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Rothenberg, M.A. (2004). The plays of Tennessee Williams: A psychoanalytic view. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 85(6):1505-1506.

(2004). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 85(6):1505-1506

The plays of Tennessee Williams: A psychoanalytic view

Reported by:
Moderator Molly Anne Rothenberg

The plays of Tennessee Williams, well-known for staging conflicts among impulses, social custom and familial pathology, lend themselves well to a psychoanalytic approach. Each of the panelists interpreted Williams's most famous, Pulitzer Prize-winning play A streetcar named Desire (1947) using psychodynamic interpretations of biographical information relevant to the play to show how the play presents the intrapsychic conflicts of the artist. Thanks are due to Gunther Perdigao (New Orleans) for suggesting and helping to organize this panel.

David Jacobs began by exploring Williams's lifelong, ambivalent relationship with his sister Rose, using the letters to show how Williams incorporated Rose into his own identity as a defense against the perpetual battles waged by his parents. When Rose was lobotomized in 1943 as a treatment for her schizophrenia, Williams's guilt over her fate was accompanied by his desperate need to separate from her. Over against Williams's own professed love for and idealization of Rose, Jacobs hypothesizes that Williams, fearing for his own sanity, returns to this conflict over and over in his work, seeking to resurrect Rose and to leave her. Reading Blanche as a version of Rose, and the play as a kind of dream text, Jacobs finds elements of identification and separation in the play that extend to other characters as well. Like Blanche, Williams led a peripatetic life that depended on the ‘kindness of strangers’, but Williams's treatment of his sister is also like Stanley's rape of Blanche, a kind of knife cutting into Rose.

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