This work of art is an autobiography memory play by Tennessee Williams. The play is set on the beach of Provincetown at Cape Cod and it revolves around the life of the playwright, during the time, when he met his first gay lover. The heading of the play is supposed to be the narrator’s view from the shore line of the horizon, which he describes as something cloudy, yet clear (Watcher 1). Like most of his later plays, Something Cloudy, Something Clear was a critical frustration. Both the critics and audience did not regard it with high expectations. Most critics felt that this play was a shameless copy of the over-emphasized dramatic technique in the play The Glass Menagerie. While Tennessee Williams continued to evolve as a playwright in the 1960’s and 70’s, critics rejected his later avant-garde work (Watcher 1). While some critics are utterly disappointed by the play Something Cloudy, Something Clear, some have taken the defense of Williams as a great writer and one who does not let the nostalgia of playwriting dictate his artistic and dramatic writing techniques. This paper will seek to establish if indeed the late works of Tennessee are of low quality, as opposed to his earlier ones. It will accomplish this by analyzing the play Something Cloudy, Something Clear and the reviews it has generated.
Negative Review analysis
In comparison to the well-formed flow in The Glass Menagerie, Something Cloudy, Something Clear moves back and fourth from the 40’s to 80’s. There is no continuity of thoughts and the audience is easily lost in the play. One critic thinks that this is an elusive mode of writing, which he calls ‘mannered and scattershot in execution” (Kolin 2, Lorentz 2).
It is also an imitation of The Glass Menagerie, Williams may be indicted of ‘impersonally rhetoric’ language and the lack of ability to make up persuasive characters. This is the fall of Williams because at one time during an interview, he implied that he preferred creating truth as opposed to stating the reality. This type of philosophy simply does not work, when the work of the author is deeply rooted in memory writing (Saddik43, Lorentz 1).
The play is a reverie like sequence, which is full of images from the past life of Tennessee. The only creative character in the play is Claire and her inclusion into the play only serves to increase the confusion in the play by bringing the clear side of view, which most people think was not present in Williams’ life. ‘When she first appears to August, she peeks through his window, interrupting him as he’s writing. She apologizes for the interruption, but he dismisses the apology, saying “I was about to make a change in that I didn’t believe in, when you called through the window, like my, like a - conscience?"’. In this play, critics argue that Williams felt no need of stirring his ingenious gifts but sought rather to write a memory sequence that is fragmented and disconnected (Kolin 36, Lorentz 2).
Tennessee Williams was driven by a need to re-assert himself in the world of writers, as one of the best writers of his time. In 1980, the pressure was more than any other time and the people, audience and critics alike wanted a successful play like The Glass Menagerie. The critics say that this pressure led Williams to the desire just to write without concern what he writes about or how he does it (Watcher 1). One critic suggests that he was driven by an almost suicidal need to keep writing. He also asserts that Tennessee was driven by the guilt he felt for a life of crime that he had lived earlier and was looking for restitution. According to the critic, Williams wanted to leave a legacy. The critic goes on to suggest that Williams’ attempt at making a symbolic title for the play, only led him to come up with dear punch line, which he was aware of and intended to use in this play (Lorentz 1).
Something Cloudy, Something Clear is something of an autobiography, but it’s something altogether different from that too. Autobiographies go back in time, but here, the past is superimposed on the present and exist simultaneously. Each of the characters exist in both times, making it one of the most confused works of literature of all times (Lorentz 3).
Something Cloudy, Something Clear is one of the saddest plays ever written (it’s nearly un-produce-able, and thus, rarely produced). At times, it’s a confusing read, but after a couple of times through, it also grows incredibly painful, as readers realize that Williams is so unable to forgive his own transgressions, he needs to “create” a kind of angel (albeit one with just as lurid a past as his own) to do it for him (Lorentz 5).
Williams’ attempt to autobiography himself leads to a failed imbalance between having a story line and pitiful self-indulgence in expression. The play bares him and his personal life to the audience and for this, he feels exposed, thus, he tries to cover it up by creating the character Claire to even things out. He is caught up in an unyielding recitation of his philosophical thoughts, the playwright’s arched, over exposing language is not helped by an unreliable collection (Lorentz 4).
