Camino Real by Tennessee Williams: Analysis

Tennessee Williams is one of the most influential contemporary American dramatists. He is usually referred to be one of the playwrights who use a lot of images and poetic language in his plays[1]. He’s interested much in the symbolic representation of things in his plays. This is maybe one of the reasons that make him an unconventional playwright. Williams is known for his innovative and unusual manners and attitudes as regards play writing[2]. Williams’s realistic and expressionist approach to drama discloses reality in an unconventional way.
Expressionism and all other unconventional techniques in drama have only one valid aim, and that is a closer approach to truth. (...)The straight realistic play with its genuine frigidaire and authentic ice-cubes, its characters that speak exactly as its audience speaks, corresponds to the academic landscape and has the same virtue of a photographic likeness. Everyone should know nowadays the unimportance of the photographic in art: that truth, life, or reality is an organic thing which the poetic imagination can represent or suggest, in essence, only through transformation, through changing into other forms than those which were merely present in appearance[3].
Williams sought almost always those moments when the characters speak exactly as the audience. Other unconventional technique would be Williams’s fourth wall breaking. The famous director Elia Kazan said in a joint interview with Williams “…we’ve pulled the audience inside the fourth wall by having actors frequently speak directly to the spectator and by having some exits and entrances made through the aisles of the theatre.”[4] Elia Kazan made even more explicit when he said, talking about Camino Real, that “[…] Tennessee [is] speaking personally and lyrically to you (audience).[5]
To express his universal truths Williams created what he termed plastic theater, a distinctive new style of drama. He insisted that setting, properties, music, sound, and visual effects—all the elements of staging—must combine to reflect and enhance the action, theme, characters, and language.[6]
Williams is famous for his use of props elements for their significant impact on the audience. Music and lights are used to provide more insightful and dramatic expression to things in Tennessee’s plays.
Camino Real is an unconventional play that was set in unnamed area in Latin America. It was first produced in 1953. It remains one Williams’s works that manifest his poetic and grand creativity. As an impressionistic work, it discusses a wide range of universal themes like love, loss, bareness, old age and so on and so forth.
The worth of any literary artwork does not rely on its popularity as much as it relies on the quality and the development of its literary elements. Camino Real’s strength as an artwork may not be in the plot of the play because it almost is a plotless work. Camino Real is woven in a way that it treats different themes and topics. Characterization and style, however, are two developed and dynamic points in the play that build up its creativity.
Tennessee Williams characters’ appearances usually tell much of their personality. He uses costume design to emphasise the theme and the moral traits of his characters, and also to unveil symbolisms and imaginaries behind every character. Characters’ names are chosen not only to fit the themes of the play, but also to contribute in the significance of characters personalities as regards the play as a whole. Props and design contribute to the characterisation in a meaningful way. In the practical part, we shall see examples from the play.
The characters in Tennessee Williams's plays attempt to create an aura of illusions in order to either forget the unpleasant reality of human existence or to avoid certain experiences of the past. Sometimes they are also fed up with this material life and the worldly-wise people that inhabit it. Such illusions serve as an escape for them and also enable them to remain disguised in a make-believer world[7].
Kilroy and Gutman are two of the most significant characters in Camino Real. Kilroy is “the American” person and a former boxing champion. He has an abnormally big heart – as big as a baby’s head. For this physical anomaly, he leaves his wife fearing that intimacy would destroy him. For some mysterious reasons, Kilroy is entrapped in the Camino Real and is afraid of escaping alone. Later Kilroy decided to break out but he is caught and humiliated by Gutman who has forced him to wear a wig and a red clown nose and act as a pasty. Esmeralda seduces Kilroy and ultimately leaves his chest lacerated. Kilroy meets Don Quixote and becomes his friend who he will accompany to leave Camino Real.
Gutman is the owner of Siete Mares hotel. He is a tyrannical and authoritarian man. He appears well dressed and with bourgeois appearance. Most of the time, Gutman is shown as indifferent and unsympathetic towards the other characters in the plaza. He is given the authority to end and announce new ‘blocks’. Despite Kilroy’s resistance to obey Gutman’s orders he finally subdues to his will. Gutman forces him to wear patsy clothes. He refuses to submit, but Gutman's guards make him do and at the end Kilroy’s become a patsy.
