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Tennessee Williams

Thomas Lanier Williams was born on March 26, 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi. The second
of three children, his family life was full of tension. His parents, a shoe salesman and the
daughter of a minister, often engaged in violent arguments that frightened his sister Rose.

In 1927, Williams got his first taste of literary fame when he took third place in a national
essay contest sponsored by The Smart Set magazine. In 1929, he was admitted to the
University of Missouri where he saw a production of Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts and decided to
become a playwright. But his degree was interrupted when his father forced him to withdraw
from college and work at the International Shoe Company. There he worked with a young
man named Stanley Kowalski who would later resurface as a character in A Streetcar Named

Eventually, Tom returned to school. In 1937, he had two of his plays (Candles to the Sun and The Fugitive Kind)
produced by Mummers of St. Louis, and in 1938, he graduated from the University of Iowa. After failing to find
work in Chicago, he moved to New Orleans and changed his name from "Tom" to "Tennessee" which was the
state of his father's birth.

In 1939, the young playwright received a $1,000 Rockefeller Grant, and a year later, Battle of Angels was
produced in Boston. In 1944, what many consider to be his best play, The Glass Menagerie, had a very
successful run in Chicago and a year later burst its way onto Broadway. The play tells the story of Tom, his
disabled sister, Laura, and their controlling mother Amanda who tries to make a match between Laura and the
gentleman caller. Many people believe that Tennessee used his own familial relationships as inspiration for the
play. His own mother, who is often compared to the controlling Amanda, allowed doctors to perform a frontal
lobotomy on Tennessee's sister Rose, an event that greatly disturbed Williams who cared for Rose throughout
much of her adult life. Elia Kazan (who directed many of Williams' greatests successes) said of Tennessee:
"Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life." The Glass Menagerie won the
New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best play of the season.

Williams followed up his first major critical success with several other Broadway hits including such plays as A
Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, A Rose Tattoo, and Camino Real. He received his first Pulitzer
Prize in 1948 for A Streetcar Named Desire, and reached an even larger world-wide audience in 1950 and 1951
when The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire were made into major motion pictures. Later plays
which were also made into motion pictures include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (for which he earned a second Pulitzer
Prize in 1955), Orpheus Descending, and Night of the Iguana.

Tennessee Williams met and fell in love with Frank Merlo in 1947 while living in New Orleans. Merlo, a second
generation Sicilian American who had served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, was a steadying influence in
Williams' chaotic life. But in 1961, Merlo died of Lung Cancer and the playwright went into a deep depression
that lasted for ten years. In fact, Williams struggled with depression throughout most of his life and lived with
the constant fear that he would go insane as did his sister Rose. For much of this period, he battled addictions to
prescription drugs and alcohol.

On February 24, 1983, Tennessee Williams choked to death on a bottle cap at his New York City residence at the
Hotel Elysee. He is buried in St. Louis, Missouri. In addition to twenty-five full length plays, Williams produced
dozens of short plays and screenplays, two novels, a novella, sixty short stories, over one-hundred poems and an
autobiography. Among his many awards, he won two Pulitzer Prizes and four New York Drama Critics' Circle
Tennessee Williams
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Genre Southern Gothic

Tennessee Williams (born Thomas Lanier Williams, March 26, 1911 – February 25, 1983) was an American writer, primarily
of plays. He received many of the top theatrical awards for his works of drama. After he moved from St. Louis to New Orleans in
1939, he changed his first name to "Tennessee", the Southeastern U.S. state and his father's birthplace.

He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. In
addition, The Glass Menagerie (1944 in Chicago, 1945 in New York) and The Night of the Iguana (1961) received New York
Drama Critics' Circle Awards. His 1952 play The Rose Tattoo received the Tony Award for best play. In 1980 he was presented
with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter.

In 1939, the young playwright received a $1,000 Rockefeller Grant. His play Battle of Angels was produced in Boston in 1940,
but was poorly received. (Later he reworked it and produced it in New York to better success.)

Williams moved to New Orleans in 1939 to write for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which helped artists and writers
survive during the Great Depression, as well as staffing major public works projects. He lived for a time in the French Quarter;
first at 722 Toulouse Street, the setting of his 1977 play Vieux Carré. (The building is now part of The Historic New Orleans

During 1944-45, his "memory play" The Glass Menagerie was produced in Chicago and was widely accepted as a success. It
moved to New York where it had a successful Broadway run. The play tells the story of a young man Tom, his disabled sister,
Laura, and their controlling mother Amanda, who tries to make a match between Laura and a gentleman caller. Many people
believe that Tennessee used his own familial relationships as inspiration for the play. Elia Kazan (who directed many of Williams'
greatest successes) said of Williams: "Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life." [citation needed] The
Glass Menagerie won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best play of the season.

