Tennessee Williams and the Drama

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1. Tennessee Williams in the World of Drama

1. Tennessee Williams and expressionism

The 20th century remains in history as one of the most prolific and expansive centuries, marked by a series of events which influenced the evolution of multiple domains. The continuous development of society, industry and culture was enhanced through the birth of various new technologies or artistic trends. Among the most important trends is expressionism, a modernist movement which has its roots in the German artistic groups of the 1910s. Although the visual arts claim to have priority over the literary environment, the evolution of the expressionistic ideas among the writers of the time is highly appreciable.

If in painting the most recognizable reference is Edward Munch’s “The Cry” (1984), in literature and philosophy the most important predecessors are Frantz Kafka and Friedrich Nietzsche. Their work embodies essential expressionistic features which appeared mostly as a “revolt against the artistic and literary tradition of realism, both in subject matter and in style.”[1]

As we can deduce from the title, the expressionist artist sought to express intense ideas and feelings in a very personal manner, without putting too much emphasis on a clear or objective representation of facts. On the contrary, the troubled and negative aspects of life were distorted and exaggerated with the precise purpose of impersonating climactic moods and emotions. Their aim was not to interpret reality the way it was, but the way they felt it, transforming every piece of expressionistic work into a private and intense representation.

The literary domain is also generous in authors who have made an impressive change in the 20th century American drama. Ernest Toller, Georg Kaiser, Eugene O’Neil, Ernest Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence or Tennessee Williams are iconic names of novelists and playwrights who implemented new visions, revolutionary characters and what were considered until that time taboo themes (introspection, sexuality, fear etc.)

Focusing on literature, which is of main interest for this paper, it can be stated that “the works (...) represent the experience of an individual standing alone and afraid in an industrialized, technological and urban society which is disintegrating into chaos.”[2] This quotation describes probably, in the clearest way, Tennessee Williams’s manner of writing and the sources of inspiration for his major plays.

In this further study, we will concentrate on the development of these themes and ideas in the work of the innovative writer, Tennessee Williams.

2. The author’s life and literary achievements

Thomas Lanier Williams was born on 26 March 1911, in Columbus, Mississippi in a dysfunctional family made up of an alcoholic shoe salesman and a neurotic, fragile „Southern Belle.” His father, Cornelius Coffin (C.C.) Williams was a descendent of the Tennessee frontiersmen[3] and maintained a cold relationship with his son who failed to become the strong, tough man that he was expected. A childhood illness which left him in a fragile health condition and the influence of an overprotective mother won him the nickname of “Miss Nancy,” given to him but none else than his father. But it was during these sickening moments that his mother encouraged his passion for writing and bought him his first typewriter.

During his childhood, the writer developed a stronger relationship with his mother, sister (Rose) and grandparents, living a relatively happy life until the age of eight, when the family was forced to move to St. Louis, on account of his father receiving a better job, so hard to find on the verge of the Great Depression. This was the first crucial moment of his existence which managed to change his entire perspective on life. Although the entire family yearned over their beloved South, the young Tennessee found a way to fructify his...
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