The figure of women in Tennessee Williams’ work
Analysis of the Glass Managerie, A Streetcar Named Desire and Baby Doll.
“If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it” stated Tennessee Williams in the preface of The Dark at the Top of the Stairs by William Motter Inge (1957). Tennessee Williams has never denied that literature was for him a kind of psychoanalysis. In particular, it seems that the evocation of women through his work reveals a lot about his personality, but also about the world he lives in. The analysis of three of his plays: The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire and Baby Doll, shed light on the peculiar place Williams devotes to women. First, it can be pointed out that the figure of women is related to Williams’ relationship with his mother and his sister. But writing about women also works as a catharsis and allows him to disclose a part of his personality. Finally the evocation of women can be considered as a mean for Williams to describe his time and his conception of the human condition.
In Tennessee Williams’ plays, women are a permanent reminiscence of the figure of his mother and of his sister. Williams once told "My work is emotionally autobiographical. It has no relationship to the actual events of my life, but it reflects the emotional currents of my life." A few elements of Williams’ biography can explain his need to evocate those two emblematic elements of his youth. Tennessee was really close to his older sister Rose – they were sometimes referred as “The Couple”. Rose started showing symptoms of schizophrenia at the age of 27 after the end of a love affair. She spent the rest of her life in mental institutions and lost most of her abilities after the failure of her lobotomy. Williams never forgave his parents for allowing the operation and the suffering of his sister may have led him to alcoholism and depression. Williams’ mother – Edwina - was a “Southern Belle” - she came from the upper-class and was the daughter of a local Episcopal priest. She was considered as a loving but smothering and hysterical mother. As his father spent most of his time outside of home, Williams grew in this women-dominated environment that explains the empathy he has for his women character. Those two unbalanced figures deeply influenced Tennessee Williams, who used his female characters as reference to his family. In The Glass Menagerie, Laura Wingfield is modeled on Rose. Her physical infirmity – she is slightly crippled - is a transposition for the latter psychological misbalance. Both women are particularly sensitive and shy. Rose also had a glass menagerie she took care of, and Williams pointed to fact out when describing Rose’s room in St Louis. “My sister and I painted all her furniture white; she put white curtains at the window and on the large shelves around the room she collected a large assortment of little glass articles of which she was particularly fond.” For both women, these pieces of glass are a symbol of their inside world. On top of that, Laura - as Rose - got broken hearted when she realized the man she loved was engaged to another woman. Some critics even go further by saying that Jim O’Connor was the name of Rose’s lover. This unhappy love affair drove both women to entrenched themselves from the rest of the world. Rose started developing schizophrenia whereas Laura lost any hope to establish a future relationship with anyone. Influenced by the memories of his beloved sister, Williams manage to drive sympathy on Laura’s character. Her shyness is touching and her despair at the end of the play is moving. Amanda Wingfield, the other female character of The Glass Menagerie, is modeled on Williams’ mother. She is depicted as a Southern Belle, which lives in the past and longed for the happiness of her youth. One of the first sentence of Amanda in the play is “One Sunday afternoon, in Blue Montain – your mother received – seventeen!-...
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