scene, Iguana's violence is much like most of Williams' violence: either internal or off-stage so that despite Fitch, McCarthy, and Falk,27/  Williams is not nearly so mercantilely sensational as first glance would tell. This is especially true in the play that even Williams thinks is his most violent, Suddenly Last Summer. But even here, as if in the best of Greek tradition the sensational violence occurs not only off-stage but in the past. "The violence promised by the fury remains in the telling, not in the doing."28/  The rage provides interplay for characterization of the personages: the arbiter Doctor Sugar, the abused Catharine Holly, the violent Violet Venable.

        The language of abuse that Williams' people employ is most often violent for what it leaves unspoken. Williams employs in his plays few four-letter words. This is a tribute to his lyric sensibility; for to translate the excess and kind of language now usually associated with the novels of Henry Miller or William Burroughs to the stage would be offensive to the common sensibility no matter how integral the language was. Sometimes, however, Williams' lyric by-pass does not fit his characters; for instance, when crude, rude Stanley Kowalski wants to "get those colored lights going,"29/  the phrase is vivid but definitely not Kowalski. That Williams filters the reality of his stage language is aptly proven by a comparison of his story "Kingdom of Earth" with his play Kingdom of Earth. The story is written in a crude countrified vernacular that knows the common phrase for every function and describes those functions in purple detail; the play is a reconstructed version of the short story and as such--not, therefore, only because its bowdlerized language is more socially acceptable--is more worthy of Williams' controlling art.

        Mrs. Goforth wants Chris--professional linguist--to toy with language, to play the truth game with her; but he refuses. Chris-Williams intends language to be the vehicle of the truth, because language is communication, is the major means of breaking down the alienation between people.

I think the truth is too delicate and, well, dangerous a thing to be played with at parties, Mrs. Goforth. It's nitroglycerin, it has to be handled with the--the carefulest care, or somebody hurts somebody and gets hurt back and the party turns to a--devastating explosion, people crying, people screaming, people even fighting and throwing things at each other. I've seen it happen, and there's no truth in it--that's true.30/ 

When language breaks down, when language is not true, only the violence of increased alienation can result. This is quintessential truth to Williams, and if the integrity of his intent is to be judged, this must be fully understood. In a definite apologia pro arte sua, Williams give Myra and Val the following exchange about truth in the art of language. Myra takes Val's book in her arms and makes the same comparison as Mrs. Venable to Sebastian's poems and Mrs. Goforth to her own memoirs:

Myra: It's like holding a baby! Such a big book, too; so good an' solid.
Val: It's got life in it, Myra. When people read it, they're going to be frightened. They'll say it's crazy because it tells the truth.31/ 

Williams himself said of all his work and specifically of Suddenly that he writes the "true story of the time we live in." It is small wonder, therefore, that so late in his career, when Williams has given a so-far summary statement in Milk Train and has written several excellent vaudevilles (e.g., Slapstick Tragedy) that he should be turned out of vogue--as Gore Vidal has said32/ --and not be so "popular" simple because his frightening work must be attended to with greater concentration and more critical effort than the currently popular Neil Simon's.33/  Perhaps the test here is that nearly all of Williams' dramatic works (not his prose) survive the test of rereading.

        The violence of Williams' plays is often centered, as is Eudora Welty's,34/  about the "collapse of the individual in a society, or more specifically, in a family oblivious of his need to be loved and believed in."35/  The Kowalskis could have saved Blanche who just "can't be alone!"; the Venables and Hollys could have saved Heavenly and Chance; the Pollitts could have saved Brick; and the larger families of human kindness could have saved the Princess and Sissy and Mrs. Stone. In Williams' world, therefore, it is small cynicism that when Period of Adjustment's Ralph is asked if he were an orphan, he answers: "Yes, I had that advantage."36/  The Williams families barely communicate, so deep is their estrangement. The Knightly Quest's Gewinner exchanges with his family certain cablegrams of subtle violence that is representative of the general familial alienation:

