"Maybe now the parade": The exigencies of sexual survival in Tennessee Williams's Something Cloudy, Something Clear.
Williams extended to sexual behavior his own disgust with dishonesty, insisting that people have the courage to acknowledge the nature of their desires. For Williams, appetite--in particular, sexual appetite--is the most natural thing in the world, yet the majority of people are so ashamed of the basic realities of human nature that they drape themselves in a cloak of gentility, feigning a disinterest in, or outrage over, sexual matters. In the process, they render themselves hypocritical and grotesquely unnatural. Artists and other independent spirits who have been socially marginalized because of their sexual behaviors are tacitly applauded by the plays for their willingness to admit the truth of their desires and to actively pursue what Williams terms "the lyric quarry" ("Two" 286); they prove heroic in their sexual selfishness. Such honesty is not without its own problems, needless to say, and throughout his life and career Williams brooded over the question of how an individual can exercise the courage to satisfy his or her appetite without physically brutalizing or being unkind to others. At what point, Williams repeatedly asked, does courageous defiance of social convention in the pursuit of gratification risk becoming insensitivity to the needs of one's partner, if not the outright exploitation of another person?
The last of Williams's plays to be produced in New York City in his lifetime, Something Cloudy, Something Clear (1981) is the culmination of his lifelong concern with the ambivalent nature of sexual selfishness. In Williams's works, shame does not result from having one's sexual proclivities exposed to a censorious world. For Williams, rather, one has reason to feel ashamed only at having denied someone a comfort that was desperately needed, or at preying upon those who are weaker or more vulnerable than oneself.
Few writers have explored as honestly as Williams the heroic resolve necessary for the sexually squeamish to overcome their inhibitions in order to enjoy a fuller life. (Witness the transformation of Alma Winemiller in Summer and Smoke and, especially, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale.) But, likewise, few have been as insightful or, at times, as frank as Williams when writing about the experience that Shakespeare describes as "the expense of spirit in a waste of shame" that is "lust in action" (Sonnet 129,1-2). In Something Cloudy, Something Clear, Williams resolves a tension that pervades his work at least since the career-making The Glass Menagerie (1945) almost forty years earlier. In the process he concludes a lifelong debate regarding the morality of his own sexual agency that seems to have troubled him since before the life-altering summer--what in his Notebooks Williams calls "that brilliant little summer of 1940" (501)--that he spent at age twenty-nine in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he enjoyed his first extended adult love relationship.
"Ex[ig]encies of desperation" and "The negotiation of terms"
Something Cloudy, Something Clear is, like The Glass Menagerie, a memory play. (2) In 1980 a playwright, who is identified only as August, recalls the events of a summer spent living in a shack on the beach some 40 years earlier when he came into his own both sexually and artistically. Like The Glass Menagerie (in which Williams revisited his family's make-shift existence in a Depression-era St. Louis tenement), the play is suggestively autobiographical insofar as during the summer of 1940, as Williams worked to revise the text of Battle of Angels that had been optioned by the prestigious Theatre Guild for production later that year, he met a dancer named Kip Kiernan, with whom he conducted his first serious homosexual affair. (3) In 1980, as he revisits his early, formative struggle with questions of sexual and artistic integrity, the mature Williams/August resurrects Kip in propria persona and, under pseudonyms, Theatre Guild producer Lawrence Langer and his wife, Armina Marshall (or, possibly, co-producer Theresa Helbrun), as well as actress Miriam Hopkins, who would star as Myra Torrance in the original production of Battle. During the course of Something Cloudy there emerge additionally from the sands of time--represented quite literally on stage by the dunes surrounding August's shack--three people from Williams's past: Hazel Kramer, the classmate whom Williams dated as a teenager in order to mask his attraction to other boys and the first peer from whom Williams felt he received unconditional love; Frank Merlo, the long-term partner with whom Williams broke in 1961, upon the advice of his analyst, not long before Merlo was stricken with the cancer from which he would die in 1963 at a disturbingly early age; and Tallulah Bankhead, Williams's great actress-friend-antagonist. The three are ghosts of past friends or lovers with whom, as with Kip, Williams hopes to "make peace, [...] and in some instances to exorcize" (Kolin 35) through his writing of the play.
The title Something Cloudy, Something Clear derives from the cataract that troubled Williams's vision in 1940 and that would be removed through surgery the following year. "The person I met in 1940 was a loner," recalls Donald Windham, perhaps Williams's closest friend at the time. "A milky white cataract covered his divergent left eye. This walleye was as noticeable as a birthmark; but, accompanied by a rakish smile, it gave, instead, the impression of a continual, conspiratorial wink" (Windham 171). Within the play, after meeting August for the first time, Kip "noticed his left eye's a little cloudy but the other one's clear. There was something nice in the clear one" (5). August's ocular condition serves as a metaphor, in part, for the ambivalent nature of memory itself. Time allows us a more complete perspective, thereby throwing into greater clarity the significance of events that occurred earlier in life which the participants could not understand fully as they unfolded. At the same time, however sharply a sixty-nine year old man may remember the defining moments of his early adult life, he can only look back at his shy, uncertain, younger self from a hazy distance in that he feels emotionally removed from his early confusion and naivete--that is, he looks back with longing upon his initial purity from the "exile [...] to the dark side of the moon" (12) that is undesirable, but still desiring, old age.
Thus, even as the mature August is now able to see more clearly what was cloudy forty years earlier, he worries that he is mis-remembering those events and at various points stops himself to be certain that his mental images have not been corrupted by time or "transfigured" by memory (11-12,78). In much the same way, sharply recalled moments that on the surface seem unrelated find themselves being linked together in memory's hazy stream-of-consciousness. For this reason, in the course of the play, people from different times in August's life emerge from among the sand dunes as moments from different periods in the past are vividly recalled, the significance that connects them becoming clear only long after the events originally transpired, thereby allowing August to experience simultaneously "present and past, yes, a sort of double exposure" (38). "Life is all--it's just one time," August exclaims at one point; "it finally seems to all occur at one time" (59). As Philip C. Kolin points out, this "synchronicity of memory and contemporaneity" is part of Williams's striking experiment with a "non-linear dramaturgy" in the play (Kolin 38)--the same non-linear narrative style, Kolin might add, that Williams had adopted six years earlier for Memoirs (1975).
But, more importantly, August's compromised vision symbolizes his moral agency--in particular, how the exigencies of survival that inspire one person's heroic pursuit of satisfaction may unintentionally humiliate the object of his desire and possibly, even, drive that other person to despair. As Williams acknowledged in an interview at the time of Something Cloudy's premiere, the play's title
refers to my eyes. My left eye was cloudy then because it was developing a cataract. But my right eye was clear. It was like the two sides of my nature. The side that was obsessively homosexual, compulsively interested in sexuality. And the side that in those days was gentle and understanding and contemplative. (Rader 346)
Williams's juxtaposition of his compulsive interest in same-sex activity with the qualities of gentleness, understanding and the contemplative demeanor necessary for a writer's creative activity goes far towards explaining the ambivalent representation of homosexual desire in his canon, as will be seen below. (4)
Thus, in Something Cloudy, Something Clear, the unpitying resolve and clarity of vision that are required for survival are juxtaposed with the damage done by strong people to the confused, beautiful dreamers who lack the latter's will power--that is, to the "weak, beautiful people who give up with such grace" described by Maggie Pollitt, among whom she includes her husband, Brick, in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955). "What you need is someone to take hold of you--gently, with love, and hand your life back to you, like something gold you let go of" (Cat 1005). Maggie's insistence upon gentleness implicitly calls into question August's treatment of Kip in Something Cloudy, which makes for the play's pivotal thematic action. But her exertions on behalf of the disappointed athlete who is incapable of surviving in the world on his own is probably much like how Williams, at a distance of forty years, thought of his own relationship with Kip Kiernan, who was extraordinarily desirable physically but confused sexually; whose physical mobility was compromised by a brain tumor (much as Brick is reduced by a drunken accident to hobbling about on crutches); and who rejected Williams's companionship in order to pursue a heterosexual lifestyle, only to die four years later at a tragically early age.
Whatever the biographical basis for setting the play in Provincetown, the site endows Something Cloudy with an existentialist dimension. As novelist Michael Cunningham writes, Provincetown "is the land's end; it is not en route to anywhere else. [...] Provincetown has no bedrock, no firm purchase of any kind. It is a city of sand" (1415). Provincetown's location at the tail end of Cape Cod, where the land tapers narrowly into the sea, is an apt emblem of how Time and Nature inevitably erase all trace of human endeavor. Williams's stage directions call for a dilapidated shack, set among the sand dunes, that faces the raised floor of a neighboring bungalow that has otherwise been leveled, presaging what will eventually happen to August's own cabin. Although August often goes into town at night in search of companionship, his only formal contact with the outside world while living on the beach comes by way of a helicopter that surrealistically hovers overhead to drop a mail bag containing the announcement of impending visitors just moments before they appear on stage. The Provincetown beach presents life stripped to its elemental components as August, Kip, and Kip's close companion, Clare, struggle to survive.
And just as Williams sets his play at the liminal point where the land vanishes into the sea, he situates his action at that liminal moment when "the autumn equinox" occurs (45)--that is, in mid-September when summer turns to fall, the days grow perceptibly shorter, and the coastal nights grow colder and more forlorn. Biographer Lyle Leverich records that in his conversations with Williams, the playwright once
said it was the saddest thing of all, this end of summer. Provincetown in the early fall takes on a different, more casual pace: The vast beaches and dunes are virtually deserted, the windows of many houses are boarded up, the remaining stock in the merchants' shops is sharply reduced in price, the marigolds and zinnias replace morning glories and snapdragons, and the pubs are populated by familiar faces. Suddenly, there is relief from the frenetic social scene, which has moved back to New York; the "belles," as Tom commented, after their two weeks' vacation had gone back to Macy's counters and all things gaily au courant. (Leverich 543)
That is, a small community of survivors continues to persevere after the fun-seeking summer visitors have returned to the ultimately inconsequential, mechanical, workaday world of the city in pursuit of the latest gossip and fashion. Perched precariously between land and sea, between summer and fall, and between security and despair, August and his new-found friends are concerned with matters of life and death rather than with "all things gaily au courant."
