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Glass Menagerie Essay, Research Paper

Thesis: The outcasts in Tennessee Williams’s major plays suffer, not because of the acts or situations which make them outcasts but because of the destructive effect of conventional morality upon them.

More than a half century has passed since critics and theater-goers recognized Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) as an important–perhaps the most important–American playwright. Two recent events, however, have created renewed interest in his work. The first is the death in 1996 of Maria St. Just, who controlled the late playwright’s papers1. The second is the publication, in that same year, of Lyle Leverich’s Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams. Both events represent access to information about this playwright that has, heretofore, been unavailable to scholars?an influx of so much new information that a reexamination of Williams’s work is not only possible, but necessary.

My dissertation will reexamine Williams’s work in light of his claim that “plays in the tragic tradition offer us a view of certain moral values in violent juxtaposition” (The Rose Tattoo 151). Williams’s plays outline a struggle between the moral values of non-conformists, who are outcasts because they can not, or will not, conform to the values of the dominant culture, and of conformists, who represent that culture. The outcast characters in Tennessee Williams’s major plays do not suffer because of the actions or circumstances that make them outcast but because of the destructive impact of conventional morality upon them. The outcasts are driven, in the conflict between their values and those of conventional morality, to: 1) confess their transgressions against conventional morality, and 2) suffer, at their own hands or by placing themselves in dangerous situations, in atonement for their non-conformity.

That Williams’s outcasts are miserable is evidence of his opinion that the demands of conventional morality can be destructive. Chapter One of my dissertation will provide a foundation for discussion of this argument. Chapters Two, Three, and Four will contain extensive examples from Williams’s plays in support of his statement that “…I have only one major theme for my work which is the destructive impact of society on the sensitive non-conformist individual” (Letter, 1939, to Audrey Wood)1. I will further distinguish between three types of outcasts–religious, sexual, and fugitive?and will devote a chapter to examples from Williams’s plays that illustrate the juxtaposition of values within each of these three types. In my final chapter I will argue against the notion that Williams’s outcasts suffer because they are immoral.

Chapter One: “”More a Minister’s Son’: An Introduction to Tennessee Williams”

I deal with the decadence of the South. I don’t ever deal with the decadence of the North. It’s too disgusting. But I’m writing about a South that is fast becoming a memory. (Williams, in Haller 60)

This chapter will provide biographical and critical information about Tennessee Williams. Using personal interviews with the playwright’s brother, Dakin Williams, and with biographer Nancy Tischler, along with published scholarship and accounts, I will reveal that the playwright considered himself an outcast and that his outcast characters represent an attempt to prove that “outcast” and “immoral” are not mutually inclusive terms. I will also show that Williams’s over-arching motivation, his drive to reveal in his plays the suffering inflicted on non-conformists by the dominant culture, is a reflection of his personal experiences with family, friends, and society.

Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams was born to Cornelius and Edwina Dakin Williams on March 26, 1914, in Columbus, Mississippi. At age 12, Williams and his family (which included a brother, Dakin, and sister, Rose) moved to St. Louis, Missouri. He attended the University of Missouri from 1931 to 1933, and finished his BA. in 1938 at the University of Iowa.

The playwright’s mother, a model for Amanda in The Glass Menagerie, was an aggressive woman, devoted to the idea of genteel Southern living. His father, also known as C.C., was a salesman for a large shoe manufacturer and, consequently, traveled extensively. Leverich reports that Edwina filled the void caused by her husband’s absence with stories about the South:

Over and over again, she would tell Tom [Tennessee Williams] about garden parties and cotillions and her gentlemen callers, until he could recite the stories by rote. She said that in those days she saw only “the charming, gallant, cheerful side” of the smiling bridegroom who had been a telephone man “in love with long distance.” In Tom’s mind, these images of his mother?once upon a time a young and pretty southern belle whose venturesome husband had deserted her to go on the road–eventually became entangled with perpetually dark apartments, with Rose’s tragic turns, and with his own desperate attempt to free himself from the web of family. (49)

Rose is the only other strong female figure in the playwright’s life (Leverich 40). Both Edwina and Rose are the foundation for two characters, Amanda and Laura, respectively, in The Glass Menagerie.

