Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
Much of the critical analysis of Tennessee Williams' drama concerns itself with the inherent conflict between ideals and reality in the universe as perceived by Williams. Such analysis, however, has not considered this conflict as a source of betrayal, or betrayal as a dominant theme in Williams' drama. In at least four of his plays it becomes evident how each of the individual characters in Williams' drama endures the conflict of reality and ideals, and the extent to which their respective approaches to the resolution of this struggle result in betrayal. Four plays--all regarded as among his most successful and most important, and spanning much of his career--were selected for consideration. The plays are The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and The Night of the Iguana.
In all four plays betrayal has been a primary ingredient of the action. There is also a similarity in the manner in which the betrayals are structured in each play. In each instance at least one betrayal has occurred prior to the action of the drama. The betrayals that occur during the action of the play stem from this initial conflict. In two instances, A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Williams uses the birth of a child at the end of the play to suggest a setting for future betrayals.
Three types of betrayals occur in these plays: self-betrayal, betrayal of ideals, and betrayal of others. Williams indicates through the characters' reactions to the betrayals what they value and what his own views on betrayal are. His view is that betrayal is an inevitable occurrence in life as a result of the conflict between reality and ideals. He therefore is not inclined to pass judgement on the morality of betrayals, but he is offended by the cruelty with which the betrayal of others is often levied. He views self-betrayal resulting from an attempt to retain belief in ideals as tragic in the earlier plays (The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire). In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof there is some progression toward the tentative ability of the protagonist to resolve the conflict and thus avoid ultimate destruction by self-betrayal. In The Night of the Iguana Williams makes a definite positive statement as to the individual's ability to resolve the conflict of ideals and reality and thereby avoid destruction by self-betrayal. If The Night of the Iguana represents Williams' most recent position, then he no longer finds it necessary for his characters to betray others in order to insure their own survival, or to dedicate themselves to ideals which ignore reality and result in self-betrayal. It has become possible for the individual to seek and hope for a reconciliation of ideals and reality.
Sanderson, Craig E., "The Role of Betrayal in Selected Drama of Tennessee Williams" (1977). Masters Theses. 3331.