The bleakness of August, Kip and Clare's circumstances as summer fades and they contemplate how they will brave the advancing winter echoes the existential anxiety of Out Cry (1973), however the two plays differ in tone and mood. What is more, like the uncertain circumstances of Felice's and his sister Clare's theater company in Out Cry, the trio's penury in Something Cloudy suggests the condition of the artist in a commercially-oriented society. August is forced to squat in an abandoned shack on the beach. The windows lack glass, leaving his room open to the elements and forcing him to sleep under a tarpaulin when it rains. And because the shack lacks a door (much less one that can be locked), August must hide his typewriter and victrola--his only possessions of value, both of which are necessary to his writing--under the raised platform of the neighboring ruin whenever he goes into town in search of sexual companionship. Having exhausted a grant that he had received from the Rockefeller Foundation, he has been reduced to living on the fifty dollars a month that a New York theater producer is paying to option his play. But on the first day of Something Cloudy's action, although uncertain when (or even if) he will receive another option payment, he is forced to use his last five dollars to pay off the drunken, threatening merchant seaman with whom he had sex the night before.
Although August's eyesight is compromised by the cataract in his "walleye" (10) and he has reached the end of his resources financially, Kip and Clare find themselves in even worse straits than he. Fearing that wartime military service would interrupt his development as a dancer, Kip has fled his native Canada to avoid conscription, and thus lacks the wartime identity papers which would allow him to secure employment in the United States. His illegal status is compounded by a childlike simplicity of character that makes it almost impossible for him to survive on his own. (5) Before he hooked up with Clare, Kip was squatting "in a cold, abandoned loft" in New York City (66-67). Kip has survived this summer by occasionally modeling for local painters (whose interest in him, Clare notes, is more sexual than artistic; 3), and because the resourceful Clare somehow manages to keep them housed and fed. But his circumstances are now additionally compromised by evidence of a recurring brain tumor for which he underwent surgery earlier that year (75-76), and that the sixty-nine year old August, who in 1980 is looking back upon the events of 1940, knows will soon kill him. Kip forgets where he is going (2), stumbles as he dances (4, 16), and experiences "sudden lapses" that leave him unable to recall what he is doing (19,68). And Clare, whose own health is declining, recognizes that, no matter how much she loves Kip, she will soon be unable to care for him, making his situation all the more precarious.
Clare's very name associates her with the gentleness, compassion, and clarity of vision that Williams identified with his good eye (20). Suffering from a congenital form of diabetes, the twenty-one-year-old is perpetually short of breath (2) and is as badly in need of a "protector" (5) as Kip. But, Clare acknowledges, because she's "living on half a kidney" (54), "I'm expensive to keep. The insulin, the periodic hospital stays that get longer and--" (3). In the final moments of the play, she recognizes that "fluid's started gathering in me again. In spite of the--goddamn Diurnal tablets, it's started to accumulate in my ankles again, then it will be in my legs, then it will be--" (80). (In each of these two speeches, the trailing off of her sentence as she resists voicing her fear of death enacts linguistically the decline that she faces physically.) She has cared for Kip as long as she has been able, enjoying--like Maggie Pollitt--the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof by surviving in an untenable situation for as long as is humanly possible. And just as Maggie is frustrated not to be having sex with Brick, Clare stands by Kip even though he is unable to perform with her sexually (28). Like Felice and Clare (to whom Williams had previously given the latter name) in Out Cry, Kip and Clare leave tenuously suspended the sexual possibilities of their relationship--which, in both cases, borders on incest (albeit only figuratively in Something Cloudy)--in order to join forces against a hostile world.
Clare is--like August and Kip, even if not as obviously so--an artist who has been forced to consider compromising both her body and her art in order to survive. "I dance, too," she reminds August (14) as, enraptured, he watches Kip rehearse to Ravel's "Pavane pour une infante defunte" (11). The challenge faced by artists, she argues to August, is to refuse "to make concessions to bad taste and yet manage [...] survival without losing their minds. That's purity" (7). Clare herself has survived the past several years, first by working as a chorine in a nightclub called the "Firefly," and then by becoming the mistress of the club's gangster owner, Bugsy Brodsky. Thus, while she may not have lost her mind like Van Gogh and Nijinsky--the two artists whose examples she cites--she has made ample concessions "to bad taste" and questions whether she has retained her "purity." Bugsy has paid the medical bills related to her diabetes, not because he loves her, but as a way of keeping her dependent upon him. The failure of her kidneys may have turned her breath sour (83), but her continuing in an abusive relationship with Bugsy leaves an even worse taste in her mouth, which she tries to remedy by telling the gangster that she will not return to him at summer's end as planned (3,19).
Like a firefly's, Clare's remaining time to shine is brief. Psychologically, she survives by fostering a fantasy identity for herself: that she is a debutante from Rhode Island who has rejected her family's wealth (8) but from whom she receives an "allowance check" (30), and that Kip is her brother (13), care of whom she must relinquish to August as she returns to school as the academic year commences post-Labor Day in order to "finish my education" (27). Still, so strong is the bond between "brother" and "sister" that impractical Kip, distressed by the thought of being parted from Clare, vaguely wonders if "maybe one person could keep us both. We could be two kept for the price of one. We shouldn't be separated, not--not for a while ..." (3)--that is, not until her diabetes or his brain tumor proves fatal. Although August's own unreliable circumstances make him an unlikely protector for Kip, the three briefly form a "Holy Family" similar to the one that Williams describes in a 1937 letter about his idea for a play based on painter Vincent Van Gogh's relationship with a prostitute (Leverich 234). The trio of August, Clare and Kip joins the various "families" of socially marginalized co-dependents in Williams, such as the lovers and romantic artists who meet in an unidentified border city in Camino Real (1953); Celeste and Trinket in The Mutilated (1966); or the group that gathers at a coastal bar, every night in Small Craft Warnings (1972).
Unfortunately, there are no strangers on whose kindness the Holy Family of Something Cloudy may depend. As Clare astutely surmises, "we know that everyone isn't a Bugsy, but I suspect that everyone does want something in return for something, at least I think a huge plurality of people do" (4). The play becomes most brutal in those scenes that depict August, Kip or Clare being bullied by people who possess, but are reluctant to exercise, the power to relieve the trio's needs unless they receive something in return. Appropriately, August's, Clare's and Kip's individual stories all come to a climax on what proves to be "our last day here" (75)--that is, the day when Kip and Clare will vacate their shared room on the wharf and August will be summoned to New York to begin rehearsal of his play; the day of the autumnal equinox when balances, both meteorological and psychological, are to be reset. Clare's encounter with Bugsy is physically the most brutal. Angry that she refuses to return to their previous arrangement after a summer hiatus, he "knocks her down," then merely "shrugs and goes off" (54), knowing full well the difficulties that she will have fending for herself in the months to come as her diabetes worsens. "A kid in your condition don't call the shots," he warns her (52) shortly before handing her "the real report" from her last hospital stay (54), which reveals how far her condition has advanced. Like Big Daddy, whose doctors and family have conspired unsuccessfully to keep from him the seriousness of the cancer from which he will soon die, Clare is forced suddenly to confront the medical evidence of her impending demise.
Were your visitors as "bad as mine?" Clare asks August (55) after Bugsy leaves and August has finished negotiating with Maurice and Celeste Fiddler, the husband-and-wife producer team who, having optioned August's play, stop by his summer retreat to check on the progress of the revisions that they mandated in order to ensure the play's commercial viability. (6) Although the Fiddlers do not assault August physically, they prove far more repugnant morally than the gangster insofar as their assumption of social and artistic superiority reveals only how vulgar their tastes are and how insensitive their treatment of others is. After rationalizing to themselves their refusal to pay August the Dramatists Guild's standard option of one hundred dollars a month, the Fiddlers pressure him to accept only half that. ("The very rich have such a touching faith in the efficacy of small sums," Williams observes in an aside in Memoirs .) Worse, at the opening of the play the revisions that they have insisted he make have blocked August as a writer.
As the Fiddlers depart, visiting actress Caroline Wales hangs behind to praise August privately for his artistic vision. As proof of her appreciation for his work, she recites a speech from his play that she particularly admires: "There's something still wild in this country, this country used to be wild, the men and the women were wild and there was a wild sort of sweetness in their hearts for each other, but now it's sick with neon, it's broken out sick with neon like most other places" (50). (7) It is exactly this "wild sort of sweetness" that is lacking in the Fiddlers and in Bugsy, but that August finds in Kip and Clare. The visit of the producers, followed by that of the gangster, raises for August a question concerning the "exigency of survival" (8) inasmuch as, he sadly notes, "there are certain vital necessities such as money on which to survive" (6). One of the issues framed by the play is whether, in order to survive physically, an artist should make "concessions" (11) to ensure the commercial success of his work and, in the process, risk finding that the wildness in his heart that is a necessary part of his creativity has been replaced by neon--in August's case, the neon that lights up Broadway.
Like all of Williams's plays, Something Cloudy, Something Clear considers the human heart's ferocious resilience in the face of the many pressures placed upon it. Bugsy and the Fiddlers are equally brutal in their attempt to force others to live within the narrow confines of their own vision, for they demean people whose lives they do not understand and for whose wounds, both physical and emotional, they lack empathy. Bugsy crudely dismisses Caroline Wales (whose sensitivity the audience has just witnessed in her conspiratorial exchange with August after the Fiddlers leave the stage) as "a noisy tramp that goes with a bunch of faggots" (52) whom he "eighty-sixed" from his nightclub "because she gave it the wrong kind of reputation" (52-53). Yet the only specific details he supplies concern how Caroline's gay hangers-on disrupted the dispersal of gratuities to Bugsy's wait staff, from whose pool of tips the house presumably takes a cut.
Similarly, Maurice Fiddler feels morally superior to artists whose progress he summarizes in Hogarthian detail.