Williams began working on a play called "The Poker Night", which later became A Streetcar Named Desire (1947),
in Chapala Mexico, as he stated in his essay The Catastrophe of Success. He finished it later in Key West, Florida, where he
moved in the 1940s. He won his firstPulitzer Prize for the play.

Williams followed his first major critical success with several other Broadway hits, including Summer and Smoke (1948), The
Rose Tattoo (1951), and Camino Real (1953). He was awarded his first Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for A Streetcar Named Desire.

He reached larger world-wide audiences in 1950 and 1951 when The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire were
adapted as major motion pictures. Later plays adapted as motion pictures include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (for which he had
earned a second Pulitzer Prize in 1955), Orpheus Descending, The Night of the Iguana and Summer and Smoke.

Childhood and education
Williams was born in Columbus, Mississippi to Edwina and Cornelius Williams, at the home of his maternal grandparents. His
grandfather was the local Episcopal priest. Williams was of Welsh descent; his father Cornelius was a hard-drinking traveling
salesman, and favored Tennessee's younger brother Dakin. Tennessee was less robust as a child and his father thought him
effeminate. His mother Edwina was a borderline hysteric.[citation needed] Tennessee Williams would find inspiration in his problematic
family for much of his writing.

In 1918, when Williams was seven, the family moved to the University City neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he first
attended Soldan High School, a setting referred to in his work The Glass Menagerie. Later he studied at University City High
School.[1] In 1927, at age 16, Williams won third prize (five dollars) for an essay published in Smart Set entitled, "Can a Good
Wife Be a Good Sport?" A year later, he published "The Vengeance of Nitocris" in Weird Tales.

Williams attended the University of Missouri from 1929 to 1931[2], where he joined Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. He transferred
to Washington University in St. Louis for a year. There he wrote a play, Me Vaysha (1937). He finally earned a degree in 1938
from the University of Iowa, where he wrote "Spring Storm." Previously, Williams had written Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay! This
work was first produced in 1935 by the Garden Players community theater in Memphis, Tennessee. Regarding this production,
Williams wrote, "The laughter ... enchanted me. Then and there the theatre and I found each other for better and for worse. I
know it's the only thing that saved my life."[3] He later studied at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York City.

Personal life
Tennessee was close to his sister Rose, a slim beauty who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age. As was common
then, Rose was institutionalized and spent most of her adult life in mental hospitals. When therapies were unsuccessful, she
showed more paranoid tendencies. In an effort to treat her, Williams' parents authorized a prefrontal lobotomy, a drastic
treatment that was thought to help some mental patients who suffered extreme agitation. [citation needed] Performed in 1937 at the
Missouri State Sanitarium, the operation incapacitated Rose for the rest of her life. [4] Her surgery may have contributed to
his alcoholism and his dependence on various combinations of amphetamines and barbiturates often prescribed by Dr. Max
(Feelgood) Jacobson.[5]

While in New York, Williams worked in many casual jobs including as a waiter at a Greenwich Village restaurant and a cinema
usher. Williams worked extremely briefly in the renownedGotham Book Mart in Manhattan, lasting less than a day.

His first sexual affair with a man was at Provincetown, Massachusetts with a dancer named Kip Kiernan. He carried a photo of
Kip in his wallet for many years. Having struggled with his sexuality throughout his youth, he came out as a gay man in private.
When Kip left him for a woman and marriage, Williams was devastated. Williams was outed as gay by Louis Kronenberger
in Time magazine in the 1950s.

While living in New Orleans, Williams met and fell in love with Frank Merlo, a second generation Sicilian American who had
served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. This was his only enduring relationship. Williams' relationship with Frank Merlo lasted
from 1947 until 1962. With that stability, Williams created his most enduring works. Merlo provided balance to many of Williams'
frequent bouts with depression [6] and the fear that, like his sister Rose, he would go insane.

Due to Williams' addiction to sleeping pills and alcohol as well as his numerous episodes of infidelity, Merlo finally ended the
relationship. However, soon after, Merlo was diagnosed with lung cancer, and died in 1963. Merlo's death deeply affected
Williams and he sank into a deep depression.

