Caught in a labyrinth : the notion of vulnerability in selected works of Tennessee Williams
Tennessee Williams's plays are often perceived as plays about helpless individuals who find themselves misplaced and disoriented in the world they live in. The themes he explores are often regarded as full of obsessions with fear, loneliness, death, sexuality and violence. In this dissertation, I will focus on my field of interest, vulnerability, in association with the figurative use of the idea of labyrinth, which exposes such human weaknesses in the characters of the play. Reading Tennessee Williams's plays in detail, I will display how Williams divulges his characters' vulnerability, the struggles they insist on making, as well as how their vulnerability through their struggles ultimately turns into their strengths and empowerment.
During the past few decades, many critics have written much about Williams' plays. While some of them are aware of the fact that the playwright does try to provide a resolution for his characters' suffering, many, however, mainly dwell on the inexorable abyss the characters fall into, without addressing the possible optimism the playwright may offer. Most critics seem to tend towards reading the characters' vulnerability as a product of the extraneous environment which afflicts them, however, few relate the vulnerability to the interior labyrinths of mind which lead to such victimization. Even in the discussion of vulnerability, critics seldom dwell on the possibility of overcoming it. Vulnerability seems to be read as a haunting notion from the beginning to the ending of the plays. Even though some critics are aware of the possibility of overcoming vulnerability, they may just tenuously address it
and restrict their discovery to one or two plays only.
In addition, not many critics address the struggles of the protagonists in detail, apart from their struggling into another world of fantasy and out of that of reality. However, there are other subtle responses and actions that the characters advertently and inadvertently display that make different readings of the plays possible. Apart from passive withdrawal into one's own world, other forms of struggles also usher the characters into some kind of redemption. The reading of the plays may appear partial if the possible positive messages conveyed in the plays are only minimally attended to.
In my dissertation, my main goal is: based on four of Williams's plays, namely The Glass Menagerie (1945), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1956) and The Night of the Iguana (1963), to investigate how the vulnerability of the characters is expressed in relation to the psychological situations they are caught, which I name as their "labyrinths," as well as how they struggle in various ways out of their labyrinths. By doing so, it is hoped that a more auspicious light can be shed upon the readings and thus we can see how Williams is insinuating possible resolutions for the agony of humankind, by which vulnerability ultimately can be overcome and the "labyrinths" give way to dissolution.
"My mise-en-scene is the world
within the world,
the greenest of all green leaves
at the centre curled.1"
1 Androgyne, Mon Amour, (1977), Tenessee Williams' Collection of Poems, in Bigsby 148)
School:The University of Hong Kong
School Location:China - Hong Kong SAR
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Keywords:williams tennessee 1911 1983 criticism and interpretation
Date of Publication:01/01/2005