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literature

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Williams, Tennessee (1911-1983)  
 
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There lonely watchmaker Emil Kroger spent many hours before he fell in love with Pablo Gonzalez and succumbed to cancer of the bowels. There lonely Pablo, dying of the same disease, looks for brief moments of joy. There fat old Mr. Krupper with his bag of hard candy and pocketful of quarters to bribe boys for sexual favors, succumbs to a heart attack while kneeling before the most beautiful boy he had ever seen.

Theater in these stories is not only the place for the display of conventional heterosexual myths. In its dark corners, furtive homosexual dramas are also played out, dramas of transient joy, of aging, ugly people coming into contact with youth and beauty.

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In these moments of ecstasy and worship that the theater offers, it becomes a cathedral to those alliteratively linked religious concepts in Williams's work, desire and death.

In these stories, one sees some of Williams's basic connections: with malignancy of the bowels, and sex as simultaneous confrontation with beauty and death.

One also sees Williams's typical sex object, the young, dark, down-and-out hustler who is sometimes an angel of death, sometimes (as in "One Arm") a Genet-like punk saint.

The stories open a theatrical space for the acting out of homosexual desire that is also disease and death. The most revolutionary aspect of these stories is contained in the narrative voice, both deadpan and playful, valorizing the activity at the Joy Rio while describing it as a prim outsider would see it--Williams is always aware of the prejudices of his audience.

The double-entendre of the title "Hard Candy" is typical of the sly humor with which Williams deflates the pathos of the situations he creates.

The same playfulness is contained in Williams's wittier gay poems, like "San Sebastiano de Sodoma," in which "Mary from Her tower/ of heaven" watches arrows pierce the throat and thigh of the martyr who was "an emperor's concubine," or his best known poem, "Life Story," a hilarious depiction of post-coital attempts at communication.

Blanche DuBois demonstrates the same playfulness while flirting with the young paperboy in A Streetcar Named Desire, transforming the event into grand theater while understanding its more banal premise, "You make my mouth water."

One sees Williams's darker connections in two of his major plays, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) and Suddenly Last Summer (1958).

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick Pollitt and his wife are living in the room once occupied by Jack Straw and Peter Ochello, the founders of the plantation now run by Big Daddy. Straw and Ochello are dead, but the bed they shared dominates the setting. Homosexual love is both dead and central to the play.

The omnisexual, phallic Big Daddy, who hints at a sexual relationship with his former bosses, who left him their plantation, is dying of cancer of the bowels. Big Daddy's son, Brick, a former football star, is drinking himself to death, following in the footsteps of his beloved friend, Skipper.

Brick is trapped by the sexual categories he has been taught: Men are for friendship, women are for sex. Unfortunately for him, those categories have become blurred: His best friend was sexually attracted to him, and his wife wants their marriage to have, in addition to sex, the honesty of a friendship.

Brick hung up on his friend's admission of desire and has shut out his wife sexually and emotionally. Unable to endure any kind of intimacy, Brick drinks himself into detachment.

Brick's real problem is that he cannot face the complexity of his own emotions and sexual desires. He needs to see his feelings for Skipper as pure because the thought of being branded as a queer terrifies him. Like all deeply closeted people, Brick is obsessed with what his audience will think.

The central scene of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a reversal of the usual father-son confrontation over homosexuality. Here son Brick is horrified that Big Daddy is not shocked at the thought of homosexuality, while Big Daddy sees Brick's rejection of Skipper as a profound betrayal.

Throughout the play, Williams privileges the troubled closeted homosexual over the fertile heterosexuals. The heterosexual is Brick's awkward, nerdy brother, Gooper, trapped in a loveless marriage with the crass, hyperfertile Mae.

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