He discussed his homosexuality openly on television and in print in the 1970s. He released his autobiography Memoirs in 1975.
His personal tragedies as well as alcoholism contributed to his emotional problems. At the insistence of his brother, he agreed to
be rebaptized as a Catholic for a short time. His brother also admitted him to a psychiatric ward for treatment related to his
addiction problems after a nervous breakdown in 1969.

Williams died on February 25, 1983 at the age of 71.

Reports at the time indicated he choked on an eyedrop bottle cap in his room at the Hotel Elysee in New York. The reports said
he would routinely place the cap in his mouth, lean back, and place his eyedrops in each eye. [7] The police report, however,
suggested his use of drugs and alcohol contributed to his death. Prescription drugs, including barbiturates, were found in the
room, and Williams' gag response may have been diminished by the effects of drugs and alcohol.

Williams' body was found by director John Uecker who was identified as his secretary and who travelled with Williams, and was
staying in a separate room in Williams' suite.

Williams' body was taken to Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel and Williams' funeral took place on March 3, 1983 at Saint
Malachy's Roman Catholic Church in New York City. At his brother Dakin's insistence, Williams' body was interred in the Calvary
Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri. Williams had long told his friends he wanted to be buried at sea at approximately the same place
as Hart Crane, a poet he considered to be one of his most significant influences.

Williams left his literary rights to The University of the South in honor of his grandfather, Walter Dakin, an alumnus of the
university, which is located in Sewanee, Tennessee. The funds support a creative writing program. When his sister Rose died in
1996 after many years in a mental institution, she bequeathed $7 million from her part of the Williams estate to The University
of the South as well.

In 1989, the University City Loop (in a suburb of St. Louis) inducted Tennessee Williams into its St. Louis Walk of Fame.


In late 2009, Williams was inducted into the Poet's Corner at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine [3]. The ceremony
seemed geared to elevate the poet and playwright into the pantheon of great English language writers, including William
Faulkner and William Shakespeare. The purpose of the ceremony seemed to be a prayer for the poet's fire to continually burn
on Earth, as it would in heaven, and included elements of choral music, tributes, readings, personal anecdotes from friends, and
overall a tone that offered acceptance and forgiveness which seemed to address certain prejudices which may have arisen
against the poet in his lifetime so that the man's work could, going forward, be more fully accepted and explored.

At the time of his death, Williams had been working on a final play, In Masks Outrageous and Austere [4], which attempted to
reconcile certain forces and facts of his own life, a theme which ran throughout his work, as Elia Kazan had said. As of
September 2007, author Gore Vidal was in the process of completing the play, and Peter Bogdanovich was slated to direct its
Broadway debut.[9]

The former home of Tennessee Williams was recently renovated and reopened in downtown Columbus, Mississippi. [5]

Characters in his plays are often seen as representations of his family members. Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie was
understood to be modeled on Rose. Some biographers believed that the character of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named
Desire is also based on her.

Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie was generally seen to represent Williams' mother, Edwina. Characters such as Tom
Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie and Sebastian in Suddenly, Last Summer were understood to represent Williams himself. In
addition, he used a lobotomy operation as a motif in Suddenly, Last Summer.

The Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded to A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. These
two plays were later filmed, with great success, by noted directors Elia Kazan (Streetcar) with whom Williams developed a very
close artistic relationship, and Richard Brooks (Cat). Both plays included references to elements of Williams' life such as
homosexuality, mental instability, and alcoholism. AlthoughThe Flowering Peach by Clifford Odets was the preferred choice of
the Pulitzer Prize jury in 1955 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was at first considered the weakest of the five shortlisted nominees,
Joseph Pulitzer Jr., chairman of the Board, had seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and thought it worthy of the drama prize. The Board
went along with him after considerable discussion. [10]

Williams wrote The Parade, or Approaching the End of a Summer when he was 29 and worked on it through his life. It seemed
an autobiographical depiction of an early romance inProvincetown, Massachusetts. This play was produced for the first time on
October 1, 2006 in Provincetown by the Shakespeare on the Cape production company, as part of the First Annual
Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival.

Other works by Williams include Camino Real and Sweet Bird of Youth.

