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Tennessee Williams

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"Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life,"

Elia Kazan said of Tennessee Williams. Williams, who is considered to be the

greatest Southern playwright, inserted many of his own personal experiences

into his writing, because he "found no other means of expressing things that

seemed to demand expression" (Magill 1087). He stated that his primary

sources of inspiration for his works were his family, the South, and the multiple

writers he encountered in his life. Therefore, he presented American

theatergoers with unforgettable characters, an incredible vision of life in the

South, and a deeper meaning of the concept he called "poetic realism" (Classic

Notes 1). Poetic Realism exists as the repeated use of everyday objects, so

that they would produce a symbolic meaning. Often, Tennessee Williams'

writing was considered to be melodramatic and hysterical; however, it is the

haunting and powerful life experiences included in Williams' writing that makes

him one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the American drama.

Thomas Lanier Williams began his life March 26, 1911 as the second

child of Cornelius and Edwina Williams. His father, Cornelius, managed a shoe

warehouse and was a stern businessman. Cornelius' bouts with drinking and

gambling (habits that Tennessee later inherited) made him increasingly abusive

as Tennessee grew older. Tennessee, his mother, his older sister, Rose, and

his younger brother, Walter, lived with Tennessee's maternal grandparents until

1918, when his father was transferred to his firm's main office in St. Louis.

Although, he began living with his father at age seven, his father remained

emotionally absent throughout his life. His mother, however, smothered

Tennessee with her aggressive showings of affection. The move to St. Louis

was shattering to Tennessee, Rose, and Edwina. The change from a small,

provincial town to a big city was very difficult for the lower class family. Because

of the ridicule from other children, her father's abuse, and her mother's

unhappiness, Rose was destined to spend most of her life in mental institutions

and she quickly became emotionally and mentally unstable. Edwina allowed

Rose's doctor to perform a frontal lobotomy on Rose; this event greatly disturbed

Williams who cared for Rose throughout most of her adult life. Tennessee

remained aloof from his younger brother, because his father repeatedly favored

Walter over both of the older children. His parents often engaged in violent

arguments and Tennessee, Rose, and Walter repeatedly encouraged their

mother to leave their abusive father. Williams family life was full of tension and

despair; however, he said he found therapy in writing.

Unable to bear his life at home, Tennessee began his lifelong

wanderings. In 1931, he enrolled in the University of Missouri where he saw a

production of Ibsen's Ghosts and he decided to become a playwright. His

journalism program was interrupted; however, when his father forced him to

withdraw from college to work with him at the International Shoe Company. His

family no longer could afford to send him to college and his help was needed to

pay bills. He was an employee for his father for two years; he despised the job

and considered it to be indescribable torment. However, he considered the job

very valuable, because it gave him first-knowledge of "what it means to be a

small wage-earner in a hopelessly routine job" (Magill 1087). Since he was

working by day and writing by night, Williams' health gradually decreased and

he had a nervous breakdown. He recovered at the home of his grandparents

and continued to write. Once recovered, he went back to school and graduated

from the University of Iowa in 1938. At the University of Iowa, Williams earned

his bachelor's degree and his nickname, Tennessee. A college roommate

jokingly compared Williams' heritage to a Tennessee pioneer and Williams

found his own significant meaning behind it. He said "the Williamses had fought

the Indians for Tennessee and I had already discovered the life of a younger

writer was going to be something similar to the defense of a stockade against a

band of savages" (Magill 1088). During this time, Tennessee produced a few of

his own plays locally. His work attracted the interest of important literary agent,

Audrey Wood, and helped him to receive grants. Therefore, In 1940, Tennessee

produced his first full-length, professional play, Battle of Angels, and failed

miserably. After his defeat in Chicago, Tennessee moved to New Orleans where

he launched his career



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