Tennessee Williams was born on March 26th 1911 as Thomas Lanier Williams III to a decently well off family.
His father Cornelius Williams, while a well off shoe salesman, was a heavy drinker and was often absent from the young Tennessee’s life, coupled with the fact that his mother was discontent with almost all their homes, Tennessee spent little time in one area and was often on the move during his childhood.
During his childhood, his parents often got into fights and this dysfunctional relationship within his family is often viewed as the source of many of Tennessees ideas later on.
During his early years he wrote essays and columns on various topics.
Tennessee enrolled in University for Journalism, however his father withdrew him after a year and Tennessee went to work in his father’s company. But he hated the dull nature of the job and started writing. Tennessee set the goal of writing one story a week, improving and practicing his skills.
Soon after, his parents divorced and Tennessee moved to New Orleans where he made friends with Audrey Wood, an agent who got him access to the theatrical scene in New Orleans.
He then ran his first play with a grant from the Rockefeller foundation called the Battle of Angels however this play ended up with low ratings. Nonetheless, Tennessee continued trying and redid the play as Orpheus Descending without much change in fortune.
It was only when he published his next play, A Glass Menagerie, did Tennessee really gain traction.
The play got rave reviews all around and Tennessee was encouraged to write a new play with all the profits and the support he had gained from other people in the industry.
The new play named A Streetcar Named Desire proved to be another bestseller, surpassing his previous plays in tickets sold and audience reached. A Streetcar Named Desire also gained him a pulitzer prize and a drama critics award. In the following years Tennessee would write more widely popular plays such as Camino Real and Sweet Bird of Youth.
However the 1960s proved to be, once more a turning point for Tennessee as his plays waned in popularity and his reputation was tarnished by bad reviews.
Tennessee did not cope with this well and he turned to drugs and alcohol to remedy his increasing depression forcing his brothers to turn him into a rehabilitation program for the sake of his health. This proved to some avail as upon Tennessee’s release he churned out a couple new plays, among which was a memoir of his life aptly named Memoirs.
But Tennessees demons had not died yet and as his friends and lovers passed away, Tennessee turned back to his old habits and died amongst drugs and alcohol that filled his apartment. To much irony, these were not the things that killed him, rather he choked to death on a medicine bottle cap.
Following the end of world war 2 America having gotten out of with only minor damage to its economy quickly grew to challenge Paris as the center of art.
During this period there wasnt a set style that artist followed, instead this era was full of experimentation as artist from Europe and Asian flooded into the US and they all brought along their own styles from their countries.
Some popular styles at the time include Abstract Expressionism, Neo-Dada and Pop art, while appearing very different visually they all shared the idea that it was a means of expression and release fo the feelings built up during the war.
These new styles were a hard contrast to the more realistic and toned down styles of past centuries showing the growth of people and the desire to leave the past behind in search of a new world.
The Existential and Thoreaus The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation-
This quote expressed by Henry David Thoreau portrays the idea that misplaced value is the reason for our anxiety and despair.
He expresses that due to these misplaced values we have to fill ourselves with money, possessions, and accolades.
Misplaced values don’t bring happiness and cause us looking for more, bringing more despair and anxiety.
Thoreau states that the things that we put or values in are not the things that bring us happiness, and that these things will bring more pain then joy.
The misplaced values, that bring us more pain then joy, mentioned by Thoreau are all the extra possessions and luxuries that we desire for.
An example of this may be that an individual has worked hard and has reached a state of stability and security, but yet this individual is still dissatisfied from not having enough. This is the quiet desperation that Thoreau expresses.
Thoreaus purpose of writing this quote is so that we may see that we are working towards misplaced values, and by doing so individuals are able to stop this process.
Thoreau believed that a happy life was one with the essentials stripped from all the extra possessions and luxuries, and expressed this idea through his own living.
1935-1945 St. Louis Life
Tennessee lived with his family in St. Louis through a rough and turbulent time that is often seen as the inspiration for most of his plays
His family moved to St. Louis when he was 12 from their large and relatively luxurious home in the south to a cramped, dingy tenement in St. Louis proper. In school he was ridiculed as a dixie and his southern accent was made fun of.
It was here that Tennessee’s sister started to develop a mental disorder and refused to grow up, playing with toys within her own Glass Menagerie like Laura in future play. Almost everything about Laura in the Glass Menagerie was described based off his own sister.