Playwrights are spawned in tenements and bordellos, then they graduate to the YMCA, then they graduate suddenly to Park Avenue apartments and grand hotels, and then they lose everything but their taste for booze and their outraged, outrageous egos, and finally, usually, they die in Bowery gutters from delirium tremens or an overdose of narcotics. (41)
Needless to say, Maurice betrays no awareness of the extent to which his refusal to pay artists like August the standard Dramatists Guild retainer fee may drive them to such ultimately self-destructive behaviors. But whereas Maurice displays some sympathy for the circumstances of an alcoholic genius like Eugene O'Neill (42), his vulgar, cynical wife, Celeste, is concerned only with what she dismisses as August's "pretension of incorruptible commitment to his art.' We've heard it all before. He's just another male whore" (39). Celeste attributes to August her own lack of integrity and her own mercenary motive, confirming that no matter how much Maurice may want to think of himself as August's fellow artist ("I'm an artist myself," he asserts; 47), the Fiddlers are as obsessed with money as their professional betes noires, the literary agents to whom they refer dismissively as "tenpercenters" (39) and whose loyalty to their client's talent the Fiddlers dismiss as self-interest.
Celeste's dismissal of August as "just another male whore" highlights the extent to which economic exploitation is driven by, or figures simultaneously as, sexual exploitation in the play. "Well I was a firefly [chorine] till--Bugsy retired me for his personal, private use," Clare acknowledges when summarizing her past history for August (54). The audience is permitted to see how effectively Clare is able to use her sexuality to protect both herself and her friends when the drunken seaman with whom August had sex the previous night returns to shake him down for money. She slips between him and Kip and August, whom the seaman is threatening, and--much as Cora rescues her homosexual friend and cruising partner from an attractive motorcyclist they picked up on the road who turns violent when left alone with the physically defenseless Billy in "Two on a Party" (300)--sexually distracts the bully from the object of his rage. As she steers the seaman towards a taxi, Kip sadly notes that "She'll take him to the wharf and have the thing, the animal thing, I've not given her this summer" (36). Like Cora, Clare does not hesitate to sacrifice herself sexually to save her friend(s), although Kip's reference to her recent involuntary abstinence suggests that she may not find the resulting encounter with the seaman entirely unwelcome.
August's relationship with Maurice Fiddler is similarly ambiguous. August suspects that Maurice's interest in him is partly sexual, and August is not above turning the older man's desire to his own advantage. As the Fiddlers approach the beach shack, they rehearse how they will secure from August the rewrites that they desire without paying him additional money. Celeste cannot contain her resentment of the young playwright's having sent her husband "that snapshot of himself in swim trunks. The implication being he thinks you're--"(39). Maurice's reply is provocatively ambiguous: "I'll thank him for it and say I've had it enlarged and hung up in my bedroom" (30). On the one hand, Maurice displays a businessman's shrewd refusal to let personal resentment stand in the way of his maintaining a profitable relationship with a rising playwright who promises to bring "fresh blood" to the theater (41). On the other, he may actually be acknowledging to his wife--albeit under the cloak of sardonicism--the extent of his infatuation with the sexually appealing younger man. Ironically, when August runs up onto the beach after a swim to find the Fiddlers waiting for him at his cabin, he is naked but for a towel, his near-nudity further antagonizing Celeste (41-42). The stage direction indicates that August does not retire to his shack to dress until several minutes into the visit (44). August's near-nakedness in the early part of the scene allows a director the opportunity to establish a vaguely sexual subtext to the business exchange between the two men that occurs after the women have returned to their taxicab, particularly as Maurice peels one bill after another off the wad that he carries in his pocket (48-49).
Thus, although August gives no indication that he will ever willingly satisfy Maurice's desire, he does not scruple to flaunt his sexual appeal in order to secure the best financial terms possible from the closeted producer. As Maurice comments to August at the conclusion of their transaction, "you're a good businessman for an artist" (49). And the text makes clear that August is a far better business person than Clare, whose "ex[ig]encies of desperation" (5) drove her to negotiate a far more sexually and morally compromising arrangement with Bugsy than August negotiates with Maurice.
August's success as a "businessman" is again on display during his "negotiation of terms" (73) with Kip. From the start, Clare worries about August's expectations should he agree to care for Kip when she is no longer able to do so, and warns August that Kip is "afraid that he can't satisfy your, your--[...] amatory--demands" (30). August's reply is revealing.
How does he know what they [Augusts demands] are? Hell, he knows I love him. When you love someone, you don't make "amatory demands." No. No. I'm being dishonest again. I would make amatory demands. I would want to sleep in the same bed with him and hold him all night in my arms while he slept. (30)
Initially, August is offended that Kip doubts his intentions. But after protesting his guilelessness and advancing an idealized view of love ("when you love someone, you don't make 'amatory demands' "), he corrects himself and frankly acknowledges that he does indeed desire physical contact with Kip, even though he continues to idealize the nature of that contact (he wants only to "hold him all night in my arms while he slept").
The reality of the first night that Kip spends in August's shack proves far different still. While August does not physically force Kip to have sex with him, he makes clear that he will only take Kip in if the latter acquiesces. The ultimatum is delivered when Kip, having taken a swim to postpone being alone with August, stands naked at the entrance to August's shack with his clothes rolled up under his arm, still hesitating to join August inside.
AUGUST: Why don't you come in for the clean towel, or--
KIP: Or what?
AUGUST: Go away and look for Clare again, Kip. (68)
The play does not specify what occurs after Kip finally enters the dilapidated bungalow, but as Clare angrily notes the following day, Kip now has a "bruised" look in his eyes (72). The audience can only assume that, ignoring the arrangement that Clare thought she had reached with him, August "violated" Kip's body in order "to satisfy" his own physical needs (15). Afterwards, in one of the play's most poignant ellipses, Kip can only tell Clare that "He used me like a--" (74). The missing term is supplied later when Clare warns August that "I'll not have you use him like a whore" (76).
Significantly, August's initial "negotiation of terms" (32) with Kip is immediately followed, first, by the seaman's attempt to shake August down for money, then by the Fiddlers' negotiation with August, and, finally, by Bugsy's abuse of Clare, putting August's use of Kip sexually on a par with the self-interest of the others that borders on emotional and/or physical brutality. August himself will connect the actions when, justifying to Clare the "bruised look" that she has found in Kip's eyes, he explains that he and Kip "had a long discussion of terms. It was a--negotiating table out here, the same as it was between me and the Fiddlers and between you and Bugsy Brodsky" (72). Both Kip and Clare put August on a par with Bugsy, Kip telling his "protector" that "Clare and I are the ones that are in the vulnerable position. You and Bugsy have power, not us" (64). Later, as Clare comforts Kip following his apparent sodomization by August, he tries to shrug off the humiliation by saying, "I'm all right. I'm all right. I lived through it, like you did being a Firefly for Bugsy" (73).
August's moral ambivalence is at the heart of the play and adds a further dimension to his afore-mentioned ocular condition. His clear eye represents the gentle side of his nature that is in danger of being exploited financially by the Fiddlers or assaulted physically by either the homophobic Bugsy or the drunken seaman; it is a window on the part of August that would be content simply to hold Kip as he sleeps. His cloudy eye, conversely, signals the fierceness within that searches for sexual satisfaction in a censorious world that disparages his sexuality; it insists that he and Kip do "the animal thing" that Kip has been unwilling to do with Clare. Earlier in the play, Kip had appealed to August's "better nature," which he believes he can see "in the eye that's clear" (33)--that is, the eye that betokens compassion and gentleness. But instead of holding Kip in his arms protectively as he suggested to Clare was all that he wanted to do, August insisted upon using him--presumably much as the night before the merchant seaman had tried "to make me [August] do things I don't care to do" (34). As Clare realizes when joining the older August in looking back at the scene as it played out forty years earlier, August's nature is such that "the cloudy eye demands something, even now" (76)--that is, even after seeing the evidence in Kip's eyes of how upset he was to be used sexually by August. But Clare's "even now" possibly additionally signifies that, forty years later, long after August should have reached a state of Miltonic "calm of mind, all passion spent" (Milton 1758), he continues to be driven by a sexual appetite that shows no pity when the moment comes to "negotiate] ... terms" (32) with the object of his desire.
Initially, when hoping that August might be satisfied by "sympathetic companionship, home cooking, attentions that are needed by a lonely, single person" (4), Kip resembles no other Williams character as much as he does Blanche DuBois, who expects that her hoped-for deliverer, Shep Huntleigh, will be sensitive to the extent to which "a cultivated woman, a woman of intelligence and breeding, can enrich a man's life" through her conversation and manners (Streetcar 551). Like moths that are destroyed by the candle flame to whose light they hope to escape from the darkness that threatens to overwhelm them (compare Streetcar 527 with Something Cloudy 12), both Blanche and Kip are disappointed when they depend upon not-very-kind near-strangers for their survival. In making his "amatory demands" of Kip--who explained earlier that he does not feel he has a choice in such matters but is someone on whom "things are imposed" (61), much as Blanche understands that "you've got to have your existence admitted by someone, if you're going to have someone's protection" (Streetcar 515)--August comes perilously close with Kip to recreating Stanley's "date" with Blanche (Streetcar 555).
It is these events, and this part of his nature, that the sixty-nine year old August reconsiders as he looks back upon the behavior of his twenty-nine year old self. Neither Clare nor Kip will survive long after the play's events, whereas in 1980 the sixty-nine year old August has outlived both of them, as well as several other important figures from other periods in his life (Hazel Kramer, Frank Merlo, Tallulah Bankhead) who materialize at thematically significant moments during his stream-of-consciousness-like review of the events of that life-altering summer. Thus, August looks back upon the events of 1939 as the summer's sole survivor. He managed to rewrite his play "to get it on Broadway with a Hollywood star" as the Fiddlers insisted, but "without compromising the inner truth of it" (61); that is, he proved to be one of those rare artists who "refused to make concessions to bad taste and yet managed survival without losing their minds" (7). He drove as hard a bargain with Kip sexually as he did financially with Maurice. He even had his way finally with the merchant seaman who offered to assume the passive role when he returned for a second sexual encounter (56) after having exhausted on drink the money that he'd extorted from August earlier. Forty years later, however, the mature August recognizes how much of his survival depended upon his "use" (15) of Kip--that is, how great a sacrifice his cloudy eye demanded of Kip's gentle soul.