The Christmas one said, Christ is born, Love, Mother, and the Easter one said, Christ is risen, Love, Mother. And once, between Christmas and Easter, Gewinner dispatched a cablegram to Mother Pearce that was utterly meaningless to her. It said, Dear Mother, What is He up to now? Love, Gewinner.37/ 

        In nearly every instance of sadism Williams uses the handy trope of Christ's Passion and Death to reinforce the existential horror of every man's isolation. From Battle through the quintessential Kilroy to Milk Train Williams very often establishes his hero as a Christ figure and then works upon him some kind of Christ-ian violence. In Iguana, for instance, Priest Shannon, "crucified" in a hammock, is tormented by the lusty pink German militarists as was Christ surrounded by soldiers on the Cross. Williams' depiction of this German family is of interest on two counts: their pink Germanic sensuality is ironic comment on America's imported Calvinism, and their militarism, dramatized as something despicable, is pointedly inveighed against by a writer who comes from a South where the military tradition is viewed as a kind of gallant violence.

        In Williams' generally polar and cyclic view of things violence precedes sex; man rages at one thing or another--his isolation, Mama, God--and then turns, to solve his rage, to sex which only increases the rage since the act of sex can only be performed in the continuum of time and is, therefore, touched as much as anything else with enemy evanescence. Williams consequently experiences the romantic promise, the realized shock of alienation, the neo-romantic's partial adjustment to frustration. Sex is violent in Williams when it is use and not love that is its mark. For this reason Williams has taken sex, its violence and perversions, and matured it into an existential alienation metaphor in order to define his message. The writer

with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock--to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures....My own feeling is that writers who see by the light of their Christian faith will have, in these times, the sharpest eyes for the grotesque, for the perverse, and for the unacceptable.38/ 

Myra Mannes specifies Williams' dramatic technique of violence as "a shock treatment, administered by an artist of great talent and painful sensibility who illumines fragments but never the whole. He illuminates that present sickness which is fragmentation."39/  Like many of the Victorian critics of the so-called immoral and decadent Restoration comedy, Fitch and those critics who have advocated similar positions have failed to see in Williams' plays the pervasive moral implications of the decadent and violent elements. They fail to see that Williams simply follows in the dramatic tradition that has its roots in fifth-century Greek and tragedy and comedy. Williams, like Euripedes in Medea, like Aristophabes in Lysistrata, like Jonson in Volpone, Wycherly in The Country Wife, and like Otway in Venice Preserv'd, has chosen to mirror and not reform directly in his drama. Although Yeats says, "Art...is a revelation, and not a criticism" there is in Williams' plays implied criticism about the society in which he lives. When superficial reaction distracts one too much in a Williams play, he becomes blind to the metaphor; and it is precisely this metaphor as well as Williams' expressionistic dramatic techniques which should sign to the viewer not to become as superficially distracted as some of his critics evidently have.

        As with Artaud, whose theatre of explicit cruelty goes beyond Williams' American daring, Williams' "cruelty" does

not refer exclusively to torture, blood, violence, and plague--but to the cruellest of all practices: the exposure of mind, heart, and nerve-ends to the grueling truths behind a...reality that deals in psychological crises when it wants to be honest [that is, versus mendacity], and...confronts the existential horror behind all social and psychological facades.40/ 

Consequently when Shannon shocks Hannah by telling her of his sex-partner's parents--old maids of both sexes, when Williams reveals the psychic anomalies of Brick and Sebastian and Oliver Winemiller, the sexual heat of Maggie and of Lady-Myra and of Alma grown older, the point is that sexual hysteria is metaphor for a more basic existential hysteria. If there is any direct relation, it is that Williams counsels that a fully developed sexuality be incorporated into the organic personality. In a Puritan culture which tends to fragment sexuality, he maintains that the individual does essential violence to his own organic whole when he denies sex a fulfilling role in the personality. Both of his Alma's illustrate the violence of this existential corruption..41/  Serafina who spends most of the Rose Tattoo in hysteria transcends that condition of hysteron (womb) through discovery of a true love who confirms her as a person and as a fertile woman; such dual confirmation is for Williams positive statement that any division of personality from sexuality is a condition which can only lead to psychic fragmentation and violence. It is in this way that Williams redeems sensationally superficial sex to a metaphorical currency of alienation. Maxine tells of her dead husband Fred, of how not only the violence of language, but also the unexchangeability of sex between them defined their isolation.