According to Leverich, Williams was “more a minister’s son than the son of a traveling salesman” (37). Williams writes that he was tormented by his father because, at age 14, he “would rather read books in my grandfather’s large and classical library than play marbles and baseball and other normal kid games” (Williams, Where I Live 106). The playwright credits his grandfather with instilling in him a love of books (Leverich 37), that led to writing as escape from the torment of his heterosexist peers (Williams, Sweet Bird of Youth x). Leverich writes that Williams “made every effort to keep the knowledge [of his homosexuality] from his mother in particular”; however, he shared this knowledge with his grandfather, who not only accepted his grandson’s homosexuality but also “enjoyed the gay life peripherally and was especially fond and approving of Williams’s companion, Frank Merlo” (368-369). That Williams feared his mother’s rejection, and confided so freely in his grandfather, establishes these two persons as extremely important influences in his life.1

Tracing the influences of individuals and circumstances on Williams’s work has been difficult because of the restrictions I mention earlier in this prospectus. Of the existing scholarship the most thorough is that written by Leverich: Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams. The first volume of this two-volume set follows the fortunes of the Williams family for half a century, from 1900 to 19452. As the official Williams biographer, Leverich has been the only scholar to gain access to Williams’s notes and papers held by St. Just.

Williams’s brother, Dakin, is a resource that, although not bound by St. Just’s restrictions, has remained largely untapped. Although biographers and researchers have neglected Dakin Williams,3, I have met and discussed my thesis with him. He has agreed to cooperate with me in my research. The two brothers discussed religion on numerous occasions, and Dakin Williams’s book, Nails of Protest: A Critical Comparison of Modern Protestant and Catholic Beliefs, was (according to the author) extremely influential in the playwright’s conversion to Catholicism4. Nails of Protest is a polemic, a criticism of Protestantism that the author generated while studying law and Church history (Dakin Williams, personal interviews)5.

Harry Rasky’s 1986 book, Tennessee Williams: A Portrait in Laughter and Lamentation, is another personalized account of Williams’s life. This work contains priceless and irreplaceable photographs of Williams in Key West and in New Orleans. The infrequent occasions wherein Rasky sets aside his authorial voice and presents block quotes from Williams are historically valuable, as well.

Yet another anecdote-based account of the playwright’s life comes from his mother, Edwina Dakin Williams. Her Remember Me to Tom is a narrative about the youth and career of Tennessee Williams. The book presents stories told by the playwright’s mother to Lucy Freeman, and includes some passages indicating Tennessee Williams’s attitudes toward religion. Also included is a considerable collection of correspondence–from the playwright to his mother and brother, from his grandfather, and to and from several agents and critics1.

A very thorough critical work is Judith Thompson’s Tennessee Williams’ Plays: Memory, Myth, and Symbol. Thompson closely examines William’s experiment with the “memory play,” and provides an outline of his approach that is consistent and clear. She also examines the symbolism in these plays, grouping them into religious, mythological, and existential symbols and imagery. I expect Thompson’s groundwork to be a foundation on which I will build.

Published a year before Thompson’s work, Roger Boxill’s Tennessee Williams is a New Critical examination of the life and major works of the playwright. The critics in this collection provide a thorough textual analysis of selected Williams plays.

For an overview of critical and biographical works relative to Tennessee Williams, I turned to The Modern Language Association electronic database. The MLA lists only 288 entries using the descriptor, “Tennessee Williams.” From 1981 to 1995, fewer than 300 dissertations touching on this playwright in any way were written1. These figures represent a fraction of the number of dissertations, essays, and books written about other important American writers. For example, the MLA database lists 4,019 entries using the descriptor “William Faulkner,” and more than 1,089 entries using “Eugene O’Neill.”2

Chapter Two: “Promiscuity and Penance: Sexual Outcasts as Martyrs in Suddenly Last Summer, Orpheus Descending, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”

