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Tennessee Williams and His Army of Emotionally Distraught Women

The Rose Tattoo
Scene from The Rose Tattoo

If there's one thing Tennessee Williams is known for, it's the emotional suffering he forces upon his characters. In honor of The Rose Tattoo's Broadway revival, we're looking back at some of his most distressed leading ladies.

Serafina Delle Rose, The Rose Tattoo

Perhaps not the most fictionally tortured, Serafina's whirlwind arc is a study in grief and deceit. When her husband Rosario is killed for his blackmarket dealings, Serafina suffers a miscarriage and withdraws from the world, taking her young daughter with her. Years later her daughter is graduating high school and committing to a relationship with a young man who Serafina threatens and attempts to scare off. Soon Serafina meets a man of her own and tries unsuccessfully to hide him from her daughter. Lies are exposed and she is forced to let her daughter be free to live her own life.

Blanche DuBois, A Streetcar Named Desire

One of Williams' most infamous characters, there's no doubt Blanche DuBois is far from well. Having lost her home to creditors, she is homeless, penniless, jobless, and a widow. Her dead husband killed himself after Blanche discovered him having an affair with an older man. She eventually confesses that was fired from her job due to inappropriate behavior with a young student and lived in a hotel known for prostitution. Her potential suitor suddenly views her as wanton and attempts to take advantage. Then when she's left alone with her sister's abusive husband, he rapes her. Blanche descends into madness.

Catherine Holly, Suddenly Last Summer

The Rose Tattoo
Scene from The Rose Tattoo

Catherine's story begins with tragedy and continues to plummet downhill. She is introduced to the audience as the subject of her mother-in-law's ire, as Mrs. Venable solicits a doctor to visit the young woman at the the mental hospital where she is being institutionalized and give her a lobotomy. Catherine is brought to the house where she reveals that her dead husband used her to bring him young men because he was gay and was then killed when a mob of starving children on the street partially cannibalized him.

Margaret, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Maggie manages to pull herself up in society and marry into the wealthy Pollitt family but like any family there are problems galore. Maggie is the subject of scorn for not continuing the family line and fulfilling her wifely duties. Meanwhile her husband is indifferent and drinking himself away following the death of his friend Skipper. Brick later reveals that Skipper committed suicide after confessing his love to Brick, which Brick rejected. Maggie has her suspicions about Brick's relationship with Skipper and believes his mourning process has equal parts to do with guilt and love. Maggie goes to great lengths to secure the family fortune, trapping her in a web of lies.

Laura Wingfield, The Glass Menagerie

Crippled physically and emotionally, Laura is forced to shoulder her mother's pain over lost youth and insecurities about fading into middle age. Amanda's sole purpose is finding Laura a suitor though the young woman had to leave school and a secretarial class due to her shyness. Laura's brother Tom brings a young man around to meet her, at the urging of Amanda. Laura is too shy to meet him and Amanda takes the lead, charming Jim More than Laura can. Finally brave enough to join the party, Laura is taken with Jim who suddenly reveals he is engaged to be married. The revelation, whether true or not, sends Amanda into a rage and forces Tom to leave home, dooming Laura to an unknown fate.

The Rose Tattoo
Scene from The Rose Tattoo

Whether his plays allowed him cathartic release or he was simply a fan of high drama, Williams spared no character in his narratives. He has left us with truly complicated women with painful stories to tell.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus


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