A Contribution for PAL:

http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap8/williams.html

PAL: Perspectives in American Literature - A Research and Reference Guide - An Ongoing Project© Paul P. Reuben
Chapter 8: Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)
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Jayshree Singh, Lecturer in English, Bhupal Nobles Post-Graduate Girls' College
(Affiliated to Mohanlal Sukhadia University), Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

A Contribution for PAL:
The playwright Tennessee Williams presents before us the dark world of one-dimensional society of the modern civilization that survives in the midst of exploitation, violation of moral code of conduct, corruption and dehumanized passions of power and intimate relationships. He makes us realize that such worldly circumstances of the tainted world drives the misfits, the rebels, the artist figures or the fugitive kinds to lead lives of depression, alienation and unhappy madness (a sort of severe schizophrenia). It happens due to their failure of adjustment with the worldly norms and they construct make-believe worlds around them through fabricated illusions in order to feel a sense of untrammeled freedom. The playwright through his impulsive creative activity provides us with a basic premise to understand with tenderness and fortitude such individuals trapped in their own predicament.
Tennessee Williams derives his themes from psychoanalysis, conferred upon American drama by the influence of Freud's theories given in the books namely Suppressed Desires and Interpretation of Dreams. Sigmund Freud became popular in America during the early twentieth century. W. David Sievers states: "He contradicted the earlier view that sexual deviation is the form of degeneracy; rather he scientifically named them as abnormal psychic disorders like neuroses, hysteria, hypochondria, irrationality and hypertension." (Freud on Broadway: A History of Psychoanalysis and the American Drama. New York: Cooper, 1970, 36-40) These all occur due to sexual maladjustment and if there is an unconscious repression of sex drive (libido) it results into unconscious conflicts and this psychological dualism of man's nature originates hostile impulses and we find split-personality lives. Tennessee Williams was suffering from Oedipus complex because in his earlier life he could not get attached to his father; he found convincing attraction in his mother. While leading a Bohemian lifestyle in New Orleans, he became aware that he had homosexual tendencies. His unconscious rationalization or repression made him explore the world of gaiety and frivolity. Unconsciously it affected him and it found expression in his writings, in the form of portraits- at times as that of his sister and at others in his own.
In the play Orpheus Descending Mrs. Torrance and, in A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche Dubois symbolically refer to his mental state. In these plays sex, which was considered a taboo, is treated by Williams in a shocking and revolutionary manner. He generated the germ of the new spirit of freedom for woman to find sexual fulfillment (symbolized by the West) and this idea is in conflict with the moral Puritanism of New England. Actually he tries to balance his mental delirium through wish- fulfillment of his repressed desires which had been controlled by the Puritanical code of conduct taught by his mother Edwina Williams.
The extrasensory perception and heightened emotionalism of Tennessee Williams's writings have inspired numerous attempts at interpretations over the years. For readers and critics his plays exude extreme impulsive feelings even after so many years of acquaintance with his work. Inspite of increasing concern and criticism there are a number of areas that need to be explored to resolve certain unanswered questions about Tennessee Williams more than about any other major contemporary playwright. Even though the form of the plays is deviated from conventional standards as well as their seemingly secret yearnings shame the society and they are shunned from mainstream society, yet the plays are still held to be more successful due to their inner probing of a lost person in the corrupt and materialistic world of the twentieth century.
The characters in Tennessee Williams's plays attempt to create an aura of illusions in order to either forget the unpleasant reality of human existence or to avoid certain experiences of the past. Sometimes they are also fed up with this material life and the worldly-wise people that inhabit it. Such illusions serve as an escape for them and also enable them to remain disguised in a make-believer world.
Jayshree Singh, Lecturer in English, Bhupal Nobles Post-Graduate Girls' College
(Affiliated to Mohanlal Sukhadia University), Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

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