His last play went through many drafts as he was trying to reconcile what would be the end of his life [6]. There are many
versions of it, but it is referred to as In Masks Outrageous and Austere.
Glass Menagerie

 Amanda Wingfield: A woman abandoned by her husband some 16 years ago, is trying to raise her children under
harsh financial conditions. Her devotion to her children has made her, as she admits at one point, a "witch," and she
longs for the kind of Old South gentility and comforts which she remembers from her youth for her children. Once a
Southern belle, she still clings to whatever powers vivacity and charm can muster.
 Laura Wingfield: Amanda's daughter. She is slightly crippled and has an extra-sensitive mental condition.

 Tom Wingfield: Amanda's son. He works in a warehouse but aspires to be a writer. He feels both obligated
toward yet burdened by his family.

 Jim O'Connor: A workmate of Tom's (a shipping clerk) and acquaintance of Laura's from high school, is also the
physical representation of all Laura's desires and all Amanda's desires for her daughter. He is invited over to the
Wingfields' house for dinner with the intent of being Laura's first gentleman caller. He seems like a dream come true
for the Wingfields.

 Mr. Wingfield: Amanda's absentee husband, represented by a large portrait on the set and frequently referred to
by Amanda. He never appears in person during the play.

Plot summary
"Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of
truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."
The beginning of Tom's opening soliloquy.
The play is introduced to the audience by Tom as a memory play, based on his recollection of his mother Amanda and his sister Laura.
Amanda's husband abandoned the family long ago. Although a survivor and a pragmatist, Amanda yearns for the illusions and comforts she remembers
from her days as a fêted Southern belle. She yearns especially for these things for her daughter Laura, a young adult with a crippled foot and tremulous
insecurity about the outside world. Tom works in a warehouse, doing his best to support them. He chafes under the banality and boredom of everyday
life and spends much of his spare time watching movies in cheap cinemas at all hours of the night. Amanda is obsessed with finding a suitor for Laura,
who spends most of her time with her collection of little glass animals. Tom eventually brings a nice boy named Jim home for dinner at the insistence of
his mother, who hopes Jim will be the long-awaited suitor for Laura. Laura realizes that Jim is the man she loved in high school and has thought of ever
since. After a long evening in which Jim and Laura are left alone by candlelight in the living room, waiting for electricity to be restored, Jim reveals that he
is already engaged to be married, and he leaves. During their long scene together, Jim and Laura have shared a quiet dance, and he accidentally brushes
against the glass menagerie, knocking the glass unicorn to the floor and breaking its horn off ("Now it's just like the other horses," Laura says). When
Amanda learns that Jim was engaged she assumes Tom knew and lashes out at him: ("That's right, now that you've had us make such fools of ourselves.
The effort, the preparations, all the expense! The new floor lamp, the rug, the clothes for Laura! all for what? To entertain some other girl's fiancé! Go to
the movies, go! Don't think about us, a mother deserted, an unmarried sister who's crippled and has no job! Don't let anything interfere with your selfish
pleasure. Just go, go, go - to the movies !") At play's end, as Tom speaks, it becomes clear that Tom left home soon afterward and never returned. In
Tom's final speech, as he watches his mother comforting Laura long ago, he bids farewell: "Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am
more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger -
anything that can blow your candles out! [LAURA bends over the candles.]- for nowadays the world is lit by lightning ! Blow out your candles, Laura - and
so good-bye." Laura blows the candles out as the play ends.

The Glass Menagerie

By Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)

Main Characters

Laura Wingfield - She is the crippled and very shy daughter of Amanda who keeps her hard pressed to finding a husband.
Tom Wingfield - As Laura’s sister, he is also pressed by his mother to find his sister a gentleman caller, and to keep the job
at the shoe factory to support the family.

Amanda Wingfield - She is the mother of Tom and Laura and often digresses back to memories of her former days on the
southern plantation farm and her night with 17 gentleman callers.

Jim O’Conner - He is a friend of Tom from the factory who Tom invites to dinner and Amanda treats as Laura’s first
gentleman caller.

Minor Characters

Mr. Wingfield - He is Amanda’s husband who deserted the family about 16 years ago and is only seen in the play as a
large photograph hung on the wall, but he is often referred to.


The Wingfield house - This takes up most of the stage and the different room are separated by curtains. There is the
living and the kitchen.

The fire escape - This is on the side of the stage and is what the characters use to get into and out of the apartment.


