Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh
- Author: J. Lahr
- Title: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh
- Published: 2014
- Genre: non-fiction
1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?
The title refers to Williams’s frequent trips to the artsy enclave of Provincetown Massachusetts. The Pilgrims first landed near the site of modern Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod in November 1620 before moving to Plymouth. They made a pilgrimage for religious freedom, Williams made his his pilgrimage for the the animated Greek male marble sashaying around the P-town dinner party circuit.
2. What sort of conflict confronts Tennessee Williams?
a.external – Williams is forever battling between the destructive (pills, alcohol ) and creative (plays).
b.internal – He tires to free himself from his mother’s puritan repression, while trying to win the affection of distant, dismissive and combustible father.
3. How is the conflict resolved?
As soon as Williams started his writing (won 1000,— Rockefeller Scholarship) he left home.
He had to leave the unsayable secrets (sister Rose slowly sinking into madness), the sense of masquerade (parents toxic marriage) and the palpable emptiness.
4. How does the author reveal Williams to the reader?
Conversations with partners (Frank Merlo), producers (Elia Kazan) and parasites ( other riff raft that hung on to Williams’s coat tails especially Maria Britneva). Lahr has made an extensive use of the notes and personal diaries of Tennessee Williams.
5. Did you identify with any of the characters in William’s plays?
No, I couldn’t identify with the characters. Luckily I did not have a father “who fell in love with distance (pg 36) or a prim and proper mother who suffocated him in her ‘haunted household (pg 33).
6. Does this story contain any symbolism?
Glass Menagerie: The title represents the ‘famlly’s fragility’ (William’s family). The decor on stage, the fire escape, alley and secondhand furniture represented Tennessee’s existence in St. Louis Missouri.
Street Car Named Desire.: But I found the most profound symbolism in SCND:
Blanche DuBois asks for directions to her sister’s apartment. She must take two streetcars one named ‘Desire’ the other ‘Cemeteries’ and she will be at her sister’s address ‘Elysian Fields’ ( mythological land of the dead).
Blanche is literally and figuratively at the end of the line. (pg 121)
Blanche DuBois is Tennessee Williams who longs for the safety of embrace for the release of unhappiness ( last line as she falls into the arms of a doctor who takes her to a mental institution) “ “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
7. Was there a villain in the story?
Tennessee William’s mother: She boasted “ the only psychiatrist in whom I believe is our Lord” (pg 55). She lodged a paranoia and terror in her children. She changed Tennessee’s behaviour and drove Rose her daughter into madness.
8. Can you find any examples of figurative language?
The plays are the literary works that Williams will be remembered for, but I could his poems are capable of arousing deep emotion. When Williams felt he was living on “borrowed creativy” he wrote this poem to shape his lack of inspiration.
“Old men go mad at night, but are not Lears
There is no kingly howling of their rage, their grief, their fears dementedly, […]
No title of dignity, now, no height of old estate, give stature to the drama
Ungrateful heirs, indeed! Tier treacherous seed
turns them away from more than tall gold-hammered doors:
Exiles them into such enormous night
skies have no room for it
And old men have no Fools except themselves.
9. What do you think the purpose of the Tennessee Williams was by writing his most famous plays (Glass Menagerie, Streetcar named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth) ?
Williams used his plays to enter an imaginary world: “ Suddenly I found that I had a stage inside me: actors appeared out of nowhere…and too the stage over.” ( pg 34).
The driving force, impulse and impetus for writing was to break free from his dysfunctional family.
The comparison between his plays and his childhood was the BEST part of the book.
Mother’s monolithic puritanism was the most damaging element in Tennessee’s life
In in my opinion. his mother was more damaging than the pills (when TW died they found 13 bottles of prescription drugs, Aldomet, Zyloprin, Reglan, Seconal etc) and alcohol.
10. Does the story contain a single effect or impression on me?
Of course the brilliant rise and tragic fall of Tennessee Williams is the first impression I experienced. He used sex as ‘spiritual champagne’ and Rx prescription pills for his blues. By being desired he was empty of need. (pg 88).
The second impression and one of the most important reasons to read this book is my new understanding of how a play is written, painstakingly re-written several times and masterly staged in collaboration with the director.
I was deeply impressed by the life of Tennessee Williams.
Of all the characters he created it I think
Alma in Summer and Smoke is the best representation of the playwright.
Once she casts off her parents and the rectory, the serenity she finds is not the peace of heaven but the bliss of pickups and pills. (pg 99)
What is the line in his plays that made a lasting effect of me?
Summer and Smoke:
“The prescription number is 96814” she says in the finale.
“I think of it as the telephone number of God!”