We'd not only stopped sleeping together, we'd stopped talking together except in grunts--no quarrels, no misunderstandings, but if we exchanged two grunts in the course of a day, it was a long conversation we'd had that day between us....I know the difference between loving someone and just sleeping with someone..42/ 

Maxine's "pleasures" are like Carol-Cassandra's jooking, like all the violent distractions Sissy Goforth says people run to until one too many ruins them. Gewinner Pearce had used his blanket-size white scarf for his k/nightly assignations. Then, while escaping in the Ark of Space, Gewinner asks

        What about this?
        He touched his white scarf which had made so many festivals of nights on the planet Earth, far behind them.
        Will this be admitted with me?
        Why certainly, yes, of course, the young navigator assured him. It will be accepted and highly valued as a historical item in our Museum of Sad Enchantments in Galaxies Drifting Away..43/ 

This is pointed and latest Williams on the misues of sex: not only does the user become more fragmented within himself, but his world also fragments and Drifts Away. The Williams characters

are not "mankind" in the sense of classic, neoclassic, romantic, or realistic definitions. They are images of a humanity diminished by time and history. They are each characterized by an inner division, by a fragmentation so complete that it has reduced them to partialities. They are "un-beings," caught in the destructive life-process. They are fragments of debris, thrown up by "time and destroyer.".44/ 

In One Arm Williams describes the alienated isolate running to Sad Enchantments:

He never said to himself, I'm lost. But the speechless self knew it and in submission to its unthinking control the youth had begun as soon as he left the hospital to look about for destruction [as a male prostitute]..45/ 

Williams intends to tell the truth as his artistic vision sees it; and one writer's truth is often another man's violence, especially if the opposing truth points up an audience's "pleasures and answers" as sad distractions from existential problems. Williams has, therefore, consciously and deliberately provoked his audiences; for the art of his theatre is to violate stock stereotypes of judgment and feeling. Williams' theatre is itself an act of transgression. This is particularly true as Williams makes religion a part of his theatre in a way similar to that when theatre was a part of religion. He aggresses against his audience through the confusion of opposites; he expresses religion by dramatizing blasphemy, love through use, life through death--in short, he attacks the "being" of his audience by presenting them with characters of "unbeing" who in situations of disintegration expose the dis-integration of the audience.

        Williams has stated his art theory--which is not non-violent--as an anarchy which upsets organized society. This has always been the province of the theatre where catharsis--the relief following the disturbance of a frightful identification--has always been proper. In the "traditional" theatre the fright-to-catharsis has occurred because of identification with the destroyed protagonist. Ancient audiences identified with mythic heroes who incarnated virtues especially valued in the particular theology that occasioned the act of theatre.

But today's situation is much different. As social grouping are less and less defined by religion, traditional mythic forms are in flux, disappearing and being reincarnated. The spectators are more and more individuated [aware of isolation] in their relation to [alienation from] the myth as corporate truth or group model....This means that it is much more difficult to elicit the sort of shock needed to get at those psychic layers behind the life mask....The equation of personal, individual truth with universal truth...is virtually impossible today. [Today what is necessary is] confrontation with myth rather than identification. In other words, while retaining our private experiences, we can attempt to incarnate myth, putting on its ill-fitting skin to perceive the relativity of our problems, their connection to the "roots," and the relativity of the "roots" in the light of today's experience. If the situation is brutal, if we strip ourselves and touch an extraordinarily intimate layer, exposing it, the life-mask cracks and falls away..46/ 

