Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh Summary & Study Guide

John Lahr
This Study Guide consists of approximately 62 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Tennessee Williams.
This section contains 560 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh Summary & Study Guide Description

Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh by John Lahr.

The story of Tennessee Williams' life is the story of a genuine artist who struggled to emerge with his authentic visions despite the many obstacles placed in his path. If there can be a "plot" in a biography, it would rest on Williams' many achievements—personal and professional, in his 70-odd years on earth. Universally acclaimed as a dramatic and poetic genius, Williams' plays are woven from the language of poetry, but the poetry of everyday people caught in the many traps of human life, mostly set by other humans.

His professional life was marked by great success and ignominious failure. The author of The Glass Menagerie, with its heartbreaking sensitivity and iconoclastic honesty, is the same writer who saw other of his plays open and close within a week or less. The high-energy gay man who had a seemingly unending string of lovers suffered from extreme loneliness and depression. By his 30s, Williams had started on his other career as alcoholic and addict. As is often the case with addicts, it is difficult to separate the actual pain in his life from the pain worsened by his drinking and drug use.

Williams' life is everywhere woven into his art, so that it is virtually impossible to consider one without the other. And many of his dramatic characters are quite clearly drawn from his own life. Wounded and often misunderstood by the world, the larger question of Williams' life is whether he succeeded in creating the kind of alternative reality in his work that he so desperately sought to escape in his life.

Although Williams had a long relationship with Frank Merlo—fraught with melodrama and plenty of ups and downs—the only person it seems Williams ever loved completely unselfishly was his sister, Rose. Williams was outraged that his parents gave their permission for Rose to have a frontal lobotomy because she was a difficult and disturbed teenager. She appears as Laura in The Glass Menagerie.

Rose obviously idolized her brother, too. In the various mental institutions where she lived during much of her life, Rose had a collection of press clippings and other trappings of Tennessee's career. He made it a point to stay in touch with Rose and visit whenever he could. In his estate worth millions, Tennessee left the bulk of his assets to a trust for the care and comfort of his sister for the rest of her life.

Like any great dramatist, Williams stood at arm's length from his characters although he obviously had compassion and strong identification with them. In the same way, Williams could hold other people at a distance whether because of fear or reticence. The more acquainted we become with Tennessee's work, the easier it is to recognize in his characters the basics of human life that are the same for everyone: the need for love, the need for validation, the need for security, and the need for companionship.

Even if Tennessee could not satisfy all of these needs throughout his lifetime, he could and did know them through his work that deals with universal themes of human life. This, then. is the "plot" of Tennessee Williams' life: a constant struggle to celebrate the humanity of mankind, to laugh at his failures and foibles and to communicate that the way of love is the only way.

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This section contains 560 words
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Buy the Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh Study Guide
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