Staging Difference: Cultural Pluralism in American Theatre and Drama

By Marc Maufort | Go to book overview

Fluidity and Differentiation in Three Plays by Tennessee Williams:
The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Georges-Michel Sarotte

At the age of fourteen I discovered writing as an escape from a world of reality in which I felt acutely uncomfortable. It immediately became my place of retreat, my cave, my refuge. From what? From being called a sissy by the neighborhood kids, and Miss Nancy by my father, because I would rather read books in my grand-father's large and classical library than play marbles and baseball and other normal kid games, a result of a severe childhood illness and an excessive attachment to the female members of my family, who had coaxed me back into life.1 (Emphasis added)

When Tennessee William wrote these lines, in 1959, he was already a widely acclaimed, forty-eight year old playwright, the author of a number of Broadway hits including the three plays under consideration-- The Glass Menagerie ( 1944), A Streetcar Named Desire ( 1947), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof( 1955). As an adolescent, reading had enabled him to escape Reality, that is to say the hostility of his father, a paragon of normalcy and virility, American style, according to Williams's biographers. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the playwright makes fun of the conformist couple Mae and Gooper's "nawmal children" (37) that Maggie describes as "no-neck monsters" (17). As a child and teen-ager, Tom (before he became Tennessee) felt different from "normal" children and uncomfortable in the company of other (male) kids, the reason being, according to his own interpretation, that he was excessively attached to the women in his family. Further down, in the same text, he describes himself as "neurotic."


I

In the closely autobiographical The Glass Menagerie (henceforward referred to as Glass) the world of normalcy is that of the urban petty bourgeoisie to which Williams's family belonged when they moved to Saint Louis in 1918.2 The first stage direction evokes, to use Tom's own words, "the social

-141-

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