Revolted by the sourness of Clare's breath as her kidneys ceased functioning, Bugsy "quit kissing, just--fucked ... or made me--" perform fellatio on him (83), a stoical Clare tells August. Like Bugsy, August evinces no compunction about ignoring a partner's feelings "when I want something very badly" (29); his heritage, he informs Clare at their first meeting, is "one-quarter Hun" (20). Early in the play, as August fusses over the victrola that he purchased with his grant money, he ignores Clare's question whether he is "as careful of beautiful people as you are of beautiful things" (19). The events of the play suggest that he is not. Responding to Clare's initial appeal to him for "sympathy" for the embattled Kip, the sixty-nine year old August even acknowledges in an aside that "she would discover later that there was much to forgive" him for (20). Little wonder that in one of the drafts of the play consulted by William Prosser, August refers to himself as "a morbid and decadent son of a bitch" (Prosser 247).
"maybe now the parade"
Still, despite the damming parallels between August and both Bugsy and Stanley Kowalski, Something Cloudy, Something Clear does not hold August to the same level of culpability as the play holds the other two men. Offended to be "put in the same category with Bugsy," August asks Kip point blank whether Clare thinks "I'm like Bugsy," only to be reassured that "She wouldn't have dismissed me to your care if she did" (64). That is, whatever cruelties the cloudy eye performs in exacting what it desires from another person, a portion of August's vision of the world is still controlled by the clear eye in which both Kip and Clare can see "something nice" (5). His sexual selfishness is balanced by his genuine feeling for Kip, even if August is able to ask implicitly to be forgiven his "use" of the young man only forty years after the conclusion of their brief affair.
Two important aspects of August's character render highly ambivalent his sexual selfishness. First, whereas Bugsy seems to have no concern for the integrity of his own relationships with others, the honesty with which the mature August recollects the events forty years earlier is consistent with the honesty with which he conducted himself at the time. Like Cornelius Coffin Williams, August brings "total honesty and total truth" to his dealings with others throughout the play: although August clearly "uses" Kip in a Hun-like manner, he is honest about his desires even as he struggles to understand what they are. And, second, whereas Bugsy is content to profit financially from the short-lived beauty of the women who dance as "Fireflies" in his nightclub, the sensitivity with which August engages with evanescence clearly makes him heroic in Williams's eyes. Aware of the existential darkness that encroaches upon his world, the twenty-nine year old August delights in the fragile beauty of fireflies like Kip and Clare, just as the sixty-nine year old man struggles to keep their beauty alive in his mind and work: "while this memory lives, the lovely ones remain here, undisfigured, uncorrupted by the years that have removed me from their summer" (85). August's ferocious will to create (he protests, much as Williams himself repeatedly did, that he will "go on working ... [t] ill I die of exhaustion," 14) allows him not only to survive decades beyond Kip and Clare, but to keep them alive in his memory--much as, long after the photograph of the actual Kip Kiernan disappeared from his wallet (Memoirs xx), Williams revived his memory of the beautiful, emotionally wounded dancer in Something Cloudy, Something Clear.
August's honesty is indicated by the fact that he is the only character on stage who is not performing a role in an attempt to manipulate others. (8) For example, when Clare and Kip seek him out at the opening of Act I, he overhears their colluding as to how they can secure August's financial protection without Kip's having to sacrifice himself sexually (4), and August sees through Clare's pretext of engaging him in conversation when she asks permission for Kip to use the platform next door as a dance rehearsal space (9). That is, August understands full well how Kip and Clare are trying to set him up as Kip's "protector." Ironically, throughout the play August can see through Clares subterfuges fairly easily, for she is unable to sustain the self-serving fictions that she advances. (9) Whatever street smarts she's acquired since leaving home, the twenty-one year old girl cannot escape August's astute power of observation.
Like Clare and Skip, the Fiddlers arrive on stage planning how they will manipulate August, although this time the would-be manipulators' collusion takes place out of August's hearing. Maurice recounts with self-satisfied aplomb the manner in which earlier he got the better of August's agent as she attempted to negotiate with him on her client's behalf.
She wanted me to see a film with Miriam Hopkins. I said, "Mrs., uh, Pardon." I called her Mrs. Pardon since I want to make it quite plain that her name's of no importance. "Mrs., uh, Pardon," I said, "Being a man of the theater, I don't go to the movies." [Celeste laughs with a vicious inflection.] And without batting an eye, she came back with this: "Mr.--uh--Fiddler, don't you want to know how the other half lives?" Then I topped her with, "I think you mean the other ninety-nine percent." (39)
By pretending to forget the agent's name, Maurice hopes to throw her off balance and thus gain the upper hand in their "negotiation of terms." But his game also reveals the disdain that he feels for "the other ninety-nine percent" of the world whose primary mode of entertainment (as for Tom Wingfield) is motion pictures; such people do not exist for him.
Similarly, when Caroline sees August making his way from the water up to where she waits for him at his shack with the Fiddlers, she initially wonders if they shouldn't "pretend we don't see him" (41), thereby repeating Maurice's erasure of both August's agent and the majority of the human race who enjoy going to the movies. Initially, Caroline seems to be as manipulative as the Fiddlers. "You talk to him about the changes, that's really not my department," she strategizes; "I'm an actress. I'll look at him in speechless adoration. Struck dumb by his genius! He'll expect that, won't he?" (42). Although Caroline later confides to August that she dislikes the Fiddlers, suggesting that in her earlier speech she may have been playing to their condescending bias rather than voicing her own, her proposed subterfuge indicates that she is willing to play whatever part will help her obtain what she wants.
The Fiddlers are themselves so hypocritical that they assume that August's integrity is a pose that he has adopted in order to win their support. Celeste dismisses the penury of August's beach-front existence as a facade designed "to impress us with his pure child of nature spirit" (40), but, she protests, "this primitive life is an affectation that doesn't impress me" (47). For Celeste, August's poverty is merely a "pretension of incorruptible commitment to his 'art'" (39). August astutely recognizes the extent to which the Fiddlers are "performing" their own inflated sense of self-importance for his benefit and holds firm in his demand for the standard Dramatists Guild option fee. Significantly, after Caroline comes to appreciate August's integrity, she confides in him that she has been playing her own "little game" with the Fiddlers (50), pretending still to be undecided about whether she will do August's play in the upcoming season when in reality she is eager to do so. (10) An accomplished actress offstage as well as on, Caroline dramatizes the extent to which social existence is a theatrical performance.
Ironically, despite Kip's seeming ingenuousness, his behavior proves in many ways to be the least authentic in the play. August is initially nothing more to Kip than the best solution currently available to the problem of how the unemployable draft dodger will get through the oncoming winter. When first approaching the shack in which August is squatting, he refuses to be put off by its squalor. "I don't think he's as poverty stricken as the shack suggests," Kip confides to Clare. "Last night he showed us a clipping from The Times about a play of his being sold for a Broadway production" (4). Clare likewise puts her hope for Kip's survival in August's anticipated success: "I think your play will be a success, a hit as they call it. You'll have plenty of money coming in then, won't you? You can buy him [Kip] dancing lessons; you can pay somebody to fake a better draff card for him. Can't you?" (29). But when Kip learns that the Fiddlers are paying August only "fifty a month, not the legally binding hundred," he anxiously questions the implications for his own situation: "Two people? New York? Fifty dollars?" (37). August's subsequent exploitation of Kip sexually seems partially justified by Kip's attempt to sponge off August financially.
What is more, the play suggests that, like August (who sent a photo of himself nearly naked to Maurice Fiddler), Kip is not above using his sexual charisma to obtain what he wants, but that Kip does so in a teasing manner that is unfair to the other person. Late in the play, as he "negotiates] for an advantage" (65) with August, Kip volunteers how, as he was growing up in Toronto, he escaped the unwanted sexual attentions of the clients he massaged in the bathhouse owned by his father, an establishment notorious for its sexual seaminess: "I laughed and said I was busy" (65). But Kip tips his hand when, attempting to convince August of his usefulness, he suggests that he can relieve August's insomnia: "I'm a really good licensed masseur. I know how to relax you so you go right to sleep" (65). Suspecting that in the bathhouse Kip had grown adept at profiting from the desires of other men without satisfying them, August offers a sexually provocative counter-proposal: "No, no, baby, I don't want to receive an anesthetic massage. I'd much rather prefer to give a massage. Of course I'm not a licensed masseur and, frankly, wouldn't be trying to or apt to induce immediate sleep" (65). Clearly, Kip has met his match: he will not be allowed to evade sexual service to August as easily as he has evaded military service in Canada. Ironically, early in the play Clare had volunteered to August that "Kip's very good at relaxing massages" that help her to sleep (20). She does not understand that this supposedly friendly service is actually Kip's way of avoiding having sex with her.
Little wonder, then, that August questions Kip's honesty. The story that Kip recounts about his barely surviving the previous winter in Manhattan seems to August so melodramatic that it might be "a tall tale" (67). And as the growing tumor presses upon Kip's brain, causing him to stumble or lose his memory, the sixty-nine year old August, looking back upon this critical stage of Kip's decline, admits that "I still thought it was possible, then, that he was giving a performance" (68). That is, if Kip used his sexuality to arouse men at the bathhouse, yet put them off with "an anesthetic massage," mightn't he be using the appearance of physical frailty to arouse August's sympathy while holding him at a distance sexually? Kip's tantalizing beauty and seeming vulnerability raise for August the larger question of a desirable person's authenticity.
AUGUST: Clare, don't you think Kip puts on an act sometimes?
CLARE: Anyone does, when forced to--if he can. (72)
It is impossible to know with any certainty when a beloved is genuinely vulnerable and when he or she is "performing" weakness in the hope of gaining an advantage. As August recognizes, "you have to know a person intimately, sometimes for a very long time, to know about his mind, sometimes even slightly" (15). It is only as he looks back upon the events forty years earlier that the sixty-nine year old August understands the extent to which Kip's behavior was truthful.
Thus, contrary to everyone else in the play, August is honest--although this too will begin to change during the pivotal summer of 1940. Questioned by Clare why he does not look anyone in the eye when he speaks with them, August acknowledges that "I'm getting a little walleyed and--a little dishonest, I guess" (10). That is, the eye clouded with a cataract makes it difficult for him to look at a person directly, but, also, the side of his nature "that was obsessively homosexual, compulsively interested in sexuality," was beginning to assert itself during his stay in Provincetown. The only relations that August has had previously this summer have been with barroom pick-ups like the seaman who treat sex as a financial transaction; August must guard his typewriter and victrola from "visitors" who are "potentially" thieves (13). August remains somewhat self-consciousness about the nature of the desires on which he is just beginning to act. Significantly, the only time in the play that he equivocates is when Caroline asks him point blank whether his occasional pick-ups are male or female (45-46), as though August is embarrassed to acknowledge his homosexuality to a new acquaintance.
