Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire

Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire

Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire

Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire

Synopsis

-- Presents the most important 20th-century criticism on major works from The Odyssey through modern literature

-- The critical essays reflect a variety of schools of criticism

-- Contains critical biographies, notes on the contributing critics, a chronology of the author's life, and an index

Excerpt

It is a sad and inexplicable truth that the United States, a dramatic nation, continues to have so limited a literary achievement in the drama. American literature, from Emerson to the present moment, is a distinguished tradition. The poetry of Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Stevens, Eliot, W. C. Williams, Hart Crane, R. P. Warren, Elizabeth Bishop down through the generation of my own contemporaries—John Ashbery, James Merrill, A. R. Ammons, and others—has an unquestionable eminence, and takes a vital place in Western literature. Prose fiction from Hawthorne and Melville on through Mark Twain and Henry James to Cather and Dreiser, Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Nathanael West, and Pynchon, has almost a parallel importance. The line of essayists and critics from Emerson and Thoreau to Kenneth Burke and beyond constitutes another crucial strand of our national letters. But where is the American drama in comparison to all this, and in relation to the long cavalcade of western drama from Aeschylus to Beckett?

The American theater, by the common estimate of its most eminent critics, touches an initial strength with Eugene O'Neill, and then proceeds to the more varied excellences of Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, and Sam Shepard.That sequence is clearly problematical, and becomes even more worrisome when we move from playwrights to plays. Which are our dramatic works that matter most? Long Day's Journey Into Night, certainly; perhaps The Iceman Cometh; evidently A Streetcar Named Desire and Death of a Salesman; perhaps again The Skin of Our Teeth and The Zoo Story—it is not God's plenty. And I will venture the speculation that our drama palpably is not yet literary enough. By this I do not just mean that O'Neill writes very badly, or Miller very baldly; they do, but so did Dreiser, and Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy prevail nevertheless. Nor do I wish to be an American Matthew Arnold . . .

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