Williams dwells broadly on August’s voracious attraction to the physically magnificent Kip, and his deep revere for the sexually liberated Clare. Williams has built his play on one phase of human life, which is sexuality. The involvement of other characters like the business man and producers diminish within the deep exploration of homosexuality and sexuality in general. The play was intended to be an autobiography; hence, it does not make sense why he would portray sexuality as the only phase of his life that he cares about (Watcher 2).
In his best plays, Williams has managed realism without excesses and with substantial insight, compassion and precise scrutiny. He has excellent depiction of realism, regardless of his mechanisms, used in creating what he named as definitive truths as in The Glass Menagerie or differentiation of reality and flight of the imagination as in Streetcar Named Desire (Saddik 39, ). This has not been the case in the Something Cloudy, Something Clear play because he seems not to be able to join together the fragments of the story because some of them are made up from fantasy and some are parts of his aging memory.
His use of symbolism is wanting as compared to The Glass Menagerie play. The way Williams has used the symbols of clear and cloudy is unclear. It is unclear what August can’t see, and that which Claire sees so clearly. This is because the play is centered purely on sexuality and sexual longings. Williams tries to imply that August could not perceive clearly because of his longing for the enlightened Claire, but this symbolism does not work together with the fact that August already has a cataract in one eye (Watcher 2).
In his earlier work, the unification of the past and the present and the future is majestically done. This, for instance, is seen in the play The Glass Menagerie, where the father abandoned his family and his son’s thoughts. He eventually does but cannot forget his sister. This, therefore, does not end as a repetition but closes with a change on the behavior between the son and the father (Saddik 43, Lorentz 1).
In Something Cloudy, Something Clear, Tennessee does not provide a good link between his fragments of memories and thoughts. The play ends up lacking flow and the right play write technique for such a play as this one. His attempt to fuse autobiographical writing and fiction does not auger well for the flow and meaning of the play.
The design of complex characters such as August who can display a lot of selves in the play compromises the reality of the play. It, therefore, becomes very hard to produce such a play on stage. By trying to defuse stylistic nostalgia in the playwright industry, he abandons his successful lyrical writing for poetry, which he, then, successfully denies the audience to enjoy. Some critics argue that this is a masterpiece, when it comes to literary skills. Others think that his choice of poetry as the literary skill in the Something Cloudy, Something Clear does not help the dreamlike sequence of the play. The audience can not take refuge in the poetic nature of the play because even the poetry is disappointing (Lorentz 7).
Positive review analysis
While some critics feel that the play Something Cloudy, Something Clear by Tennessee is spiteful, some critics claim that this is one of his greatest works. This is described with such enthusiastic words as simply magical. One of the critics, Linda, thought that this was a mastery piece of work. She is intrigued by the double visions of the Williams in 40’s and in the 80’s. She argues that to attempt such works as superimposition of the past with the present and dealing with characters self and ghost, at the same time, is truly daring. The metaphor, where Tennessee uses one eye, as being clouded by a cataract to imply nostalgia, guilt and regret, while the clear eye is focused by being unsentimental is very exemplary writing (Eisenstein 3).
The juxtaposing of sex for hire and safety with poetry is a gritty compromise and with a candid account of the details, as they happened, is very interesting and makes the audience want to read more. It is not every day that a writer, as successful as Tennessee, decides to admit to the world that he is gay, something that the society abhors because of their beliefs. The courage to do so in this play is not lost. This only shows that the mind of the artist should not be governed and restricted by the norms and taboos of the society (Eisenstein 4).
According to one critic, Williams establishes an almost solid connection between invention and reality. This is built by exposing himself and being self-conscious all the while he was writing this play. It is not a sin in literature to use your imagination if it helps to bring out clarity of the truth. Williams himself in an interview stated that he preferred to build/create truth than indulge in realism. This, he said, is because people who live in the realistic world live mostly a lie, one that has been made by the society or by oneself. The critic argues that Williams was justified to fuse two genres of writing to bring out his most impressive artistic play write skills (Kolin41).
It would be important to note Williams’ exemplary use of time and space by compressing theme in his play Something Cloudy, Something Clear. This is noted when Kip is told by August that he didn’t have a watch, yet in reality Williams was underscoring the fusion of present and past as a sort of double exposure (Kolin41). This scene shows that time flows logically but also shows that it is possible to bend time in fiction writing. Williams himself asserted in an interview that there is a quality to events as one gets older because the past and the present starts to merge (Kolin 41).
