Critical Insights: Tennessee Williams

Critical Insights Series

The series focuses on an individual author's entire body of work, a single work of literature, or a literary theme.

At a Glance
  • 1 Volume; 300 Pages
  • 10-14 essays offering Current Critical Analysis by Top Literary Scholars
  • Introductory Essay by the Editor
  • Chronology of Author's Life
  • Complete List of Author's Works
  • Publication Dates of Works
  • Detailed Bio of the Editor
  • General Bibliography
  • General Subject Index
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Edited by Brenda Murphy

In-depth discussions of Tennessee Williams' great drama - Plus complimentary, unlimited online access to the full content of this great literary reference.

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Editor: Brenda Murphy,
University of Connecticut
September 2010 · 1 volume · 392 pages · 6"x9"

Includes Online Database with Print Purchase
ISBN: 978-1-58765-687-3
# of Pages: 392
# of Volumes: 1
Print List Price: $105
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e-ISBN: 978-1-58765-688-0
eBook Single User Price: $105

In-depth critical discussions of his life and works - Plus complimentary, unlimited online access to the full content of this great literary reference.

By turns delicately lyrical and shockingly violent, Tennessee Williams burst onto the American stage with The Glass Menagerie in 1944, and over the course of his career continued to write some of the twentieth century's most enduring plays. A two-time Pulitzer winner for A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Williams gave America some of its most memorable and fascinating characters in Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski, Maggie the Cat and Brick Pollitt, and Tom and Amanda Wingfield. But despite his fame, Williams always remained sensitive to the plight of those trapped at the edges of society and continued to identify with this "fugitive kind" throughout his life, writing an essay titled "The Catastrophe of Success" only a few years after The Glass Menagerie made him into a household name. A boiling mass of contradictions in life, Williams was perhaps most at home in his art, and his best-loved plays display uneasy negotiations between his personal romanticism and the brute realities of American poverty, violence, and corruption.

Edited and with an introduction by Brenda Murphy, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Connecticut, this volume brings together a variety of old and new essays on Williams's life and works. Murphy's introduction considers Williams's concept of the "fugitive kind" and the recurring figure of the persecuted artist, concluding that, as piecemeal as these characters' lives may be, they are still granted respite in the temporary homes afforded by love. A brief biography of Williams follows, along with a new essay by Paris Review contributor Sasha Weiss.

For readers new to Williams, a quartet of original essays provide valuable context for understanding his achievement. Jennifer Banach surveys the reception of Williams's plays to address the question that has long plagued his critics: how to understand the later works, which on the whole met with poor reviews when they premiered, and the overall shape of Williams's career. Susan C. W. Abbotson examines the plays within the context of twentieth century culture to find the romanticism Williams inherited from his nineteenth century precursors contending with the materialism and corruption of American capitalism. Henry I. Schvey turns his attention to Williams's aesthetics by tracing the playwright's expressionistic values from his early student play "Me, Vashya" up through Camino Real and appraises A Streetcar Named Desire as Williams's best realization of this aesthetic. Finally, Kenneth Elliott offers a meditation on the theme of mendacity within Williams's last great success, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, as well as within the play's production and Williams's relationship with his director, Elia Kazan.

Thirteen previously published essays continue the discussion by offering overviews of Williams's work, studies of individual plays, and considerations of his short stories and nonfiction. Among the overviews, Nancy M. Tischler takes an archetypal approach to analyzing Williams's female characters, and Thomas P. Adler investigates the playwright's political commitments. Studies of individual plays include Jacqueline O'Connor's investigation of madness and artistry in The Glass Menagerie and Lori Leathers Single's argument for the importance of the screen device in productions of the same. George Hovis analyzes of the figure of the southern belle in Portrait of a Madonna, The Glass Menagerie, and A Streetcar Named Desire, and Philip C. Kolin makes a study of race in Streetcar by reviewing the history of multiracial and African American productions of the play. The homosexuality undergirding much of Williams's work, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in particular, is treated by John M. Clum and John S. Bak, and Rod Phillips provides an ecocritical reading of The Night of the Iguana. Finally, James Schlatter reads Red Devil Battery Sign as an example of "mytho-political" theater, and Nicholas O. Pagan argues for the metadramatic nature of Out Cry and The Two-Character Play. Williams's short stories are treated by George W. Crandell, who claims that they make their reader into a voyeur, and D. Dean Shackelford makes a case for Williams's nonfiction as a key point of entry into the author's central preoccupations.

Rounding out the volume are a chronology of Williams's life as well as a complete list of Williams's dramatic, poetic, fictional, and nonfictional works and a lengthy bibliography of critical works for readers desiring to study Williams in greater depth.

Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:

A chronology of the author's life
A complete list of the author's works and their original dates of publication
A general bibliography
A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor
Notes on the individual chapter authors
A subject index