Like the beach that disintegrates into the ocean, and the summer that is turning to fall, August is in a state of transition: as the cataract spreads over his one eye, he is just beginning to act upon the homosexual desires that apparently he has ignored or resisted until now. But, as is invariably the case in Williams, August articulates those desires with a lyric delicacy that makes poetry of the sordid. August movingly describes to Clare the difficulty of living in a world of perpetually frustrated sexual anticipation.
All my life, at least since I started to shave, I've been like a kid on a grandstand, flag-draped, you know, waiting for a circus parade to come by. I hear the calliope in the distance. It gets louder slowly, that light, haunting music. But there's another sound, the sound of a thunderstorm approaching much more quickly. There's a sudden torrent of rain, a deluge--disperses all, all are dispersed except me. I stay on the deserted grandstand among drenched, motionless flags--always the obstinate waiter. (24)
Finally, "a sort of faceless policeman in a black raincoat," whom he associates with "a likeness to not yet being completely alive," taps him on the shoulder to explain that the parade's "been called off till later"--although, August sighs, "later still hasn't come" (24, emphasis added). Unlike Kip who leads men on but is reluctant to satisfy them, or Maurice and the seaman who disguise the nature of their homosexual desire as financial powerplays, August possesses the courage to pursue sexual satisfaction outright. (11) The summer of 1940 remains vivid in the mind of the sixty-nine year old playwright because it marked his determination to be "completely alive" by allowing his dormant sexual urges to awaken fully.
Paradoxically, it is the dying Kip who allows August to feel most completely alive sexually. As "beautiful as it is out here [in the dunes], it's also very lonely ... at night," August confesses to Clare as he first covertly acknowledges to her his desire for Kip (11). "Don't be too lonely tonight, spend it with somebody lovely," Caroline Wales later counsels August as she takes leave of him (51). Caroline's lack of judgment as to the gender of that lovely "somebody" emboldens August to consider his chances with Kip, who had "seemed oblivious to my attention" when they first met the night before in a bar in town (11). After their initial discussion of Kip's moving in with August, Kip leaves to take a solitary walk along the beach. The sixty-nine year old August, looking back upon the scene, ponders what Kip might have needed "to walk and think about."
I think [that now] I know about what. The terms. The negotiation of terms. [...] I'll give you this for that. A bargaining table. I wasn't prepared for it, then, didn't know how to shove my final chip on a single red or black square as the wheel began to spin.--The chances so wildly--unequal. One chance for you out of so many against. But in my blood was always, and, yes, still is--a willingness--I don't know how or why--to confront the almost-impossible-to-meet--challenge--A chance? My last?--I'll take it. (32)
By emphasizing the business-like nature of his "negotiation of terms" with Kip in which each seeks an advantage over the other, August may appear to be as cold-hearted as Bugsy and the Fiddlers.
But August's use of the roulette table metaphor indicates his awareness that, however "unequal" his chances are of scoring with someone as beautiful as Kip, this is his chance finally to feel "completely alive." His willingness to take that chance is all the more moving for the horror that he has of allowing himself to anticipate satisfaction while expecting to remain the ever-disappointed "waiter." In risking rejection by Kip, August dares to hope for a life more satisfying than a series of drunken one-night stands with partners like the merchant seaman. His gamble pays off handsomely.
Recalling Kip's acquiescence, August exclaims that "sound of parade came with him, unearthly calliope and heart beat fast" (66). As he jubilantly tells Clare the morning after he has had sex with Kip, for the first time in his life "the parade went by, it marched right by me, right by where I was waiting" (71).
Augusts anxious anticipation of "maybe now the parade" recalls the condition of a number of Tennessee Williams protagonists who are anxiously poised for fulfillment but invariably disappointed. For Williams's dramatic world is one of constant expectation and limited satisfaction. Most famously, Amanda Wingfield longs to secure a gentleman caller for her shy, sickly daughter, Laura. Brick awaits the "click" that will turn off the anxious thoughts in his head, and Blanche the marriage proposal from Mitch and, later, the telegram from Shep Huntleigh that will relieve her need. Alma Winemiller confesses that she thinks of the pharmacy's prescription number for the tranquilizer on which she has come to rely as "the telephone number of God" from whom she seeks relief from her anxiety (Summer 642). Chance Wayne hopes that his life will be redeemed by reunion with Heavenly. To some extent, all are iguanas gnawing at the rope that secures them to the porch, anxiously anticipating deliverance.
To borrow the language of Something Cloudy, Williams's protagonists await a parade that is almost always rained out at the last minute. For example, Amanda invests the Wingfield household's meager resources in engaging Jim O'Connor as a suitor for Laura, only to learn at the end of the evening that he is already engaged to be married. And as the curtain falls on the final act of The Night of the Iguana, Hannah Jelkes panics to discover that her hope for much needed rest from the struggle to survive will now be frustrated by the death of her beloved grandfather (427). Yet unlike Williams's other protagonists, August escapes ignominious disappointment. The sixty-nine year old playwright never reveals to his audience whether he brought Kip to New York for the winter, or what happened to the play in which Caroline Wales agreed to star. Rather, in a move that is unusual for a Williams play, Something Cloudy, Something Clear concludes on a note of quiet triumph as the sixty-nine year old August holds suspended in his memory that magical night when he was still flushed with the pleasure that he had taken with Kip; when Kip and Clare, recognizing that August is "just about as desperate as we are" (74), forgave him the Hun-like behavior betokened by his cloudy eye and were won over by the gentleness that they found in the clear eye; and when the fireflies shone brightly and a star shot across the sky. August's sexual selfishness has been transformed into something heroic because, having recognized that beauty is fleeting, he dared to seize it while he could and held it even if just for a few hours before it vanished. (12) He braved the storm until the parade arrived, even if forty years later he is gratified only by the memory of a parade that passed by long ago.
"this awful searching-business of our lives"
The tension in August's nature between sympathy for others and selfishness--between compassion for one's economically disenfranchised and emotionally dejected companion(s) and the compulsive need for personal gratification--extends beyond Something Cloudy, Something Clear into the better part of Williams's canon. On the one hand, as Williams acknowledged in a 1961 interview, as a playwright he is himself most interested in "people that have problems, people that have to fight for their reason, people for whom the impact of life and experience from day to day, night to night, is difficult, people who come close to cracking" (Terkel 82). These are the nonconformist romantics who, like Blanche DuBois and Hannah Jelkes, possess "the spirit of anarchy" and refuse to "let the world drag [... them] down to its level" (Hewes 32). The greatest sin that such individuals can imagine is deliberate unkindness to another person (compare Streetcar 552 and Night 418).
But, on the other hand, Williams was himself enough of a survivor to recognize, as Billy and Cora learn in "Two on a Party," that "sex has to be slightly selfish to have real excitement" ("Two" 290). When the two friends have sex together for the first and only time,
it was not very satisfactory, perhaps because they were each too anxious to please the other, each too afraid the other would be disappointed. [...] Start worrying about the other party's reactions and the big charge just isn't there, and you've got to do it a number of times together before it becomes natural enough to be a completely satisfactory thing. The first time between strangers can be like a blaze of light, but when it happens between people who know each other well and have an established affection, it's likely to be self-conscious and even a little embarrassing, most of all afterwards. ("Two" 290-91)
If one partner is "too anxious to please the other, each too afraid that the other would be disappointed," he or she only ensures that both people are disappointed. For Williams, reluctance to engage in sex in a "slightly selfish" manner is tantamount to giving up waiting for the "real excitement" of the parade and condemning oneself to "not yet being completely alive." In short, one must look at the world with one eye cloudy and one eye clear if one is going to avoid "cracking" under the pressure of waiting for the parade to come by--a paradoxical truth to which Williams returns again and again in his canon.
Most basically, Williams deals with the issue of sexual selfishness as an outrageous comedy of manners in stories like "Miss Coynte of Greene" and "The Killer Chicken and the Closet Queen." Valerie Coynte is one in a series of Williams's women who dare to seek sexual comfort from men who are not their husbands: Cassandra Whiteside in Battle of Angels (like Carol Cutrere in Orpheus Descending) who propositions Val to "stud" for her; Maxine Faulk, the "affable and rapaciously lusty" middle-aged hotel owner in The Night of the Iguana (329) who keeps two young male employees at the Costa Verde Hotel for sexual companionship, and who seeks to make the spook-haunted Shannon her consort; the "nice monster," Alexandra del Lago, in Sweet Bird of Youth (167), who has an "unsatisfied tiger" raging within her (171), and who employs bisexual hustler Chance Wayne as her chauffeur and sexual companion; and Sissy Goforth, the not-very-nice monster in The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, who is not above attempting to starve Chris Flanders into submission in order to secure "some male companionship" at her isolated Mediterranean villa (Milk Train 506). After a tedious, emotionally repressed life caring for an ungrateful, tyrannical grandmother, Valerie Coynte--"an erotic, not a frigid, spinster approaching thirty" (486)--opens an antique shop and hires a series of young black men to haul furniture for, and have sex with, her.
Readers unfamiliar with Williams may be offended both by Miss Coynte's apparent lack of a sexual ethic and by the story's stereotyping black men as sexually and morally compliant. But the story is a rich satire aimed at revealing the hypocrisy of such sophisticated social concerns. For, as the narrator comments, "it is easy to lead a double life in the Delta; in fact, it is almost impossible not to" (495). Williams inverts the gender norms of the South's traditional double standard that allows white men to take advantage of black women sexually without the men suffering any social recrimination. Instead, he offers a white woman as the imperturbable sexual aggressor who escapes any real social censure. Unlike the Texas woman who vengefully pursues Val across state borders after he rejects her sexual advances in Battle of Angels, Miss Coynte does not persecute a partner who grows tired of her; the first time that, after discovering religion, Sonny Bowles resists his employer's sexual overture, she simply sends him off on a paid vacation and during his absence replaces him with "his two younger brothers, a pair of twins named Mike and Moon" (497), thereby doubling the range of her sexual carnival. The characters in the story are largely two-dimensional, forestalling any real concern by the reader for their fates and, thus, freeing the reader to applaud the success of Miss Coynte's rebellion against a hypocritically puritanical social system that allows her to be dominated by her grossly selfish yet obnoxiously self-righteous grandmother. Rather than criticizing Miss Coynte for being selfish in her pursuit of sexual satisfaction, Williams--with tongue in cheek--celebrates her behavior as one possible way of bridging the racial divide in the South. In a similar manner, repressed thirty-six year old Wall Street lawyer Stephen Ashe is liberated by a gloriously amoral sixteen year old male hustler from Arkansas in "The Killer Chicken and the Closet Queen."
