Tennessee Williams

Early Life

Tennesse Williams, born Thomas Lanier Williams III was a famous American playwright and author. He was born on 26th March 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi, the United States. His father, Cornelius Coffin Williams, was a traveling shoe salesman, while his mother, Edwina Dakin, was a music teacher. As his father spent most of his time traveling, he spent the early years of his life at his maternal grandparents’ home. Unfortunately, his father’s turbulent behavior and heavy drinking left a negative impact on the entire family, depriving the children of feelings like love and tenderness. Also, his early years plagued by serious illness, yet this suffering proved an ultimate element of success on account of the depiction of his childhood experiences and dysfunctional family background.


Tennesse started his formal education at Soldan High School, followed by University City High School. After completing his high school studies, he went to the University of Missouri in Columbia, where he opted for journalism. Soon he realized that Journalism is not his forte. He rather turned toward literature and writing with full vigor, and started submitting his literary pieces for contests. Later, he joined the University of Missouri where he spent three years but could not complete his military training course. Tired of his studying escapades, his father removed him from university and got him a job at a shoe company. However, to his disappointment, young Tennesse disliked the monotonous job routine and decided to produce literary work as much as possible. Overburdened and unhappy, he suffered a nervous breakdown with a resultant loss of that terrible job. Later, in 1936, he rejoined Washington University and began to associate with the writer’s group, which added fuel to his writing passion.

Awards and Honors

Tennesse’s distinctive writing approach and thoughtful literary ideas made him a great author, leading him to win awards after awards and honors from different institutions. He earned Group Theatre Prize in 1939 and Sidney Harvard Memorial Award in 1945. With them, came two Drama Critic Circle Awards; the first in 1945 and the second in 1948. Besides, Tennesse won two Pulitzer Prizes in the years 1948 and 1955 respectively. He also achieved two Tony Awards for his plays, Cat on the Hot Tin Roof and The Night of the Iguana.

Some Important Facts about Tennesse

  1. He is known for his works, Street Car Named Desire and Cat on the Hot Tin Roof.
  2. He won two Pulitzer prizes and innumerable nominations for the Tony Award for a Best Play.
  3. Tennessee Williams died on the 25th of February in 1983, in New York City.

His Career

Tennessee Williams started expressing his experiences, emotions, and ideas on paper at a very young age and secured his place as a writer in the literary circles. At sixteen, he published his first essay “Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?” in an American literary magazine, and won the third prize. Later, he published his short story “The Vengeance of Nitocris” in Weird Tales, an American fantasy fiction magazine. Unfortunately, these early publications did not bring any significant success to the author. However, his later writings, The Glass Menagerie, “Portrait of a Girl in Glass”, and A Streetcar Named Desire brought fortune for the author and presented him as a great playwright. His other notable works include The Rose Tattoo, Sweet Bird of Youth, and Orpheus Descending.

His Style

One of the most celebrated playwrights of the 20th century, Tennessee Williams, is popular for his humorous, intriguing, and sad writing approach which simultaneously criticizes and glorifies the American culture. Following a lucid, plain, and straightforward approach along with the use of other theatrical techniques, he provided his audiences a chance to differentiate between fantasy and reality. His central characters are mostly women, suffering from extreme trauma, anxiety, or disorder such as Laura in the play, The Glass Menagerie, Maggie in the play, Cat on the Hot Tin Roof, and Blanche in the play, A Streetcar Named Desire. Regarding literary devices, he often turned toward foreshadowing, imagery, symbolism, and other rhetoric devices.

Some Important Works of Tennessee Williams

  • Best Plays: Some of his other best plays include The Seven Descents of Myrtle, The Summer, and Smoke, Something Cloudy, Something Clear, The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, I Rise in Flame, Cried the Phoenix, and Candles to the Sun.
  • Other Works: Besides writing plays, he wrote various other marvelous pieces too. Some of them include The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, Moise and the World of Reason, “The Vengeance of Nitocris”, “The Field of Blue Children”, “The Important Thing”, “The Night of the Iguana” and “The Yellow Bird”.

Tennessee Williams’ Impacts on Future Literature

Tennessee Williams is widely known as the greatest American playwright who witnessed the labor of his efforts flourishing during his lifetime. His commendable legacy of theatre career is still adored and performed even after years of his death. His works stand remarkable not because he challenged the existing social perspective toward sexism, but because he painted the guilt and repression he was accustomed to observing and seeing around him. Although he received criticism, he inspired many theater artists and playwrights.

Important Quotes

  1. “I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth. And it that’s sinful, then let me be damned for it!” (A Streetcar Named Desire)
  2. “We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it.” (The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore)
  3. “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” (The Glass Menagerie)
  4. “Physical beauty is passing – a transitory possession – but beauty of the mind, richness of the spirit, tenderness of the heart – I have all these things – aren’t taken away but grow! Increase with the years!” (A Streetcar Named Desire)