Pity for the wild: The corrupted world of Tennessee Williams

Plan Author

  • Elizabeth Hull, 2011

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Tutorial: Pity For The Wild
  • Course: Femininity on Stage
  • Tutorial: Plays: (Dis)Integrating Form

Project Description

An in depth study of the short stories, poems, and plays of Tennessee Williams, culminating in a production of three of his one act plays.

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

  • Annemarie Bean, independent scholar


The American writer Tennessee Williams lived a troubled life, filled with personal turmoil, a serious addiction to drugs, and a struggle to find love. His greatest works draw on his suffering to create flawed, sick characters – patients in the hospital of the world, edging towards the inevitability of death. This Plan examines how Williams uses his characters’ illnesses as metaphors to render his heartbreaking vision of a corrupted world, and includes a production of three of his plays accompanied by an original piece by the author.

One of Williams’ most defining disease metaphors is cancer: a poorly understood illness in his time, it perfectly represents the mysterious, creeping malaise that had enveloped Williams’ world. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) Big Daddy’s slow death from cancer serves as a symbol of the mendacity and corruption of his environment. As Williams’ career progressed, the line between an individual character’s illness and the corruption of their world began to blur. His later works, such as In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel (1969) and Small Craft Warnings (1972), never reveal the exact nature of their characters’ illnesses, which makes the malaise even more pervasive and threatening.


“Williams’ poem ‘Pity for the Wild’ expresses quite perfectly the essence of the production – a show that features characters who are indeed ‘lonely and misfit,’ hoping to find a brief reprieve from despair through imagination and illusion.”

“As an artist who maintained that loneliness and the inevitability of death were the only certainties in life, Williams translated his ‘deep feeling for the mystery of life and the meaning in the confusion of living’ into compassionate portraits of lost souls.”

“The hospital is not a place of safety or support, for there is no cure to be had for Williams’ sickly patients – rather, the hospital is a waiting place, a final prison before death.”


“In the final year, I felt a sense of solidarity among all the students working on their Plans. The support from my community motivated and encouraged me to finish my project and to celebrate the endeavor.”