Williams's sympathy for sexual and emotional need is perhaps most evident in "The Mysteries of the Joy Rio," a story he later reworked as "Hard Candy." In the first version-much as socially vulnerable Kip seeks protection from August--young Pablo Gonzalez is taken in by "fat and strange" Mr. Kroger (99), a watch and clock repairman who appreciates Pablo's "lustrous dark grace" (99). But, unlike Kip, Pablo proves to be one of "the very-rare-indeed-kind that gives love back as generously as he takes it" (100). Years after Mr. Kroger's death, and having drifted "enviably apart from the regularities that rule most other lives" (100), Pablo Gonzalez spends his afternoons at the dilapidated Joy Rio movie theater, where he furtively enjoys sex with other men in the rest room. On the last day of his life, pursued by a vengeful usher, he suffers a heart attack while climbing the stairs to the upper balcony, a coronary event that Williams describes in the language of religious apotheosis. Years earlier Mr. Kroger had taught young Pablo "that the soul becomes intolerably burdened with lies that have to be told to the world in order to be permitted to live in the world, and that unless this burden is relieved by entire honesty with some one person, who is trusted and adored, the soul will finally collapse beneath the weight of falsity" (102). In his death, Mr. Gonzalez is reunited with his mentor/lover, the one person whom he trusted and adored, and with whom he could be entirely honest. Rather than being criticized for their seemingly tawdry sexual behavior, Kroger and Gonzalez are celebrated--like Cornelius Coffin Williams--for the "total honesty and total truth" in their dealings with each other.
Williams raises the moral ante in "Hard Candy" by making his protagonist, Mr. Krupper, a seventy-year old man who offers boys candy in exchange for sex in the same Joy Rio movie theater. The story's description of the man's "mysterious attitude of expectancy" (339) anticipates August's excited anticipation of the parade's arrival. Like August, Mr. Krupper escapes the threat of "not yet being completely alive" by ignoring the social strictures (represented in August's dream by the black-garbed policeman) that disperse the crowd before the parade passes by. The story dramatizes how pursuit of the lyric quarry, no matter how tawdry the circumstances of one's effort, allows the individual a fullness of experience beyond the reach of both Mr. Krupper's judgmental family and the potentially censorious reader.
The antithesis of Miss Coynte, Pablo Gonzalez and Mr. Krupper is Sebastian. Sebastian speaks of sexually desirable young men "as if they were--items on a menu--'That one's delicious-looking, that one is appetizing,' or 'that one is not appetizing'" (118). Kenneth Holditch and Richard Freeman Leavitt describe Suddenly Last Summer as "a dark portrayal of the dehumanizing quality of the failure to love and to respect other human beings" (77). But such a categorical dismissal of Sebastian is inimical to the ambivalent sexual scheme that pervades Williams's canon. Clearly, there is a poetic justice to Sebastian's being physically devoured by presumably the same male youths whose favors he'd purchased earlier. But the play carefully presents appetite as part of the natural order of things, and the suppression of appetite as the way to certain madness. The birds on Easter Island devour the newly hatched turtles before they can return to the safety of the sea (131), and Mrs. Venable is particularly proud of the carnivorous plants in her exotic garden. Conversely, Catharine Holly, Sebastian's cousin and procureress, suffers a nervous breakdown after a disappointing, unlooked-for sexual encounter with a married man at a Mardi Gras ball.
In Suddenly Last Summer Williams takes an unflinching look at the nature of sexual appetite and, significantly, does not pass the kind of moral judgment on his characters that Holditch and Leavitt do. Rather, in an interview Williams comments that Sebastian "is completely enslaved by his baser nature and this is what destroys him. [...] And when he fails, when he is unable to write his poem that summer, then he is completely lost. He was a little more decadent" than Blanche DuBois and Lawrence Shannon (Fayard 210). It is Sebastian's complete enslavement "by his baser nature" that Williams emphasizes, not his possession of the same "baser" side of human nature possessed by every other member of the human race who is honest about his/her sexual desires. Significantly, Williams thought Sebastian only "a little more decadent" than Blanche, to whom servicemen from the local military base would call at night to come out from Belle Reve to have sex with them, the men discovered at daybreak exhausted on the lawn, spent from the dark Dionysian rites to which she introduced them. Blanche later took up residence in a seedy hotel that she herself names "The Tarantula Arms" (Streetcar 545), where she lived as a sexual spider luring men into her web. Blanche's affair with a high school student led to her dismissal from teaching, and the audience uncomfortably watches her begin on stage the seduction of a teenaged paperboy. And Williams thought Sebastian only "a little-more decadent" than the Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon who, as a minister, had sex with female parishioner seeking his spiritual counsel and later, after being defrocked and reduced to working as a tour guide, with a sixteen year old "emotionally precocious... musical prodigy" (324) in his charge.
Williams's grouping Sebastian with two characters for whom audiences generally feel great sympathy preempts the pat condemnation of Sebastian as a sexual predator. Like the homoerotic icon for whom he is named (see Saslow), Sebastian is martyred, but not for attempting to satisfy his sexual appetite. For Blanche and Shannon are equally "guilty" in this regard, yet face no greater immediate consequence than being dismissed from a teaching appointment and fired by Blake Tours, respectively. Rather, to use the language of Something Cloudy, Something Clear, Sebastian is destroyed because he allowed both of his eyes to cloud over, thereby losing the balance that the clear eye (that is, the eye that allows him to write poetry) provides. (13) However rapacious she has become sexually, Blanche remains to some extent the warm-hearted, idealistic girl that Stella remembers from their youth. And, however badly Shannon is driven by his demons, he is still capable of feeling compassion for others; thus, he is surprisingly gentle with, and respectful of, Nonno, and he runs interference with Maxine for Hannah. Curiously, while Catharine reports that Sebastian proved a comfort to her after her break down, Williams does not bring Sebastian on stage during Suddenly Last Summer, thereby preventing the audience from sympathizing with him directly. Such a maneuver suggests that while Williams applauds Sebastian's pursuit of sexual satisfaction, he faults him, rather, for lacking any of the accompanying gentleness and compassion that would humanize his sexual need.
As a meditation upon the individual's need to strike a balance between sexual selfishness and feeling for others, Something Cloudy, Something Clear is the logical conclusion to the dramatic career that Williams launched to great acclaim with The Glass Menagerie. Most obviously, both August and Tom Wingfield are avatars of Williams himself, making Something Cloudy and The Glass Menagerie the only two full-length plays in which Williams presents on stage modified versions of his own life. Tom escaped the claustrophobic confines of his life in St. Louis where his spiritually deadening job in a factory inhibited his writing poetry, and where like Pablo Gonzalez and Mr. Krupper he searched for sexual adventure in movie houses (Paller 45). By financing his escape with the money that his mother has given him to pay the utility bill, Tom leaves Amanda and Laura quite literally in the dark at the end of the play. Amanda is a survivor and no doubt will somehow find a way to support herself and Laura after Tom's desertion. But Tom spends his adult life guiltily feeling that he is being "pursued" by the memory of his fragile, trusting sister, Laura (465). Like Blanche, who hears in her head the music from the Varsouviana that played when her young husband shot himself, Tom Wingfield is haunted by guilt over abandoning his sister, even though he needed to do so in order to escape a deadening existence and fulfill his desire to become a writer. Like August, Tom displays the paradoxically heroic boldness of the sensitive person to demand fulfillment, even if it is at the expense of others.
But, unlike Tom, August seems to have escaped feeling any guilt over the fate of Kip and Clare. For if The Glass Menagerie concludes on a note of haunting loss for a fragile world of glass that has been destroyed, Something Cloudy concludes on an exhilarating note as August reconciles with his "victims," Kip and Clare, who enjoy a final meal with him and watch a shooting star travel across the sky. The difference between the two endings, I suspect, is accounted for by the fact that something had changed in Williams: in the forty years that transpired between his completing each play, he learned to accept and, possibly even, to appreciate his own divided nature.
Conclusion: "More wanting and taking than giving"
"For every artist, experience is never complete until it has been reproduced in creative work," Williams wrote in a 1938 letter (qtd. in Leverich 268). As biographer Lyle Leverich has demonstrated (ch. 18), the summer of 1940 was the turning point in Williams's life. At age 29, Tennessee had finally begun having sex with men on a regular basis. But "the final emptiness of most one-night stands seemed only to raise the hope that there might be a companion to share his bed and, more importantly, his life" (359). He thought he had found such a companion in Kip Kiernan. Kip's desertion was so unsettling that Williams apparently brooded over the reason for the relationship's sudden collapse for four decades. Something Cloudy, Something Clear records what Williams terms "this awful searching-business of our lives" (qtd. in Leverich 266). The subject of the play is, finally, Williams's acceptance of his own divided nature.
Concerned about growing older, August recites to Clare a stanza from one of his poems.
God give me death before thirty, Before my clean heart has grown dirty, Soiled with the dust of much living, More wanting and taking than giving. 
The poem possesses an extraordinary poignancy inasmuch as August--like Williams himself in the summer of 1940--will soon turn thirty, and his innocent heart will indeed be sullied, for the very night after he recites this stanza to Clare he will "bruise" Kip in order to ensure that he himself enjoys "the parade." The clean heart does inevitably grow soiled with "the dust of much living" in Williams, for only those who refuse to partake of the sacrament of life are able to preserve their brittle, sexless purity. Still, soiled and badly bruised survivors like Tom Wingfield, Blanche DuBois, Alexandra del Lago, and T. Lawrence Shannon somehow find a way to carry on, even with the knowledge that they are "more wanting and taking than giving."