Tom begins by introducing the play as a memory play of his own memory of his past. He introduces the character. The
start of the play shows the Wingfield family eating dinner. Amanda keeps telling Tom to chew is food, and Tom gets
thoroughly annoyed and leaves the table to smoke. Amanda tells her story of 17 gentleman callers. The next day, Laura
is sitting at her desk in front of the typewriter chart when Amanda comes in angry. She asks Laura about the business
college and tell Laura she found out that she dropped out. Laura explains that she couldn’t handle the class and went
walking everyday. Later Amanda sits with Laura and asks her about a boy she liked. Laura points out Jim in the
yearbook. Later, Tom gets into an argument with Amanda. Amanda cannot understand why Tom goes to the movies
every night. Tom says he cannot stand working for the family like he does. Tom makes his speech about being an
assassin and leaves to the movies. He returns late at night drunk, but looses the key. Laura opens the door and Tom tells
her about the movie and the magic show he saw, giving her a scarf from the magic show. The next morning, Amanda
makes Tom wake up as usual and prepares him for his work. Before he leaves, she asks him to bring home a gentleman
caller for Laura. That night Tom informs his mother that he asked Jim O’Conner to dinner the next day. The next day,
Laura and Amanda prepare furiously for the dinner getting well dressed and decorating everything. At night, Tom arrives
with Jim. After they eat dinner, the lights go out and Amanda brings out the candles. Laura sits alone with Jim. They talk
for a while, and Jim kisses Laura, but regrets it. He tells her that he is already engaged, and Laura is devastated. She
gives him a glass unicorn which was broken during the night. Jim says good-bye to the family and leaves. Amanda is
angry with Tom for not telling them that Jim was engaged, but Tom insists that he did not know. Tom leaves never to


victrola - the escape and the private world of Laura.

jonquils - a reminder of Amanda’s glorious past.

magic show - the escape so desired by Tom.

glass menagerie - Laura’s private world, and the breaking of it.

fire escape - simply the escape from Amanda’s world. Tom seeks to leave it, but Laura stumbles whenever she does.

unicorn - Laura’s singularity, her return to reality, and her return to her retreat back into her world.

candelabrum - Tom’s relationship (or lack thereof) with his family.

scarf - Tom’s attempt to share his magic and desire for escape with Laura.

gentleman caller - the real world as opposed to Amanda’s imagined one.


The organization of the play is out of the ordinary. Tom’s role as a narrator, character, and stage director is somewhat off
the wall, and the use of the screen where the pictures are projected is not common. However, it does serve the purpose
well as the pictures set the mood, and Tom acting as a character and narrator allows us to enter into Tom’s mind and his
inner world and thoughts.


The idea conveyed in this play is that of image versus reality. Amanda has a picture of the world and of gentlemen
callers but which isn’t a reality in the ghetto’s of St. Louis. Laura has her own imaginary reality. Another philosophy is
that of escape. Tom tries to escape, and eventually does in the footsteps of his father. Laura is not seeking as hard to
escape as Tom, although it would do her some good to escape her world and Amanda’s. She comes close with Jim, but is
devastated and regress back into her world, probably deeper than she was before.


“On those occasions they call me - Ell Diablo! Oh, I could tell you things to make you sleepless! My enemies plan to
dynamite this place. They’re going to blow us all sky-high some night! I’ll be glad, very happy, and so will you! You’ll go
up, up on a broomstick, over Blue Mountain with seventeen gentlemen callers!” Tom says this to Amanda in a fit of rage.

“But the most wonderfullest trick of all was the coffin trick.... There is a trick that would come in handy for me-get me
out of this 2 by 4 situation.” Tom says this to Laura after coming back drunk from the movies and magic show.

“Laura! Why, Laura, you are sick, darling! Tom, help your sister into the living room, dear! ... I told her that it was just
too warm this evening, but - Is Laura all right now?” Amanda tells this to Laura, Jim and Tom at the dinner.

“You know what I judge to be the trouble with you? Inferiority complex! Know what that is? That’s what they call it
when someone low-rates himself! I understand it because I had it, too. Although my case was not so aggravated as
yours seems to be.” Jim tells this to Laura when they are alone together after the dinner.


Perhaps I am walking along a street at night, in some strange city, before I have found companions. I pass the lighted
window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in
delicate colors, like bits of shattered rainbow.
Middle of Tom's final soliloquy
The subjects and themes of the play are weighty and somewhat timeless: failures of capitalism, failures of the family
structure, failures of fathers (perhaps even God), broken promises, individual failure and reconciliation. The Glass
Menagerie is about tough decisions people make for themselves that affect others and adversely themselves.