Tennessee Williams was a homosexual and he was not afraid to admit that, even in dangerous times under US senator McCarthy’s witch und gay hunt of post WWII. According to Savran’s book Communists, Cowboys and Queers, “homophobic panic authorized an unprecedented level of surveillance of social and sexual practices.” This was done to ‘secure’ the decent American family. So, in McCarthy’s eyes, Williams and all Williams-alike were a threat to the future of America.
Since Williams did not seem to care, he showed in a Streetcar Named Desire what happens to a dreamy person when reality can no longer be avoided. When telling about her ex-husband, Blanche recalls the moment when she found out about the truth “by coming suddenly into a room that I thought was empty.” There she had found him with another man.
If a woman has no tendencies to fantasy, it would take her a while to digest that a man cheated her with another man. She would even come to understand that it was really not her fault that the man has other tastes, although he tried to conceal them. But a woman like Blanche, when she discovered the truth, she decided to cover up reality with beauty, with plumes and fantasy. She could not take it and she did not want to understand it.
Williams was discreet enough not to properly finish the sentence I used as an example above. It is just like bringing a death scene onto the stage when it would work better offstage, in the imagination of the audience. The same artifice goes for Suddenly Last Summer, when the supposed ‘crazy’ cousin tells of the cannibalism scene that finished off her homosexual cousin, who ironically enough, talked about choosing his mates as if they were restaurant dishes. It is direct, yet discreet.
Lillian Hellman also discussed homosexuality in Children’s Hour, but instead of a ‘supposed empty room’, she filled it with things that weren’t there. Men gay was abnormal, but women gay was a monstrosity. Karen and Martha were good friends and business partners. Karen had a male fiancé whom Martha disliked. A schoolgirl named Mary was always causing trouble and seeking attention, but because she never got what she thought she deserved – special and royal treatment – she decided it was time to bully her teachers, the way she had always done with her fellow pupils. So, she lied about having seeing them kiss and make strange noises in the bedroom late at night. Because of the open lie, the school founders were dammed and their social and professional lives finished. Faced with dullness, Martha – one of the accused teachers – says that she might have loved Karen ‘the way people were talking about’ and then kills herself after that.
Hellmann addresses the issue directly, without William’s romance, for a puritan society who pretends to be saints when they are just mortals, if not devils. There are some articles that say that Hellmann herself had a homosexual relationship and that through this play she was introducing the idea to a wider public; the idea that homosexuals are no monsters wanting to destroy the future. It is ironic enough that if McCarthy followers claimed that homosexuals destroyed American families, Hellman places an alleged-yet-not-so-sure-about-her-homosexuality woman taking care of the children of such puritan families. At the end, Martha did not destroyed families, but families destroyed her.
The question of speaking in public about homosexuality in America has become more open, but to put it on the stage is still considered as bad taste if the dramatists insist in filling the room, in finishing certain sentences that would be better left unfinished. If a dramatist treats the topic as a monstrosity, the work will receive a monstrous feedback. But if the topic is treated as normal as it can be, despite the implications of a hetero ruling society, then the possibilities for dialogue will be greater. Therefore, Williams knew exactly what he was doing and how he was doing it. Hellmann, a little less, I suppose.