In "The More Loving One," poet W. H. Auden expresses his hope that, "If equal affection cannot be, / Let the more loving one be me" (7-8). In theory, Williams might well agree, for when trying to end his relationship with Pancho Gonzalez, Williams counseled his demanding and emotionally volatile partner that "in this world the key to happiness is through giving, more than getting" (Selected Letters II.130). Yet, as Michael Paller notes, Williams "struggled mightily" all his life "with the feeling that he succeeded at the expense of others--that he used other people and called that 'love " (34). Williams's earliest surviving life-writing reveals that in his twenties he brooded continuously over the consequences of his selfishness and inability to love another person. In August 1936, at age 25, Williams recorded in his Notebooks, "I wish I loved Somebody very dearly besides myself" (45), and repeated this plaint in similar language three months later: "what I need now is love--life is empty without it--I need a great love for someone beside myself--" (Notebooks 67). Three years later, in September 1939, Williams was still desperate for a relationship that would relieve his loneliness, but recognized that "I am still much, much too self-centered and thoughtless of others--though full of a general compassion and good will, of course--but not active enough--my love of others is always too passive, too intellectual" (Notebooks 159). "One very indecent thing about me is my indifference" to the needs of others, Williams scrupled in his Notebooks (63), a fact to which he sometimes felt obliged to alert acquaintances. "Now I have always told you, my dear, that I'm a selfish person," Williams warns Alice Drey Lippmann somewhat flippantly in a February 1940 letter (Selected Letters I. 231).
Throughout his life Williams speculated on the source of his inability to give love as much as he needed to receive it from others. In his autobiographical narrative, "The Man in the Overstaffed Chair," the narrator acknowledges that "Sometimes I wonder if I have forgiven my mother for teaching me to expect more love from the world, more softness in it, that I could ever offer?" (Collected Stories xv). Ultimately Williams decided that balancing his need for love against the "bleak detachment" from others that was necessary to his writing (Notebooks 557) was a matter of basic survival. In February 1942, he noted his need to:
Perform the paradox of being hard and yet soft. Survive without calcification of the tender membranes. Be a poet. Be alive. (Notebooks 281)
The language of "hard" and "soft" parallels Something Cloudy's "cloudy" and "clear." The feeling of being alive, of reveling in the excitement of the parade as it passes by, depends upon his ability to protect himself from the flux of existence without losing his ability to feel for others.
And in no part of his existence was Williams more in danger of "calcifying] ... the tender membranes" and losing all feeling than in his sexual life. In November 1942, after recording in his journal the details of two recent sexual encounters, Williams questioned the implications that such transactions had for his character, but concluded that "I think I will manage to come through with a measure of decency still" (Notebooks 331). It is as though his promiscuity was in danger of dehumanizing him, much as Quentin describes the unredeemed, "cloudy" side of homosexual life in Small Craft Warnings:
There's a coarseness, a deadening coarseness, in the experience of most homosexuals. The experiences are quick, and hard, and brutal, and the pattern of them is practically unchanging. Their act of love is like the jabbing of a hypodermic needle to which they're addicted but which is more and more empty of real interest and surprise. This lack of variation and surprise in their ... "love life" ... (He smiles harshly.) ... spreads into other areas of ... "sensibility?" (743)
Rather than providing the life-enhancing exhilaration of the advancing parade, such encounters are emotionally and spiritually deadening. (The antithesis of "most homosexuals" is Allan Grey, Blanche's young husband, who was so "soft"--his "tender membranes" so poorly protected--that he shoots himself after Blanche discovers and mocks his homosexuality.) In this context, Tom Wingfield is not simply a semi-autobiographical representation of Williams himself, but an early statement of Williams's ideal, for Tom is able paradoxically to be "hard" enough to abandon his mother and sister in order to ensure his own survival as a poet (and, if one accepts Michael Paller's reading of The Glass Menagerie, as a gay man), yet "soft" enough to agonize over the fate of Laura. (14)
Apparently, it was after his failed affair with Kip Kiernan that Williams first became aware of the difficulty of balancing between the "hard" and the "soft," or "cloudy" and "clear," aspects of his own nature. Immediately after meeting Kip, Williams commented in his journal that "for the first time in my life, I feel I am near to the great real thing that can make my life complete" (Notebooks 201). That is, never before had Williams felt so fully alive both emotionally and sexually that he no longer feared that the approaching parade might be rained out. But, even though the evidence of Kip's unhappiness was available to him at the time, it would take him forty years to assess what his own happiness cost Kip. In a letter written to close friend and confidant Donald Windham at the height of the affair, Williams reports that Kip had gone down outside to sleep on the beach, because he
[d]oesn't get much [sleep] with me. But that's his own fault for being so incredibly beautiful. We wake up two or three times in the night and start all over again like a pair of goats. [...] I call him baby like you call Butch [Windham's lifelong partner] though when I lie on top of him I feel like I was polishing the statue of liberty or something. He is so enormous. (Qtd in Notebooks 200)
The passage suggests that Williams preferred to be the active partner in their lovemaking ("when I lie on top of him"), and explains why Kip felt that if he continued in the relationship with Williams he would "turn [...] homosexual" (Memoirs 56). At age 29 and with little previous satisfying sexual experience, Williams was eager to make up for lost time and was so overly stimulated by Kip's attractiveness that he initiated sexual relations with him several times a night. Not only was Kip driven by physical exhaustion to sleep on the beach away from Williams, but he was dismayed to be repeatedly cast as the passive partner in their relations. Williams's determination to take his own pleasure from Kip without reciprocating, and his obliviousness to the emotional consequences that this arrangement had for Kip, ensured the collapse of their relationship.
Williams's failed affair with Kip set the pattern of his later relationships. In Something Cloudy, Kip's going for a swim "to clear my head" (16) after stumbling while dancing allows for a segue in August's memory to Frank Merlos last days in a hospital where he died of lung cancer. It is not simply the fast physical decline of Kip and Frank that connects his two most important lovers in August's mind, but the way that he "used" them. In his Memoirs, Williams boasts of his relationship with Kip that "so incontinent was my desire for the boy that I would wake him repeatedly during the night for more love-making. You see, I had no sense in those days--and nights--of how passion can wear out even a passive partner" (55). He uses the same language to describe his ocean crossing to Italy with "sweetly permissive" Frankie (Memoirs 182). "My sexual feeling for the boy was inordinate. Every evening I would cross to his bunk in the stateroom. Aware of my sexual intemperance and what its consequences could be" (Memoirs 159), Williams nonetheless persisted in initiating sex with his sleeping partner. And, years later, even as their relationship deteriorated due to Williams's "sexually incontinent behavior" with others (such as "a handsome blond kid of about twenty-two with creamy skin and a very seductive backside which he was eager to offer" to Williams, Memoirs 183), Frankie "never denied himself to me" (Memoirs 184). On the heel of such assertions, few readers can resist smiling at Williams's naive outrage that, in the last stages of Merlos fatal illness, Frank turned the bolt of the bedroom door's lock every night as though Williams might "follow him in there and use his skeletal body again for sexual pleasure" (Memoirs 191). (15)
Something Cloudy gives witness to Williams's acceptance late in life that in seeking satisfaction or fulfillment, one risks alienating the person whom one most desires, but that one risks being reduced to "always the obstinate waiter" if one is not willing to take that risk. There is no point in regretting the exigencies of survival; it matters only that one has survived. When the "girl who was Hazel" appears to comfort August at the critical moment after Clare has challenged his sympathy for others, she confesses a secret of her own--namely that, even as in high school August dated her in order to disguise his attraction to other boys, she herself "loved girls" (21). August challenges her feeling guilty for this subterfuge. "You loved. You loved!" he tells her; "that's all that matters, Hazel. I know that now" (21). Like August, Williams understands late in life that it does not matter how imperfectly or self-interestedly he loved Kip Kiernan and Frank Merlo; what matters is that he did indeed love them. This is a selfish attitude in that one is not concerned with the other person, but with one's own feeling of being alive. But it is better to feel conflicted than not to feel at all. Spinning the roulette wheel is risky, but one must take the chance.
Michael Paller observes that "Something Cloudy, Something Clear is neither romantic nor sentimental. It portrays life as a continual jockeying for advantageous position. There is something predatory in all of the characters' negotiations [...], but Williams is finally able to understand and forgive the fact that negotiation for advantage is an unavoidable part of life if one is to live in the world" (231). On April 9,1939, Williams wrote in his journal that
My next play will be simple, direct and terrible--a picture of my own heart--there will be no artifice in it--I will speak the truth as I see it--distort as I see distortion--be wild as I am wild--tender as I am tender--mad as I am mad--passionate as I am passionate--It will be myself without concealment or evasion and with a fearless unashamed frontal assault upon life that will leave no room for trepidation [...]--it will have in it at least a passionate denial of sham and a cry for beauty. (Notebooks 147)
It is not clear which play Williams had in mind, but his description suits Something Cloudy, Something Clear perfectly. The play's power lies in Williams's brutal honesty about himself and his desires. However repellant his negotiation of terms with the sexually reluctant but financially desperate Kip may be, August conducts himself with the same "total honesty and total truth, as he saw it in his dealings with others," that Williams had come to admire in his own father. Forty years after their aborted affair he continued to "protect" Kip by reviving the long-dead dancer in a play that sympathizes with the young man's plight in a way that Williams was unable to do fully at the time and still have the courage to gamble on what might be his only chance to enjoy the parade.
Acknowledgment: An abbreviated version of this essay was delivered on September 20, 2011, as part of the centenary celebration at Williams's birthplace in Columbus, MS. Grateful acknowledgment is made of the hospitality provided by Mississippi University for Women and the Mississippi Arts Council, and of the comments offered by the Williams scholars assembled for the occasion.
(1.) "I think I regard hypocrisy and mendacity as almost the cardinal sins. It seems they are the ones to which I am most hostile. I think that deliberate, conscienceless mendacity, the acceptance of falsehood and hypocrisy, is the most dangerous of sins," Williams asserted in a 1957 interview; "the moral contribution of my plays is that they expose what I consider to be untrue" (Ross 40). In his autobiography, Williams calls attention to "the uncompromisingly honest nature" of his memoirs, "which may be their principal virtue" (Memoirs 99).