Catherine: They had devoured parts of him….Torn or cut parts of him away with their hands or knives or maybe those jagged tin cans they made music with, they had torn bits of him away and stuffed them into those gobbling fierce little empty black mouths of theirs. There wasn’t a sound any more, there was nothing to see but Sebastian, what was left of him, that looked like a big white-paper-wrapped bunch of red roses had been torn, thrown, crushed!–against that blazing white wall….(Williams, Suddenly Last Summer 92)

Many of Williams’s sexual outcasts are devoured, literally or figuratively, and in this chapter I will show how these characters suffer because of the two drives I mentioned earlier. Sebastian Venable and Catherine Holly in Suddenly Last Summer are particularly good examples of Williams’s literal and figurative depiction, respectively, of sexual outcasts as martyrs.

Martyrdom is a major theme in Suddenly Last Summer. Refusing to accept the possibility that her deceased son, Sebastian, was a homosexual, Mrs. Venable tries to silence her niece, Catherine, who insists upon telling the story of Sebastian’s sexual misconduct and murder. Catherine is haunted, having witnessed her cousin, Sebastian Venable, being cannibalized by Mexican youth (whom he has sexually victimized). She feels compelled to tell the story of Sebastian’s death, despite Mrs. Venable’s threat to have her lobotomized1 and even though no one believes her.

Mrs. Venable worships the memory of her son, Sebastian, relating her experiences with him as a prophet would relate her or his contact with a Christ-figure. In his stage directions, Williams has Mrs. Venable hold up a bound collection of Sebastian’s poetry: “She lifts a thin gilt-edged volume from the patio table as if elevating the Host before the altar….Her face suddenly has a different look, the look of a visionary, an exalted religieuse” (Williams, Suddenly Last Summer 13). Her threat to have Catherine lobotomized is meant to further her truth about Sebastian (Williams, Suddenly Last Summer 12); she appears to see truth as relative, determined by the privileged and powerful. She says of her forthcoming confrontation with Catherine, “I won’t collapse! She’ll collapse! I mean her lies will collapse?not my truth?not the truth….” (Williams, Suddenly Last Summer 12).

According to Mrs. Venable, Sebastian spent his summers in search of the image of God. Her identification of that image is the picture of a vengeful God, the God of Lex Talionis (the just God, who exacts an eye for an eye): “…God shows a savage face to people and shouts some fierce things at them, it’s all we see or hear of Him. Isn’t it all we ever really see and hear of Him, now?–Nobody seems to know why….” (Williams, Suddenly Last Summer 20).


Over the narrow black beach of the Encantadas as the just hatched sea-turtles scrambled out of the sand-pits and started their race to the sea….To escape the flesh-eating birds that made the sky almost as black as the beach! [She gazes up again: we hear the wild, ravenous, harsh cries of the birds. The sound comes in rhythmic waves like a savage chant.] And the sand all alive, all alive, as the hatched sea turtles stooped to attack and hovered and?swooped to attack! They were diving down on the hatched sea-turtles, turning them over to expose their soft undersides, tearing the undersides open and rending and eating their flesh. Sebastian guessed that possibly only a hundredth of one percent of their number would escape to the sea….(Williams, Suddenly Last Summer 16-17)

During this spectacle, she says, Sebastian found what he sought:

Yes, well, now, I can tell you without hesitation that my son was looking for God, I mean for a clear image of him. He spent that whole blazing equatorial day in the crow’s-nest of the schooner watching this thing on the beach till it was too dark to see it, and when he came down the rigging he said “Well, now I’ve seen Him!,” and he meant God.–And for several weeks after that he had a fever, he was delirious with it.?(Williams, Suddenly Last Summer 19)

This event?Sebastian’s recognition of the nature of God?sets in motion the acts, committed by Sebastian, that end in his death.

Mrs. Venable is the first to discuss the notion of expiation, of becoming a sacrifice, when referring to her niece:

We put the bread in her mouth and the clothes on her back. People that like you for that or even forgive you for it are?hen’s teeth, Doctor. The role of the benefactor is worse than thankless, it’s the role of a victim, Doctor, a sacrificial victim, yes, they want your blood, Doctor, they want your blood on the altar steps of their outraged, outrageous egos! (Williams, Suddenly Last Summer 27)

According to Thompson, Catherine Holly resembles St. Catherine of Bologna, “a fifteenth-century virgin martyr” who kept a diary, had visions in which the living flesh of Christ was consumed during the sacrament of communion, and was shut away in a convent because of those visions (121). In Catholic theology, St. Catherine is the patron saint of artists–as Catherine Holly was the emotional patroness of Sebastian. And, like St. Catherine, William’s Catherine is placed in the keeping of nuns.

After Mrs. Venable has a stroke, Catherine accompanies Sebastian on his final summer journey. The trek ends in Mexico, where Sebastian begins to shun Catherine because she has fallen in love with him (even though, as she states, she has been procuring young men for him). Tormented by young beggars in a small restaurant, Sebastian escapes into the street, is pursued by the beggars and devoured. Catherine sees Sebastian’s murder (and consumption by the young beggars) as the completion of Sebastian’s designs. Her dialogue on this topic is particularly revealing:

Catherine. [Sebastian was] Competing–a sort of!–image! –he had of himself as a sort of!–sacrifice to a!–Terrible sort of a–

Doctor. –God?

Catherine. Yes, a–cruel one, Doctor! (Williams, Suddenly Last Summer 64)

According to Mrs. Venable, Sebastian fell into a fever after witnessing the episode in the Encantadas. He then tried to enter a Buddhist monastery, attempting to give up his wealth and live in poverty with a mendicant Himalayan order. His mother stayed with him, however, and after a month he gave up the monastery and returned with her to social life (Williams, Suddenly Last Summer 21).

Williams presents a direct series of events leading to Sebastian’s death. First, he recognizes God in the Encantadas. This recognition affects him profoundly, temporarily incapacitating him with brain fever. Second, he tries to atone for something by entering a monastery; however, his mother persuades him to leave. Third, journeying without his mother, he sacrifices himself in a small Mexican town. Catherine reports that Sebastian carries out his plan by attempting “to correct a human situation–I think perhaps that that was his fatal error….” (Williams, Suddenly Last Summer 89).

Most critics seem to agree that Sebastian pays with his life for a sin against humanity. Foster Hirsch calls him “the consumer who is finally consumed, the cannibal who is eaten alive” (55). Arthur Gantz writes that “Sebastian’s sin lay not in perceiving the world as, in Williams’ darkest vision, it is, but in his believing, with a pride bordering on hubris, that he could exalt himself above his kind, could feed upon people like one of the devouring birds of the Encantadas” (106). The critics focus upon Sebastian as sinner or as pervert; they agree that he is punished for his transgressions but appear to have neglected the idea that it is Sebastian who chooses the role of expiator, sacrificing himself. As Sister Felicity tells Catherine, “Disobedience has to be paid for later” (Williams, Suddenly Last Summer 35). To bring about his own death, Sebastian places himself in a vulnerable position; he changes his habits, deliberately choosing the less genteel public beach instead of the fashionable private establishments that Mrs. Venable states were his accustomed haunts (Williams, Suddenly Last Summer 78-79).

Catherine tells Sister Felicity that “Somebody said once or wrote, once: ‘We’re all of us children in a vast kindergarten trying to spell God’s name with the wrong alphabet blocks!’” (Williams, Suddenly Last Summer 40). God and truth are separate, and truth remains a constant–as Catherine announces to her assembled relatives: “I can’t change truth, I’m not God! I’m not even sure that He could, I don’t think God can change truth!” (Williams, Suddenly Last Summer 58). Mrs. Venable believes her son suffered because he was too generous–that is her “truth”; Catherine believes he was cruelly murdered by the boys he victimized–her experience of a truth separate from, though perhaps superior to, Mrs. Venable’s. Both Catherine and Mrs. Venable reject the idea that Sebastian sacrificed himself for wrongs he knew he had committed.

Sebastian’s is a savage God, who allows human beings to abuse one another and who drives the abusers to martyr themselves. Recognizing the nature of God, and feeling guilty because he has used his mother and cousin to procure young men for his sexual pleasure, Sebastian first attempts to atone for his sin by entering a monastery. This sacrifice is not enough; he discovers that he can not bring himself to his proper sacrificial status in the presence of his mother. Driven to expiate his sin, but aware that atonement also requires confession (and a witness to that confession), he uses his mother’s stroke as an excuse to abandon her and to have his cousin, a stronger woman, serve as witness to his martyrdom. He ends, as the sea-turtles in the Encantadas, a sacrifice to the God of Lex Talionis.

As with Suddenly Last Summer, I will locate sexual outcasts in Orpheus Descending, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In these plays the sexual outcasts are depicted as martyrs; I will address these characters as I have Sebastian and Catherine in the example here.

Chapter Three: “‘For the Sins of the World’: Religious Outcasts as Searcher-Saints in The Glass Menagerie, The Night of the Iguana, and Orpheus Descending”

For the sins of the world are really only its partialities, and these are what sufferings must atone for. A wall that has been omitted from a house because the stones were exhausted, a room in a house left unfinished because the householder’s funds were not sufficient–these sorts of incompletions are usually covered up or glossed over by some kind of make-shift arrangement. The nature of man is full of such makeshift arrangements, devised by himself to cover his incompletion. He feels a part of himself to be like a missing wall or a room left unfurnished and he tries as well as he can to make up for it. The use of imagination, resorting to dreams or the loftier purpose of art, is a mask he devises to cover his incompletion. Or violence such as a war, between two men or among a number of nations, is also a blind and senseless compensation for that which is not yet formed in human nature. Then there is still another compensation. This one is found in the principle of atonement, the surrender of self to violent treatment by others with the idea of thereby cleansing one’s self of his guilt. (Williams, Desire and the Black Masseur 85)

In this chapter I will continue my exploration of Williams’s outcasts, focusing on what I term “religious outcasts.” These individuals may also engage, or have engaged, in sexual practices condemned by conventional morality; however, unlike the primarily sexual outcasts I discuss in the previous chapter, these characters were designed as overt religious symbols. The Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon in The Night of the Iguana, for example, has used his intelligence and authority to sexually abuse parishioners and minors, yet Williams keeps the focus of this play on the relationship between Shannon’s clerical duties (outlined by dogma) and his theology (a non-conformist, deist point of view). He is both searcher and saint, suffering in his quest for god.

Critic Foster Hirsch discusses this focus in A Portrait of the Artist: The Plans of Tennessee Williams. The most important issue for Shannon, Hirsch writes, is “the nature of God,” adding that the play “dramatizes Williams’s belief in the transforming and healing powers of art and of confession” (69-70). Thompson argues that the play expresses Williams’s “desire for absolution from a transcient authority” (158). In this respect Shannon is similar to Sebastian Venable; both attempt to articulate an individualized concept of God. However, unlike Sebastian’s victimization of young boys, Shannon’s sexual escapades are secondary to what he calls the “senile delinquent” god of Western theology (Williams, The Night of the Iguana 61).

Shannon reports that, after discussing his god-image from his pulpit, he was locked out of his church and committed by church officials to a “nice little private asylum to recuperate from a complete nervous breakdown” (Williams, The Night of the Iguana 60). His expulsion from his church identifies him as one of Williams’s outcasts; his nervous breakdown illustrates the destructive impact of conventional morality.

Leaving the asylum, Shannon begins “collecting evidence” of the truth of his God-image (Williams, The Night of the Iguana 60). Shannon’s God is found in the tempest:

Shannon. It’s going to storm tonight–a terrific electric storm. Then you will see the Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon’s conception of God Almighty paying a visit to the world he created. I want to go back to the Church and preach the gospel of God as Lightning and Thunder…and also stray dogs vivisected and…and…and….[He points out suddenly toward the sea.] That’s him! There he is now! [He is pointing out at a blaze, a majestic apocalypse of gold light, shafting the sky as the sun drops into the Pacific.] His oblivious majesty–and here I am on this…dilapidated verandah of a cheap hotel, out of season, in a country caught and destroyed in its flesh and corrupted in its spirit by its gold-hungry Conquistadors that bore the flag of the Inquisition along with the Cross of Christ. (Williams, The Night of the Iguana 61)

In the moment of his greatest mental anguish (a re-enactment of his earlier nervous breakdown), Shannon acknowledges the motivation for his behavior; he calls it “the infantile expression of rage at Mama and rage at God and rage at the goddamn crib, and rage at the everything, rage at the…everything….Regression to infantilism….” (Williams, The Night of the Iguana 98). This is his darkest moment and, fortunately for him, Hannah Jelkes is there to help him make sense of his anguish.

Hirsch claims that Shannon has made more of his pain than actually exists: “Shannon is not equal to his ideal of a rapacious and vengeful God because he is merely an overaged delinquent who rebels against a conservative family background and a tame middle-class concept of God” (66). Hannah points out the self-indulgence Hirsch discusses; she claims that Shannon enjoys his breakdowns too much for them to serve as proper expiation:

Hannah. Who wouldn’t like to suffer and atone for the sins of himself and the world, if it could be done in a hammock with ropes instead of nails, on a hill that’s so much lovelier than Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, Mr. Shannon? There’s something almost voluptuous in the way that you twist and groan in that hammock–no nails, no blood, no death. Isn’t that a comparatively comfortable, almost voluptuous kind of crucifixion to suffer for the guilt of the world, Mr. Shannon….I’d like to untie you right now, but let me wait until you’ve passed through your present disturbance. You’re still indulging yourself in your…your Passion Play performance. I can’t help observing this self-indulgence in you.” (Williams, The Night of the Iguana 99-100)

Hannah identifies Shannon’s problem as “the need to believe in something or in someone” (Williams, The Night of the Iguana 106). She recommends that Shannon accept his need to confess his sins (his rebellion, caused by feelings of impotence upon confronting an all-powerful God).

Hannah encourages Shannon to descend from his Golgotha (the hammock on which he is restrained, on the porch of a mountainside hotel) to release an iguana that has been captured and is to be killed and eaten. She suggests he accept his image of God without robbing his needy parishioners of theirs: “I know people torture each other many times like devils,” she says, “but sometimes they do see and know each other, you know, and then, if they’re decent, they do want to help each other all they can” (Williams, The Night of the Iguana 81).

Is Shannon, despite his rejection of the Church and his unconventional sexual mores, an example of the nobility of outcasts? Referring to Shannon and Hannah, Williams writes:

The alternative title [to The Night of the Iguana], Two Acts of Grace …referred to a pair of desperate people who had the humble nobility of each putting the other’s desperation, during the course of a night, above his own. Being an unregenerate romanticist, even now I can still think of nothing that gives more meaning to life. (In Hirsch 69)

Williams’s religious outcasts appear also in The Glass Menagerie and Orpheus Descending. In this chapter I will survey these plays for examples of outcasts as searcher-saints, treating these characters in the same manner as Shannon in The Night of the Iguana.

Chapter Four: “Following their Kind: Outcasts as Fugitives in Orpheus Descending, The Glass Menagerie, Period of Adjustment, and The Eccentricities of a Nightingale”

[Carol:] Wild things leave skins behind them, they leave clean skins and teeth and white bones behind them, and these are tokens passed from one to another, so that the fugitive kind can always follow their kind. (Williams, Orpheus Descending 144)

In this chapter I will reveal that a third type of outcast exists in Williams’s plays–what the playwright terms the “fugitive kind.” I will complete my diagram of outcasts which, like concentric circles, build upon one another; while Williams’s fugitive characters may be sexually dysfunctional, as with Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, and may agonize over religious issues, as with Vee Talbott in Orpheus Descending, they need do neither but may, like Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, simply flee from situations that torture them.

Tom’s soliloquies determine the extent to which the other characters in The Glass Menagerie exist; Williams presents the other characters as memories of Tom’s escape from “the quasi-incestuous and doomed love between Tom Wingfield and his crippled, ‘exquisitely fragile,’ ultimately schizophrenic sister Laura” (Bloom 3). According to Harold Bloom, Tom flees a situation in which he is tormented:

What pursues Tom is what pursues the Shelleyan Poet of Alastor, an avenging daimon or shadow of rejected, sisterly eros that manifests itself in a further Shelleyan metaphor, the shattered, colored transparencies of Shelley’s dome of many-colored glass….The key sentence, dramatically, is: “Oh Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!” In his descriptive list of the characters, Williams says of his surrogate, Wingfield: “His nature is not remorseless, but to escape from a trap he has to act without pity.” What would pity have been? And in what sense is Wingfield more faithful, after all, than he attempted to be? (4-5)

Thompson uses Jungian psychoanalytic theory to argue that the photograph of Mr. Wingfield is the objective correlative to Tom’s wander-lust. Eric Levy agrees, writing that the photograph of Mr. Wingfield is “Tom’s mirror” of self-image and self esteem (530). This echoes Thompson’s argument that Williams makes use of archetypes. In a Jungian sense, Mr. Wingfield is the objective correlative to Tom’s inner turmoil.

According to Thompson, “Williams’s belief in ‘a great vocabulary of images’ that derive from the unconscious closely resembles the fundamental assumption of Jungian psychology of a ‘collective unconscious’” (8). Williams demonstrates, through Tom’s recollections, how powerful memories revolve around characters whose actions reflect the inner turmoil of the person doing the remembering. These individuals form the constituency of Tom’s consciousness; the suffering in each of them is a reflection of Tom’s pain. Although Tom imitates his God-like father, absenting himself from his family, images of his suffering sister haunt him because, not being God, his abandonment of Laura and Amanda is a sin against them.

Williams’s fugitive outcasts appear in many of his other major plays, including Orpheus Descending and Period of Adjustment. In this chapter I will choose fugitive outcasts from Williams’s major plays and, as with Tom Wingfield in the above example, show how these individuals differ from the playwright’s sexual and religious outcasts. I will also, as with the other two types of outcasts, examine the conflict between their values and those of conventional morality.

Chapter Five: “‘Certain Moral Values’: Toward Identification of Williams’s Attitudes Toward Conventional Morality”

The great and only possible dignity of man lies in his power deliberately to choose certain moral values by which to live as steadfastly as if he, too, like a character in a play, were immured against the corrupting rush of time. Snatching the eternal out of the desperately fleeing is the great magic trick of human existence. (Williams, “Foreword” to The Rose Tattoo 131)

In this, the final chapter of my dissertation, I will dispel the notion that Williams’s outcast characters suffer because of the acts or situations that make them outcasts–in short, because they are immoral. Having illustrated what Williams calls “certain moral values in violent juxtaposition” (151), I will argue that the violent and ultimately futile struggle by non-conformists to live among people of conventional morality is unavoidable. This is, I believe, what Williams means when he writes that “there is something much bigger in life and death that we have become aware of (or adequately recorded) in our living and dying” (Williams, Sweet Bird of Youth xii). In claiming that a juxtaposition of moral values can exist, and is revealed in the conflict between non-conformists and representatives of conventional morality, Williams implies that both groups have values that must be weighed on the stage of human existence1.

From a body of examples I will analyze Williams’s statements about the conflict between the values of his outcasts and those of his conformists. I am not arguing that Williams comes to any conclusions2, or that the evidence points to some sort of hidden moral agenda on his part. I will argue that the evidence reveals questions for which Williams sought answers. The most important of these is the reason outcasts feel compelled, or are forced, to confess the situations that make them exiles from conventional morality and to atone for transgressions against that system of values.

“Snatching the eternal out of the desperately fleeing” is the end-product of the conflict between the values systems I will examine. Williams’s non-conformist characters are the desperately fleeing, who struggle against the oppression of conformists; what is eternal is the concept of that struggle, and the “certain moral values” which it reveals. This is reminiscent of Tom Wingfield’s remarks: “But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion” (Williams, The Glass Menagerie 1521).


Included in the paper ….

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