Date of Award

Fall 12-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Committee Chair

Dr. Kenneth V. Watson

Committee Chair Department

English

Committee Member 2

Dr. Angela S. Ball

Committee Member 2 Department

English

Committee Member 3

Dr. Sherita L. Johnson

Committee Member 3 Department

English

Committee Member 4

Dr. Philip C. Kolin

Committee Member 4 Department

English

Committee Member 5

Dr. Maureen A. Ryan

Committee Member 5 Department

English

Abstract

This dissertation investigates Tennessee Williams’s earliest full-length plays, also known as the apprentice plays—Candles to the Sun, Fugitive Kind, Not About Nightingales, Spring Storm, and Stairs to the Roof—by comparing, contrasting and contextualizing them in relation to Daniel Chandler’s generic criteria of drama; namely, narrative, characterization, setting, topics, iconography, and staging techniques. The present study also draws upon an extensive body of scholarship pertaining to genre theory, Williams’s cultural contemporaries, and the historical and psychological backdrop of Depression-era America. In these early plays, Williams diverged sharply from the dramatic generic conventions of his day, manipulating them in new and unique ways, to create plays that reflect and embody authentic generic innovations. Their immense impact, not only on his own subsequent works but also on other playwrights, is widely acknowledged. While the initial rediscovery of these plays in 1998 led to their widespread appreciation, publication, and/or production, no study to date has analyzed their distinctive generic innovations. This analysis demonstrates how Williams reworks and exploits the contemporary repertoire of dramatic narratives, while situating their generic locales—the coal mine, the prison, the urban gangster milieu, Southern Gothic, and science fiction—within the overarching genres of protest and fantasy. These generic conventions often intertwine through both the major and minor narratives of a single play. Separate chapters introduce each play, discussing its specific formal organization and generic attributes, and noting its relation to contemporary dramatic and cinematic traditions. Williams’s reinterpretation and revision of his personal artistic philosophy is examined in light of formal and stylistic concerns bearing on his ingenious handling of a broad mixture of borrowings and innovations, and the following scrutiny of genres always situates the plays’ unconventionality within the cultural and theatrical context in which Williams was active.