Individual versus society is probably the oldest theme employed by writers, playwrights, and film producers to demonstrate a difference one might make by their positive or negative deeds. In “Suddenly, Last Summer,” Tennessee Williams shows homosexuality as the central point of the conflict between the characters and makes broader implications, demonstrating how unacceptable and marginalized non-traditional orientation is in his contemporary society.
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According to Stein, Williams tends to “see human conflict too exclusively in sexual terms” (Stein, p.148), and in fact, the hints at Sebastian’s alternative view on cross-gender relations can be found in most scenes addressing him. For instance, in the beginning, Violet complains to John that her niece Catherine mumbles obscenities about her son Sebastian. Catherine often refers to Sebastian as a sexual freak and states that he is so voracious that he approaches people exceptionally as the parts of his menu. The theme of sexuality is also communicated implicitly through the messages about wild appetite and gluttony: in particular, as Violet recounts her trip with Sebastian to the Galapagos Islands, she tells about witnessing huge predator birds devour large sea turtles/ In addition, Sebastian’s passion for wildness is reflected in his ideas of the jungle-like garden, which he realized in his estate; tropical forests are commonly associated with savageness and often with aggression and predating. Catherine, in turn, remembers Sebastian as a person who gobbles others, and at the end, it is revealed that he was actually devoured by the group of hungry cannibals. In classical psychoanalysis, both sexual desire and appetite are regulated by the same element of human personality, the subconscious, or the Id, and due to the fact that eating in terms of both object and process is displayed as unusual, it is possible to assume that this motif elucidates the theme of non-traditional sexuality.
Addressing Williams’s background, Mendelsohn notes that the playwright “ struggled to balance memories of a romanticized past with the realities of a less-than-exalted present” (Mendelsohn, p.1) and mentions his “cursory perusal” (Mendelsohn. P.1) of memories and experiences in his literary works. The film does really display homosexuality through the lens of romanticized illusion, which is suddenly destroyed at the end. At first, Sebastian is portrayed virtually as a saint due to the fact that society does not accept recalling negative memories about the deceased. His mother, Violet, refers to him as a creative and intelligent man with a number of interests in his life. He is also described as a caring and attentive son who dedicated a lot of time to his mother and always traveled with her. In one of the episodes, Violet even states that Sebastian saw God’s face and therefore was adherent to religion and Christian moral principles. Even more touching is the idea that loving Sebastian willingly took his young cousin on his trip in order to arrange unforgettable vacations for the girl. These actions definitely portray the deceased as a kind person committed to family values.
In addition, Violet ostensibly believes that her son died as a result of a heart attack when he found Catherine insane. Due to her willingness to remove the cause of Sebastian’s death, she seeks to lobotomize her niece; moreover, given Catherine’s tendency to recalling traumatic memories about her precious son, Violet is interested in the surgery so that her illusion is preserved in a reliable way. However, towards the end of the film, the illusion bursts after Catherine is given truth serum and interrogated about the events, which caused Sebastian’s death. It becomes clear that his homosexuality forced him to use his mother and cousin as baits for attracting males, and in Spain, he paid his life for his weird behavior after a group of street beggars murdered and cannibalized him. Due to Violet’s striving for keeping the illusion of Sebastian untouched and her willingness to impose a risky surgery on her young niece, one can assume that the woman herself does not fully share the image of her son which she describes to others. However, the main efforts of the characters referred to guising Sebastian’s homosexuality and covering it with a more favorable legend.
Finally, as alternative sexual preference is a point of conflict, it is shown as traumatic and harmful to others by itself. Catherine develops a mental illness as a result of her brother’s behavior and begins to suffer from hallucinations and hysterias after her cousin tried to use her as a tool of luring men. Violet, in turn, is desperate to protect the imaginary world she lives in and is constantly forced to find new lies to prevent the deterioration of her social reputation. At the end of the film, Catherine finally gets rid of her obsession by telling the truth, whereas Violet is left shattered and immobilized by the fact that the social image she has been weaving for years is destroyed. Due to the poor outcome, Sebastian met, one can also assume that homosexuality is harmful directly to its bearer and brings nothing but loss and devastation.
As one can conclude, “Suddenly, Last Summer’ is a part of the collection of Williams’s own traumatic memories, in which he feels guilty for being different in terms of sexual preferences, as the character, to a great extent resembling him, is killed because of his sexual behavior. In the above-discussed film, homosexuality is positioned as a cause of the catastrophe and appears to be the central theme of the plot.
Mendelsohn, D. “Vicvtims of Broabway”. The New York Review of Books, 52(9), 2005.
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Stein, R. “Glass Menagerie’ Revisited: Catasrophe without Violence”. Western Humanities Review, 18(2), 1964, pp. 141-153.