Williams was aware of the idea of fragmentation in his writing and went ahead to include it as part of his play. August, who is the equivalent character of Williams, goes through loosely connected segments of script. The ability of Williams to create very complex characters as August, who readers meet as he mingles with various individuals in the harbor, hospital, beach and theater, isn’t achieved by many writers. Some critics feel that it was the intention of Williams to deny a satisfactory solution to the audience that is created by the fragmentation. He does this as many of his characters compressed in space and time, thus, giving the audience the need to figure out who August really is (Kolin 44).
Williams fails to write his play with decorated language and instead give the audience the raw street language, including the censored words. This is good to show that he has a command on the subject of sexuality, as it forms the bulk of his play content. His use of raw metaphoric language is also present in his play. Claire and Kip are both very beautiful but this is cloudy and disfigured (Kolin 45).
His attempt to defuse the audience of getting rescue of the bare truth from the poetry can not be ignored. He makes it certain that the audience gets the content of the subject no matter how the truth is unpleasant and any aspect of the play that tries to inhibit that is stripped away. Williams is able to connect the physical appearance of Kip with his ability to be romantic in poetry, while Augusts’ blunt replies show the cloudiness of his ugliness. Despite the flow of the play, August is used as the tool to dissuade the audience from enjoying poetry by making sure that there is nothing that happens between him and Kip (Kolin 45).
It is unfounded to claim that Something Cloudy, Something Clear is a copy of The Glass Menagerie with family nostalgia in the latter being substituted with sexuality in the former. This is because, Williams is able to interrogate and reconfigure the very persona who created The Glass Menagerie, thus, disengaging him from the process that created him. Furthermore, the events of Something Cloudy, Something Clear go away back before the events of The Glass Menagerie. The comfort of illusion as found in The Glass Menagerie is not present but instead is the truth, which is not pleasant. In the earlier play, the characters are portrayed as having normal behavior as would be expected in a family. The audience is shielded from the ugly side of the character by telling of lies or covering the truth with ambitions (Kolin 49).
Use of literary skills is a part of the play and is present in the play Something Cloudy, Something Clear. When Maurice pulls out a roll of bills from the pocket and a second later peels more bills from the roll of currency. This repetition is used as an aesthetic appeal by Williams to the producers to stop commercializing art (Kolin 53).
Discussions and conclusions
Tennessee Williams was one of the greatest play writers in the 80’s. His broad tackling of the issue of sexuality and sex, gays and marriage without compromising his literary skills earned him the rightful place in his writing industry. The Glass Menagerie was one of his most successful works, according to critics. This play is seen by the critics against his later works as the basis for the play Something Cloudy, Something Clear. It has been noted, however, that the time limit of this play goes far much earlier than in some of his earlier plays.
The uncensored street language in the later play is not to be found in the play The Glass Menagerie. Repletion in the earlier play is not formed as part of the play, rather is part of the deductions that come at the end of the play. On the contrary such literal skills are also a part of the play content.
It is the society’s nostalgia, when it comes to the question of playwright that allows them to receive the play The Glass Menagerie as the successful one because it offers them comforts at the end, when the brother is thinking about the sister. Lack of comfort or a place to hind in the later work translates into rejection and condemnation of the work.
While critics are interested in knowing what literal tools were used in the playwright, the supporters of Williams’ later work are concerned mostly by the fact that he is able to include play writing skills as a part of his content and in the process bring out the desired effect and appeal. Use of symbolism is impeccable in both works thought is not hidden in the earlier works.
The negative critics seem to condemn the writer because of his stand in moral behavior and values and failure to watch his language in a society that dictates that a censored language should be used in production of art. Fragmentation is used as the reason for negative critic but the positive criticism portrays that the fragmentation was not due to inability of William to patch the flow of the play, but he intended it to be that way for a reason. This shows that nobody can remember clear details as to how events happened, especially 40 years ago. What the society calls the truth is illusion because people do not want to be accused of lying. Williams, in his later work, refuses to tell lies and prefers to create his own truth than bank on realism.
In conclusion of this paper, it should be stated that the latter works of Tennessee Williams is not failure as compared to his earlier work due to quality but there is a difference in perception and understanding of the audience and the critics.