Tennessee proceeded to enroll in the university of Missouri which his father withdrew him from over Tennessee gaining a girlfriend in the university without his fathers approval. Soon his father got him a job in a shoe factory which Tennessee would Lament in his later life as being the worst two years of his life. A fellow worker in this factory would also be the basis of one of the main characters in his future play A Sreetcar Named Desire
Tennessee soon left the shoe company to enroll and then drop out of two more universities before enrolling in some small scale theatrical productions before moving to New Orleans where his real theatrical career began.
The American Dream: origins, Post WW2 USA, present day
The American Dream is a happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone that is living in USA. The dream was working hard and becoming successful With good jobs, have a nice house, two children, and plenty of money.
The concept of american dream really comes into everybody’s eyes was in 1931, from a Historian named James Truslow Adams in his best selling book “Epic of America.” described “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”.
Long before James Truslow Adams, the concept was explored by John Winthrop in 1630. As John Winthrop eloquently detailed his vision of a society in which everyone would have a chance to prosper, as long as they all worked together and followed Biblical teachings.
That idea flourished even more during the declaration of independence in 1776 lead by Thomas Jefferson with the idea of “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”.
As America reach the 19th century, America was described as a land of unparalleled opportunity, where anything could be achieved if a person dared to dream big enough. This flourished the idea of america dream.
World War II brought millions of American women into the work, giving them an important position in society. This influences woman into fulfilling their own american dream instead of their husbands.
After the war, returning veterans needed jobs, and woman was forced to leave the job and return to their home and be a normal house wife. This forces many women unable to reach their american dream.
the american dream was fell short in the 1950s, women, African Americans and middle class white men were as trapped in their roles as the poor.
The American Dream today is different form the original american dream.
Now the dream is being able to graduate from college with minimal debt, secure a job in your field that has benefits, be able to afford health care costs while saving for retirement and paying down loans, and still live a comfortable life.
This dream was only carried on by few of the population.
During the war many women took up jobs that would have been filled by men as the war drew on as an ever greater number of men were drawn to the fronts.
After the war the man that survived would return home and reprise their jobs and women would mostly return home.
It was this taste of an equal society and successful books such as The Feminine Mystique (1963) that the sexual revolution began.
Women of this era pushed for equality and to break down gender roles and stereotypes, they wanted to join the workforce like men and to be able to also provide for the family.
Around this time birth control became more widely available giving women power over when or if they would have kids.
Much like the changes in art style this was an era of change for the housewife stereotype and the empowerment of woman.
Williams use of Dramatic Conventions: staging, lighting, stage direction, music etc.
Other themes in relation to Williams and Post WW2 USA
Relationships and the Need for Communication
World war two was the first war to actively target civilian centers and alongside the mass death of non-combatants was the destruction of the art and history that were contained within the ruined cities.
Historic art pieces and buildings were turned to rumble overnight truly showing just how fragile our world is.
In the play The Glass Menagerie the fragility of Lauras world and mental are represented by her glass collection, in particular a glass unicorn which represents the imaginary world she and her mother live in. That world is then shattered when a gentleman caller breaks the horn off the unicorn making it a normal horse and bringing Laura into reality.
The concept of illusion vs reality is strongly connected the idea of desire to escape.
The central idea of the play was the usage of creating false illusion to escape from the harsh reality.
The whole play was from Toms memory that he is giving truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.
This concept was used through the lighting in each of the scenes. For example, the electric light that goes out, the candelabra, moonlight, the paper lantern that hides the broken lightbulb, Toms lit cigarette, all draw attention to the artistic, emotional, and artificial nature of the play
All of the characters in the play have a dream and expectation, though these dreams operate in different ways.
Tom dreams about escape from his present life.
writes poetry in the warehouse, discusses joining the merchant marines, and escapes into action-adventure movies.
Amanda’s dreams are desperate attempts to escape harsh reality of the present, however these dreams become self-delusions, blinding her to reality and to the desires of her children.
She insists that Tom will fulfill her vision of him as the successful businessman.
when the dream of Laura in business school falls apart, rather than see reality Amanda constructs a new fantasy life for her daughter in the realm of gentleman callers and marriage prospects.
Lauras dream was no ambition to reach a certain goal but rather to escape from the harsh reality.
In the play Tom the son of Amanda wishes to escape from her mother and sisters illusionary unchanging dreamlike world.
The play is seen from Toms perspective as he’s the narrator and shows his transition as he goes from trying to escape this imaginary world he’s been living in without damage to realising that everything comes at a price.
He is willing to pay that cost and leaves his mother and sister in a shattered reality.
Freedom is something we naturally desire, none of us want to be trapped no matter the beauty of the situation.
This play uses this theme in a metaphorical sense rather than a physical, as Tom isnt physically moving to a new world but rather mentally free.
Hes shackled by the desires of his mother and fragility of his sister.