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MonkeyNotes-A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Author Information

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) was born in Columbus, Mississippi. His real name was Thomas Laniear Williams. He spent his childhood years in the home of his maternal grandfather, who was a rector, with his mother and only (elder) sister, Rose. His father was a traveling salesman with a shoe company. His father uprooted the family by taking them from the rural rectory to stay with him in a grim city apartment in St. Louis. Both mother and son suffered a rude cultural shock. Williams also suffered under his father Cornelious, who was offended by his son's quiet pursuits and his interest in books. His mother's southern gentility, derived from a Puritan/Quaker ancestry and conflicted with the father's rough ways, that included long poker games, drinking bouts, and rough language.

Thomas began writing stories as early as age eleven. A favorite pastime for his sister and him was to make up tales, which he would often record. As his family atmosphere grew more unhappy, Thomas isolated himself. To avoid the family conflicts, he increasingly took to writing stories alone behind a closed door, instead of making them up with Rose. His sister reacted to the parents' fighting in a more tragic way. From a spirited child, she slowly grew into a passive, beautiful girl whose interaction with the world was confined to playing recorded music, attending an occasional movie, or caring for her collection of glass miniature animals. In fact, Rose was so depressed that she failed to mature into adulthood and was sent to an asylum. At the asylum, she had a lobotomy that greatly troubled her brother. The tragic Rose became the model for Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie.


Thomas attended the University of Missouri for three years but left after failing the R.O.T.C. program. His father's influence landed him a clerical job in the shoe factory but not before he had found solace in alcohol. After a miserable two years at the warehouse, when he would stay up long hours writing into the night, he suffered a nervous breakdown. In order to recuperate, he went to his grandfather's house in Memphis, Tennessee. Thomas returned to college at Washington University in St. Louis, where he joined a writer's group, and then entered the University of lowa in 1938, to complete his course work.

Tennessee Williams performed odd jobs and led a bohemian existence in order to concentrate on his writing. In 1940, he received the Rockefeller Fellowship. His first major success was with his autobiographical play, The Glass Menagerie, written in 1944-45. After that success, Williams was recognized as an outstanding dramatist. In 1948 and again in 1955, he won the Pulitzer Prize.

Williams' life was full of vicissitudes, and his Memoirs tell of his mental breakdowns, his problems with alcohol, his health problems, his constant fear of death, his acute depression after Rose's lobotomy, and his suicidal tendency after the death of his companion of fourteen years, Frank Merlo.

In his writing, Williams is an intensely personal playwright and a literary moralist. Art and life are masterfully dramatized in his work, for he felt an intense need to identify with his characters in order to bring them to life. The dominating Themes of his plays are the conflict between the puritan and the cavalier and the relation between life and art. He often portrays these Themes through his female characters, for women were always at the root of his deepest emotions.

Despite being influenced by D.H. Lawrence and Genet, Tennessee Williams wrote in the Southern tradition. He romanticized the south and presented an idealized notion of southern people and southern society. Using history and myth, he sentimentally brought the Old South to life and seemed to worship everything found there. Thus, Williams is a distinctly regional writer.

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