(2.) Both James Fisher and Bruce J. Mann summarize the autobiographical elements of Something Cloudy. Kolin proposes that the play be seen as a "postmodern memory play" that challenges the function of memory and how memory may be delivered in dramatic form.
(3.) Actually, for thematic reasons that will be analyzed below, Williams conflated the summer of 1940, when he met Kip and prepared Battle of Angels for production in Boston that December, with the summer of 1941, when the Theatre Guild was paying him one hundred dollars a month to revise the play, which had been poorly received in Boston, in advance of their bringing it to New York City. See Leverich 395-6, 401-2, and 411.
(4.) In a 1975 interview, Williams attributed his recent crisis with drugs and alcohol to what he termed "the contradiction between two sides of my nature; between gentleness and violence, between tenderness and harshness" (Schmidt-Muhlisch 297)--the same two sides of his nature that he associated with his ocular condition thirty-five years earlier. It is important to note that throughout his career Williams made use of similar language regarding human nature in general and regarding his own nature in particular. For example, in a 1960 interview with Edward R. Murrow, Williams proposed that we "not deny all the dark things of the human heart, but let us try to cast a clear light on them in our work" (Murrow 75), for although the human heart "is desperately wicked," it is also "desperately tender, dear, and hungry for tenderness" (Morrow 76). Artists, he argued, must show both the light and the shadow, and the shadow is the violence which we live threatened by. I mean were threatened with world extinction through violence. In our lives violence, not physical violence but emotional violence, is so much a part of us. I have seen so much depicted of peoples longing to meet each other tenderly with love, and violence is represented because it's the obstacle, its the other side of the coin, however you want to put it, but the dark side of the moon is in the sky and we want to show both sides of the moon you know. (Murrow 77)
Most likely the language of Something Cloudy, Something Clear pervades Williams's canon because the play is a reworking of an earlier work, begun in 1941, to which Williams apparently returned to work in 1962, called The Parade, or Approaching the End of Summer, which likewise dealt with the critical events of the summer of 1940 in Provincetown, thus indicating how long it took Williams to be able to address to his own satisfaction the contradictions in his nature that were brought into relief by his affair with Kip. While I have not been able to consult the manuscript of The Parade, I rely upon Leverich 364; Kaplan 29-30 and 87-88; and Prosser 234 for information about that text.
(5.) Although such language is not used in the play, Williams--in a letter to Donald Windham written at the height of his affair with Kip (Notebooks 200 n. 353)--describes Kip as having "a little boy's face" and moaning "like a little baby" during sex.
(6.) Founded in the 1920s "to develop an adventurous audience with a string of what we can call 'prestige successes'" (Mordden 80), the Theatre Guild initially promoted playwrights like George Bernard Shaw and August Strinberg in the United States while supporting the development of ground-breaking native talents like Elmer Rice and Eugene O'Neill. By the 1940s, however, its much ballyhooed disdain for commercial success had softened, and its management was imposing what Ethan Mordden terms "an embourgeoisement upon nonconformist theatre" by catering
to a public that expected to be reverent and even awed but protected from having to think, because to subscribe to the Guild was already an intellectual act, complete in itself. One didn't have to attend in any deep sense, simply to go, sit, and bring home the program. The Guild, say doubters, was [. .. no longer] revolutionary. It was fat and happy. (Mordden 80-81)
Williams initially encouraged his agent, Audrey Wood, to submit Battle of Angels to the Theatre Guild because he considered it a "good producer who is not afraid of strong stuff" yet which would realize the play's "Commercial!" potential (qtd. in Case 53). He grew increasingly frustrated with the Theatre Guild's revision demands and its determination that he tailor the script to make as strong a vehicle as possible for big name female star. Claudia Wilsch Case, who has analyzed "the specific influence of the Theatre Guild on Williams's process of revision" (Case 53), points out that whether he acknowledged it or not, Williams did implement producer Theresa Helburn's recommendation that he tighten the focus on Myra and reduce the importance of Vee in the second half of the play, a balance that he retained when he rewrote the play as Orpheus Descending (Case 57). Still, Williams saw the Theatre Guild's request for revisions as an unconscionable commercialization of his script (Case 58). For a description of what Williams took to be the exploitative practices of Langer and Helburn, see Selected Letters 1.254, 318, and 330-31.
(7.) Although Williams suggests that the speech is from Battle of Angels (1940), the play at which he was at work in summer 1940, it is actually from his reworking of that play seventeen years later, Orpheus Descending (1957), 86.
(8.) As a memory play in which both August and Clare are actors in the action in 1940 and spectators debating in 1980 how the scenes should be played (13), there is a metadramatic element to Something Cloudy, Something Clear. In the final scene Clare and Kip deliberately "play it like we were a couple of massa-type niggers, wait on him, service him like a pair of--" (80). But as they recognize, "The game didn't go. Mean games never go" (82).
(9.) For example, after describing her supposed alienation from her Newport, Rhode Island, family which purportedly was "shocked by my lack of the conventions they valued too much" (8), Clare lets slip that she grew up "sexually precocious" in Alabama, "doing it in the attic with my second cousin when I was twelve" , only to reassert the fiction that "my family in Newport expect me back now, right now, and they won't send me another allowance check after this last one I got last night, special, after writing collect" (30).
(10.) Caroline's game with Fiddlers is echoed by the exchange that August has at the opening of Part Two with the "Actress" in regard to the way she "pissed" on his play (57-9). At one point August addresses "Actress" as "Tallulah" (59), indicting that Williams is referring to Tallulah Bankheads controversial performance as Blanche DuBois in which, playing to her gay coterie in the audience, she camped so broadly that she destroyed the characters delicate balance between emotional vulnerability and survivors ferocity. Clearly, Williams was frustrated with the inauthenticity of her performance as she tried to please the audience. The issue is explored further in Something Cloudy when August and Kip debate the relative consequences of the lies that Clare told August in order to win him over versus Augusts willingness to rewrite "the last act of your play to get in on Broadway with a Hollywood star"--but not by "compromising the inner truth of it," August insists (61).
(11.) Although the seaman can't admit he's "queer" (36), he returns to August's shack at the end of Act One claiming to be so drunk that he cannot perform sexually and, thus, volunteering to be passive. Significantly, he does not ask for additional money. The play suggests that he needs to be drunk in order to act on his real desire.
(12.) Kips combination of extraordinary beauty and physical fragility makes it the more urgent that August have sex with him, for August knows that, like a firefly, Kip will not last long. August recognizes that Kip was "someone immeasurable--[...] Doomed!" (32). Like Brick Pollitt, Kip is one of "the perfect ones, the ones that appear to be completely, completely flawless, the--perfect--with eyes like startled flowers" (32). The story of Williams's relationship with Kip is told by Williams himself in his letters to Donald Windham as the affair unfolded, in his Notebooks (200-09, 615), and in his Memoirs (54-56 and 59-61); he also summarizes it in his interview with Dotson Rader (Rader 356-47). Donald Windham, who was one of Williams's closest friends at the time and who accompanied Williams to the hospital to visit Kip shortly before the latter died, offers an astute analysis of why Williams fled Provincetown after Kip returned to his girlfriend, setting the pattern for Williams's flight from subsequent relationships (Windham 179-80 and 221-23). Additional information about Kip's life and character is available in Leverich 361-68 and 537-38. Kaplan (3545) fashions into a convenient, focused narrative the information about Williams and Kip's relationship that is available elsewhere.
(13.) In this regard, Sebastian is the antithesis of Jonathan "Nonno" Coffin, the "ninety-seven years young" poet in The Night of the Iguana (349), who perseveres until he has completed his final poem and dictated it to his amanuensis-granddaughter.
(14.) Unlike John Clum, I do not think that Williams's work offers a "split presentation of his own homosexuality" (163), or that the double vision suggested by the title of Something Cloudy, Something Clear "defines the split Williams conceived between his homosexual activity and his 'human' side" (165). Clum concludes that Williams's discourse is, finally, homophobic. Rather, I admire Williams's struggle to be totally honest about himself--to dare admit what he desired, even if he recognized that his pleasure depended upon his hurting others. It is difficult to think of his actions--or the actions of Blanche DuBois and Lawrence Shannon, with which Williams compares Sebastian Venable's--as inhuman.
(15.) At the risk of engaging in amateur psychoanalysis, I think that Williams suffered a slightly-built man's fear of being overpowered by a larger, stronger male. In adulthood, Williams was "only five foot six" (Memoirs 35), and in interviews and in his Memoirs Williams seems to go out of his way to emphasize that he was always the "hard," active partner in his relations with other men, and never the "soft," receptive one, and resented a potential partner's assuming that he might be penetrated. In June 1939, for example, he records in his journal that he endured a "Rather horrible night with a picked up acquaintance Doug whose amorous advance made me sick at the stomach--" (Notebooks 152). And in interviews he referred to having been raped by a fisherman or sea on a boat or on the beach (although he altered the details in the retelling, raising questions whether the incident actually occurred).
Rather, Williams boasted of men acquiescing to his sexual importunities, and seemed to take particular pleasure dominating men physically larger than himself. For example, in an August 1941 letter to Paul Bigelow, he reports that "I went out cruising last night and brought home something with a marvelous body it was animated Greek marble and turned over even" (I. 333). (In the letter to Donald Windham quoted above, Williams likewise describes Kip's body as polished marble.) And, in an episode that anticipates the seaman's returning a second night and offering to play the passive role with August, there was a young male prostitute who initially would not "turn over," but who later "sheepishly" offered, "Mr. Williams, if you'd like to, you can bugger me tonight" (Memoirs 154). Like the small-framed syndicate man who dominates massive Mrs. Meighan in "Twenty-seven Wagons Full of Cotton," Williams needed to prove himself by overpowering a larger partner. Critics assume that Williams's nickname for Frank Merlo, "The Little Horse" (Memoirs 155), refers to the equine shape of Merlos face, but I suspect that it referred as well to Merlo's genital endowment and was Williams's way of boasting of his sexually dominating a partner by whom he himself feared being penetrated.
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UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL ARKANSAS
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2014|
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