        In Williams, sex and violence provide the confrontation with the western myths that mask problems of human existence. Williams testifies by outrage and exposé. He employs selective insight to light the fragmentation of modern man. Romantic evolution he sees as dis-integration of the self to isolation and of the other to alienation. He dramatizes this existential corruption to expose it afresh as a new wound; he feels it needs a fresh exposure since the old ways of viewing it have been variously repressed and accepted as normalcy. To the literal-minded, Williams seems oversimply to prescribe the male seed-bearer to cure the hysteria; his metaphor of the reality is an incarnational prescription that an exchange of true love can salve the existential hysteria, rage, and alienation.

        Williams, whose absurd Gypsy guns people down in the street, extends the violence he sees in man even to his theology. Williams is unsure of God; he has a hope and a view. He hopes in the incarnate God of New Testament love, the bearer of metaphorical seed who will providentially cure humankind's hysteria; but he has too often viewed the eschatological God of cruelty, the ruler of Dragon Country, who blesses the users. This alienated, calculating God makes Williams' Gewinner suspicious "that back of the sun and way deep under our feet, at the earth's center, are not a couple of noble mysteries but a couple of joke books.".47/  The violent possibility of such divine duplicity serves essentially in Williams' plays to confirm the isolation of the alienated and escalate their existential rage; for the creatures remember the Creator as the somehow recalcitrant source of the former order now lost.


© Jack Fritscher, Ph.D. & Mark Hemry

Editor's Note: Anyone caught co-opting or paraphrasing these concepts, facts, names, titles, word-coinage, and timelines without crediting Jack Fritscher as the precise source will be aggressively prosecuted to the full extent allowed by law and such violation will be publicly announced in print. Fair use of this material with proper credit is, of course, acceptable. For permission for quotation exceeding fair-use, which will always be gladly given, please EMail Jack Fritscher at j_fritscher@earthlink.net or use the EMail button found on home web pages. --Mark Hemry, Editor



1.         Milk Train, p. 7.

2.         Orpheus, p. 47.

3.         Sissy Gorforth says: "Everything that we do is a way of --not thinking about it. Meaning of life, and meaning of death....Just going from one goddam frantic distraction to another, til finally one too many goddam frantic distraction leads to disaster." Milk Train, p. 60. Williams calls "the worst of all human maladies, of all afflictions" the felling of existential disposession, "the thing people feel when they go from room to room for no reason, and then they go back from room to room for no reason, and then thy go out for no reason and com back in for no reason Ibid., p. 88.

4.         Ibid., pp. 68-69.

5.         Mrs. Goforth: You are what they call you!
Chris: ...As much as anyone is what anyone calls him.
Mrs. Goforth: A butcher is called a butcher, and he's a baker. A--
Chirs: Whatever they're called, they're men, and being men, they're not known by themselves or anyone else. Ibid., p. 114.

       In Williams' economy this is the inherent failure of the created existential.

Chance: We've come back to the sea....The Gulf.
Princess: The Gulf?
Chance: The Gulf of misunderstanding between me and you. Sweet Bird, p. 364.
6.         Camino Real, p. 210.

7.         Mrs. Williams read "Tom the Piper's Son," "Little Tommy Tucker," and "Little Tommyu Tittlemouse" to her son who objected: "'Evvy'body's [sic] named Tom,'...The name had no distinction to him, even then." Remember Me to Tom, p. 19. Williams himself gives various reasons for the change, the most pretentious being that "the Williamses had fought the Indians for Tennessee and I had already discovered that the life of a young writer was going to be something similar to the defense of a stockade against a band of savages," Ibid., p. 190.

