All writer use to one degree or another elements of their life to help formulate their characters and stories, but Tennessee Williams seems to draw more from his personal experiences than most. After reading “The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin” and doing some background research on the author it becomes quite clear that he wrote this story as a reflection of his life. The similarities between the narrator/boy in the story and Tennessee himself are quite obvious, as well as other characters and members of his family.
There are many specific aspects of Tennessee’s life that make “The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin” a story that he is uniquely if not exclusively able to write. The first and most obvious similarity between Tennessee and the story is that the main character of the story is a boy, but not only a boy, a boy who is starting to discover that he is attracted to men and may be a homosexual. This is obviously an area that Tennessee can relate to because he too was gay.
But that single factor does not make the author unique in being able to write the story. What makes Tennessee specifically qualified to write the story is the time and place that he experienced the realities of being a boy discovering his sexuality. Tennessee was born in the deep south of Columbus, Mississippi on March 26, 1911. This time in history is known for being intolerant of homosexuality, and if there was one region that stood out the most for this intolerance it would be the south.
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Even today Mississippi is considered one of the least tolerant states being ranked 38th on The Daily Beast’s ranking of most tolerant states(thedailybeast. com). In fact Mississippi was one of the states that continued to practice sodomy laws until 2003 when the supreme court ruled it unconstitutional (thetaskforce. org). Growing up gay in the American south at this time would be riddled with hardships that few other places could match.
For example Tennessee probably felt an obligation to hide his sexuality or suffer dire consequences. This would most likely result in awkward and strained relationships with members of the same sex. This can be seen in the story whenever the boy runs into Richard, “When he turned to me and held his enormous hand out, I did a thing so grotesque that I could never afterward be near him without a blistering sense of shame. Instead of taking the hand I ducked away from him. ”(Kenison, 318).
This shows an insight into the life of a young Tennessee that feared being exposed if he were to talk to a boy he was attracted to. Another example in the story of the struggles of the author can be seen when the boy says, “How on earth did I explain to myself, at that time, the fascination of his physical being without, at the same time, confessing to myself that I was a little monster? ”(Kenison, 319). This shows the authors denial of his sexuality and his view at the time that it was monstrous to be gay.
Another area of resemblance between “The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin” and Tennessee’s life is the similarities between characters in the story and member of his family, specifically his mother and sister. In “The Glass Menagerie” as well as many other of his works, Williams is suspected to base one of the character on his sister, “Amanda's daughter seems modeled on Rose Williams: the fragile Laura who retreats from reality to play with glass figurines. (amswers. com). Williams’s sister developed schizophrenia at some point in life which undoubtedly left a mark on Tennessee. The fragile nature in sister characters is seen as well in “The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin”, “when my sister got up later than usual with an odd look, not as if she had been crying, although perhaps she had, but as though she had received some painful or frightening surprise…” (Kenison, 312).
This fragility in her character in not only violin but his other stories shows the unique relationship between Tennessee and his ill sister. That relationship resulted in very specific character traits in some of his prominent female characters. Tennessee’s mother was also used as an influence in many of the characters in Tennessee’s works. Williams viewed his mother as a prototypical southern belle, constantly trying to climb the social ladder.
He saw her as snobbish, neurotic, and hysterical and portrayed her that way with the characters she influenced. One such example in violin is when the boy compares the mother character to his aunt. “Though my mother would certainly never make verbal acknowledgement of my aunts superiority in matters of taste and definitions of quality, it was nevertheless apparent that she approached Knoxville and my father’s younger sister in something very close to fear and trembling. ” (Kenison, 315).
This display of neurotic fear over refined social skills exemplifies the mother character in violin and through association the authors actual mother. Tennessee Williams story “The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin”, in my opinion is a good story that reveals a great deal about the author himself. Through analyzing this story I acquired a much deeper and richer knowledge of Tennessee Williams than I have of many other authors. This is interesting considering I never even heard of him before reading the story.
To conclude what I learned about Williams I would say that he was able to write violin because of the specific circumstances that he lived and persevered through, as well as the impression his mother and sister left him. Him being gay during the early 1900’s in the American south led him to write a story that offered an insight to a very different reality than my own that I would never had been aware of otherwise. For that widening of my horizons, I am thankful.
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