Heroic gestures: Five short stories as sources for the plays of Tennessee Williams

Rowena Davis Goodfarb, Fordham University


The short stories of American playwright, Tennessee Williams, anticipate the corresponding plays in interpreting Williams' major themes of the conflicting worlds of flesh and spirit, time and mortality: his heroes' cosmic loneliness. The stories prepare for the plays in symbolic image, mood, tone, and theme. The five selected stories provide clear examples of Williams' major periods: early, middle, late. The early story, "Portrait of a Girl in Glass" (1943) is origin for the early play, The Glass Menagerie (1945). Williams' early period is distinguished by characters who seek self-realization in a world of their own imagining. The short fiction, "Three Players of a Summer Game" (1951-2) is the genesis for the play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955). Both story and play are from Williams' middle phase as his protagonist enters the outer world of interaction but feels betrayed in his growing awareness of spiritual decay. By contrast with the castrating Margaret of the story, the play's Maggie posits a nurturing, sexual love. The early story, "The Night of the Iguana" (1948) is the origin for The Night of the Iguana (1961), the play that begins Williams' late period before his critical decline. In his latter phase, Williams' characters move toward spiritual acceptance of what cannot be changed. "Man Bring This Up Road" (1953), a story of Williams' middle period, is the basis for the late play, The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore (1963). The landscape of Williams' late period is characterized by increasing death imagery and characters in search of religious salvation. The characters from Williams' short story of his middle period, "The Kingdom of Earth" (1954), and its companion play of his late period, Kingdom of Earth (1968), are in varying states of spiritual anguish of fearing death or wanting religious salvation as the playwright's poetic consciousness focuses on theological concerns. Since critics have not as yet made a penetrating evaluation of the third phase of his writings, it seems fair to say that Williams may have been ahead of his time in his final fluidity of expression toward realization of man's psychological insights.

Subject Area

American literature|Theater|American studies

Recommended Citation

Goodfarb, Rowena Davis, "Heroic gestures: Five short stories as sources for the plays of Tennessee Williams" (1988). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8809471.