Tennessee Williams's St. Louis Blues

By Hale, Allean | The Mississippi Quarterly, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

Tennessee Williams's St. Louis Blues


Hale, Allean, The Mississippi Quarterly


He called it "that dreaded city," the City of St. Pollution. When asked what brought him to New Orleans, he would answer "St. Louis!" New Orleans is so glamorous that biographers and critics tend to pass over St. Louis, and Williams fostered this neglect. When he became known as the Southern playwright, he found it useful to transfer to a Southern setting plays and characters whose actual locale was St. Louis. Yet he lived in Mississippi only eight years and in St. Louis twenty-five. If the trauma of his youth in St. Louis was the condition that impelled him to write, I believe St. Louis was the catalyst that transformed him into a writer.

The scenario is well known and was the germ for the future playwright's sense of loss: a sensitive seven-year-old, torn from the grandparents who had reared him and the sister who was more like a twin--Rose had been left behind for a year--transported overnight from an agrarian setting to a huge, smoky city, to be met by a father he scarcely knew, whose first gesture was to slap his hand for plucking a grape from a fruit stand in Union Station. Tom, sensing his mother's misery at the move, would always see St. Louis through her eyes. As the Episcopal rector's daughter in a town of 6,000, Edwina had enjoyed social prestige. Now, in the fifth largest city of the United States, she was nobody. With a reverse snobbery, she impressed on her children that St. Louis was a town where only status mattered. They could not hope to attend private schools: Mary Institute, where a girl was enrolled at birth, or the Country Day School, where the Bishop's grandson who was Tom's age attended. Years later Williams would still remember: "That name, public school, kept stabbing at my guts till I wanted, as old as I was, to sit down and cry." He wrote that in St. Louis he first learned that there were the rich and the poor and that they were poor. The sense of being an outsider would become a dominant theme in his writing.

To Cornelius Williams, when they arrived in 1918, it was the city of opportunity. He would have a managerial job with the largest shoe company in the world. St. Louis had an outstanding school system, universities and libraries, a famed Symphony Orchestra, a splendid Art Museum. Its Forest Park, the most elaborate in the country next to Central Park in New York, had one of the earliest natural-habitat zoos and was building the largest outdoor theatre in the United States, the Municipal Opera. St. Louis also had more motion picture theatres per capita than New York City.(1) Future biographers would assume that Tennessee learned his cinematic techniques from his six months at MGM, whereas he had spent twenty years at the movies before he went to Hollywood.

Actually, they were not poor. "C.C." made a good salary, but as the frustrated Edwina held back affection, he held back money. Their new life together soon became a sort of warfare. Cornelius, lusty and boisterous, took his disappointment out in drinking; Edwina, aggressively puritanical, resorted to scolding. She would use Tom as her confidant; C.C. would retaliate by calling Tom "Miss Nancy." Caught between father and mother, the sensitive boy felt trapped. When he would escape to Forest Park, it was perhaps at the zoo that he first envisioned his household as a menagerie, each member caught in a separate cage.

As Streetcar is the New Orleans play, The Glass Menagerie belongs wholly to St. Louis. It is Williams's least disguised work. Most of the places he mentions are intact.(2) The "mustard-yellow brick" flat with its dark rooms at 4633 Westminster Place is now called "The Glass Menagerie Apartment." finis is commonly pointed out as the site of the play, but the Williams family lived there much earlier, when Tom and Rose were small. It shows something about his distorted view of St. Louis that neither of the buildings related to The Glass Menagerie was a tenement as described. Westminster Place in 1918 was still a good residential district with some fine stone mansions in Renaissance style.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Tennessee Williams's St. Louis Blues
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.