8.         Valentine Xaview is "the very name of one of Tom's ancestors on his father's side, a sixteenth-century Basque who was a younger brother of St. Francis Xaview," Ibid., p. 120. In addition, internal to Val's characterization is the fact that he admits to Myra that he has changed his name to Val Xavier. Battle, p. 190.

9.         Suddenly, p. 64.

10.         Mary McCarthy, "A Streetcar Called Success" in Sights and Spectables (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1956), p. 131.

11.         "Foreward to Sweet Bird," p. 335.

12.         Iguana, p. 42.

13.         Ibid., p. 105.

14.         Baby Doll, pp. 78-79.

15.         Orpheus, p. 67.

16.         Sweet Bird, p. 450.

17.         Iguana, p. 42. "In the South slavery and in the North industry what fattened on slave-produced cotton were outward signs of the inner fall of man who always perverts the freedom which his Creator provided. Even when given a New Owrld..., he again lost Paradise. He carries into every beginning the configuration of the end, his lustful proud, gluttonous self. That this corrupted nature sows and recaps little except destruction is abundantly dramatized." Louise Y. Gossett, Violence in Recent Southern Fiction (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1965). p. 42.

18.         Ibid., p. 51.

19.         Robert Fitch, La Mystique de la Merde," The New Republic, CXXXV (September 3, 1956), p. 17.

20.         Ibid., p. 18.

21.         Battle, pp. 130-131.

22.         Ibid., p. 130.

23.         Ibid., p. 207.

24.         Ibid., pp. 210-211.

25.         Orpheus, pp. 92, 68.

26.         Battle, p. 161.

27.         Signi Falk, op. cit.

28.         Gossett, op. cit. p. 8.

29.         K.M. Sugar, op. cit. p. 151, comments wryly on various inconsistencies between Kowalski's character and language.

30.         Milk Train, p. 72

31.         Battle, p. 194.

32.         Gore Vidal, op. cit.

33.         Williams: Today the theatre seems almost all musical comedy..., so I don't go to it very much. I like to see every Albee play and every Pinter play. And I can't think of anybody else.
Ann Southern: There is a young man named Neil Simon who has written a few funny plays
Williams: Who?
Ann Southern: Neil Simon.
Williams: What did he write, dear?
Ann Southern: Didn't he write Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park? Are you putting us on, Mr. Williams, by asking us who Neil Simon is?
Williams: I really didn't know. Kupcinet Interview, op.cit.

34.         The connection between Welty and Williams has been established by Winifred Dusenbury, "Baby Doll and The Ponder Heart," Modern Drama, III (1961), pp. 393-395.

35.         Gossett, op. cit., p. 107.

36.         Period p. 26.

37.         Knightly Quest, p. 11.

38.         Flannery O'Connor in "The Fiction Writer and His Country." The Living Novel: A Symposium, Granville Hicks (New York: MacMillan, 1957), pp. 162-163.

39.         Marya Mannes, "The Morbid Magic of Tennessee Williams," The Reporter, XII (May 19, 1955), pp. 41-43.

40.         Charles Marowitz, "Notes on the Theatre of Cruelty," Tulane Drame Review (Winter, 1966), p. 172.

41.         Williams: Someone in one review of Exxentricities said it was a sexless play which astounded me because I thought the play was almost nothing but a woman's effort to integrate sex into her sexless life.
Sidney: I almost siad in my review that it made one realize that the word hysteria comes from the Greek meaning womb.
Williams: I know that. And it seems to me that Alma's bysteria was the whole folium of the play. Kupcinet Interview, op. cit..

42.         Iguana, pp. 80-81.

43.         Knightly Quest, p. 100.

44.         Jackson, op. cit., p. 72.

45.         One Arm, pp. 9-10.

46.         Jerzy Grotowski, "Towards the Poor Theatre: The Spectacle as Act of Transgression," Tulane Drama Review (Spring, 1967), p. 67.

47         Knightly Quest, p. 22.

Copyright 2007 by Jack Fritscher, Ph.D. & Mark Hemry - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED