Tennessee Williams: A Great Playwright
Tennessee Williams is widely regarded as one of the greatest playwrights in the world of American drama. He is unquestionably the most influential American playwright after the II World War. He wrote several award-winning poetic plays. He is known as ‘the theater poet in prose’. He is best known for his powerful plays named The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. His plays reveal a world of human frustration in which sex and violence underlie an atmosphere of romantic gentility. Williams' plays are known for their symbolism, metaphor and for their lyrical intensity.
Expressionism is a dramatic technique. It enables a dramatist to depict the inner reality of life. As a dramatist Tennessee Williams uses expressionistic technique in a masterly manner. In order to reveal the inner reality of a thing or a character, he takes the help of this technique. The use of lighting effects, music, telephone and symbols on the stage are part and parcel of his expressionistic technique
Williams was much interested in sex, frustration, failure, violence, religion and spirituality, search for beauty and so on. His plays are born out of these themes. The clash of values between the North and the South is one of the major themes of his plays. The helplessness of mankind is also a major theme of Williams. The characters like Laura, Blanche and Alma are not mature enough for survival in a highly competitive world. The loneliness of modern man finds fantastic expression in Williams’ plays.
Another prominent theme in his plays is that of conflict between reality and illusion. The dramatist often wonders which is real – the outward world of houses, streets and refrigerators or the inner world of memories, hopes and fears. Search for beauty is another of Williams’ major themes. The playwright searches for beauty in this ugly world. With her glass menagerie Laura searches for beauty amidst the unhappiness and physical and mental squalor of her life.
The art of characterization is one of the greatest achievements of Williams as a playwright. He creates extraordinarily vital characters. Amanda and Laura, Blanche and Stanley, Alma and John are his memorable characters. His characters are generally categorized as fugitive and depressed. Artists as typical characters appear time and again in Williams’ plays. Blanche of A Streetcar Named Desire seems a poet. Tom of The Glass Menagerie is trying to be a poet. Alexandra of Sweet Bird of Youth is an actress. Chris Flanders of The Milk Train Does Not Stop Here Anymore is a poet. Williams has created some insane characters like Blanche of A Streetcar Named Desire, Catharine of Suddenly Last Summer and Lady of Orpheus Descending. But such characters are not fully insane. They are generally sick. They can be categorized as disturbed. Similarly, there are physically handicapped, sexual specialists and foreigners.
Williams has created several exceptional female characters. They are beautiful, lively, and imaginative but simultaneously they are fragile and vulnerable. These women characters live caught up between illusion and reality, sexuality and love. Amanda of The Glass Menagerie and Blanche of A Streetcar Named Desire escape from the world of reality. They behave in a strange way because they cannot accept themselves or the others. Maggie of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Hannah of The Night of Iguana are realistic women characters. They feel real compassion for the others and are really sympathetic to them and their problems.
Williams’ plays represent the side of American life. They do not have happy endings. They plumb the depths of problems such as homosexuality, symbolic cannibalism, alcoholism and lurid behavior. Williams’ general view of life is pessimistic. His dramas are psychological tragedies.
Williams took interest in the formulation of a dramaturgy for his theatre which is known as the plastic theatre. His conception of plastic form is a culmination of the experimentation of theatre groups which refined the techniques of the American arts of acting, staging and design. It is complex pattern of growth in the field of allied arts and theatre. Williams has created a theatrical language capable of connoting the distinctive American consciousness.
In short, Tennessee Williams is a distinguished American dramatist. He left behind him priceless gifts to the world-wide audience. His great plays enriched the hearts of its readers and spectators. His contribution to the world of drama is a matter of appreciation.