Tennessee Williams is an intriguing character whose plays are interesting and out of the ordinary. One should now ask why his plays are unusual, but one can't know this without knowing about his life. Tennessee William's plays and life are influenced by his sister and favorite poet Hart Crane.
Many of Tennessee Williams' plays include a homosexual man and portray that person in a bad light. Williams, being a homosexual, makes these additions to his plays odd and completely against himself. "One cannot precisely ascertain the extent to which these attacks were a result of his repression of his homosexual desire". Williams is repulsed with himself being gay. For example, one of Tennessee's plays, Suddenly, Last Summer, involves a man named Sebastian who is gay. Sebastian's mother doesn't want to believe that her son is gay, and in the end, he dies because of his own sexual desires. Tennessee Williams used these sorts of plays to express his feelings of homosexuality. Being the person he is, Williams writes many plays of this nature. "Most plays of his included references to his life such as homosexuality..." For example, A Streetcar Named Desire may not have any direct references to his own feelings of homosexuality, but Tennessee shows people that he can write from the opposite point of view. If one didn't know about Tennessee Williams before watching A Streetcar Named Desire, then they wouldn't think twice that he is straight. This is how much Tennessee wanted to be heterosexual. One of his main inspirations for writing these types of plays is the also anarchic gay, Hart Crane. "His idea that one could not be happy as a homosexual...". This idea of Hart is Tennessee's main idea of homosexuals. Hart being one of Williams' role models is a bad influence for him in several ways. Crane uses alcohol to keep his hard feelings about being homosexual in check. Tennessee follows the idea that substance abuse will help one out of depression.
Tennessee Williams' cherished sister inspired some of the most important people in his plays. His sister (Rose) is diagnosed with schizophrenia at a very young age. "By the early 1930s she had been institutionalized for her increasingly frequent psychotic episodes." This places terrible hardships on Tennessee just adding onto his host of other problems. After all treatments fail to cure Rose's schizophrenia, her parents put her in a drastic new treatment which incapacitates her for the rest of her life. Tennessee now hates his parents especially his father because his father didn't ever care for both Tennessee and Rose and only cared about his third son named Dakin. This places Williams in a downward spiral and may have led to two potential problems. "Her tragic surgery may have contributed to his alcoholism and drug abuse." Williams is now not only a homosexual homophobe, but he also has just lost a very close person to him that he feels is his fault. Tennessee, already having the base for being a substance abuser because of Hart, begins using more drugs and alcohol. This leads to many references to drugs and alcohol in his plays. "...dependence on various combinations of amphetamines and barbiturates often prescribed by Dr. Max Jacobson." For example, in A Streetcar Named Desire, every character is always drinking something. Also in A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche Dubois, a traditional southern woman, goes mad, and at the same time is a big hero when it comes to the philosophy of the play. This represents the suffering his sister goes through. People such as Alexandra del Lago (Sweet Bird of Youth), Laura Wingfield (The Glass Menagerie), and Blanche Dubois are created in such a way as to represent himself (Tennessee) and his sister. "[His problems] also motivated the behavior of many of his characters, particularly the terrified women he created...". These characters sometimes almost parallel Tennessee's life. Such as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire being submitted to an institution, thus representing Williams' hardships and how he feels shut in and crazy. This is because of the troubles in his life as well as his feeling of entrapment within his own body. Also, the institutionalization of Blanche Dubois could represent Tennessee's sister Rose because for most of her life, she is in a place very similar to that of an institution. Williams could be using this sorrow for Blanche to recreate how he feels about his sister and how she feels trapped in a world were no one understands her needs or wants. Alexandra, Laura, and Blanche all have similar issues with no true sexual identities, wanderers, yet, they are all high maintenance, just as Tennessee is.
Tennessee Williams is actually Tom Williams. He changes his name to Tennessee Williams for several reasons. "...to launch him in New York...". In order to become a successful playwright, he had to give himself in a new light that was interesting to the audience. Also, even though he resents his father, the name change from Tom to Tennessee connected him to his father. Most importantly, it placed Williams as a Southern writer which some of the writers he adores come from.
- John M. Clum. "Williams, Tennessee";
- American National Biography Online Dec. 2009.