Gutman: Here boy! Take these.
[Gutman displays and then tosses on the ground at Kilroy’s feet the pasty outfit- the red fright wig, the big crimson nose that lights up and has horn rimmed glasses attached, a pair of clown pant that have a huge footprint]
Kilroy: what is this outfit?
Gutman: The uniform of patsy.
Kilroy: I know what a Patsy is- he is clown…but I'm no patsy!
Gutman: pick it up.
Kilroy: Don't give me orders. Kilroy is a free agent-
Gutman [smoothly]: But a patsy isn't…you are now a patsy
(Williams, 1958, p. 159) [8].
Gutman: Hush! The patsy doesn’t talk. He lights his nose, that’s all!
Guard: Press the little button at the end of the cord.
Gutman: That’s right. Just press the little botton at the end of the cord!
[Kilroy lights his nose. Everybody laughs] (p. 163)[9].
Kilroy loses his identity and dignity as a result of Gutman’s controlling forces. Gutman’s controlling eyes render the Camino Real an isolated island cut off the rest of the world. None can escape from it without his authorization. When someone comes into it, he/she becomes imprisoned and stripped from liberty, dignity and freedom. He/she has to obey the rules of Gutman and be as he wishes.
Camino Real as a place is depicted to be open and expanded. It’s a “a wasteland between the walled town and the distant perimeter of snow-topped mountains[10]” as Williams describes it. It is a nowhere but manipulated by Gutman. People in it are categorized and are treated by Gutman according to their labels. Camino Real is a land of contradictions as well, like the case of Kilroy who becomes a clown though he was a champion. Even if Camino Real seems like a nowhere or a wasteland, the people in it signify a microcosm from society. It is as Williams described it It is described by Williams as "nothing more nor less than my conception of the time and the world I live in.[11]"
Marguerite in the play wonders about the nature of that place they are in. She even speculates about their existence. “What is this place?”, “what are we?” she asks. The only information provider in that deserted place is Gutman; even so, Marguerite states that he only provides misleading hints: “a fat old man gives sly hints that only bewilder us more[12]” [my italics].
As Williams has changed the play from “Ten Block” to “Sixteen blocks” the themes and some characters have changed as well. Gutman has evolved towards a more cruel and fully fledged evil character. He belongs to the rich who oppress the poor. Gutman might represent the state and the government which is in command of the poor. Gutman’s phone call with the Generalissimo is a good case in point of his involvement with the state, and his implementation of the government’s political projects.
Gutman [suddenly]: give me the phone! Connect me with the palace. Get me the Generalissimo. (My italics, p. 138)
Gutman as a symbol of authority refuses any form of unity or communion of the people. In the play, Williams uses the Spanish word Hermano –meaning brother— to express this natural inclination of people to achieve unity and brotherhood. Gutman as a representative of state stands against this brotherhood—it’s forbidden. In the phone, he explains to Generalissimo: “[t]here is a possibility that the forbidden word may be spoken! Yes theforbidden word is about to be spoken” (my italics, p139). He stresses how forbidden the word is. Gutman is ready to do anything to avoid and kill this brotherhood between the people. It is not in favour of his power for it destabilizes and threatens his authority. Gutman has to act diplomatically to avoid any revolutionary acts that may weaken his command over Camino Real. That is why Gutman manages to make a public Fiesta to distract the people in the plaza and make them forget.
GUTMAN [into the phone]: The survivor is no longer surviving. I think we’d better have some public diversion right away. Put the Gypsy on! Have her announce the Fiesta!
LOUDSPEAKER [responding instantly]: Damas y Caballeros! The next voice you hear will be the voice of – the Gypsy!
… GUTMAN: Ha ha! Ho ho ho! Music! (p. 141—my italics)
While Gutman’s control over the plaza is strengthened, Kilroy goes down. The most obvious instance of Kilroy’s letdowns is his become a pasty. Early in the play, when Kilroy first appeared in the stage for people they laughed at him.
Gutman is displayed in a royal manner but Kilroy is shown as real—the royal versus the realistic side of Camino Real: Camino Réal and Camino Real.Camino Real is about life in general; life with its ups and downs--life of the Real and of the Royal. It is as Williams himself describes it in an article in Magazine New York Times “usually when asked about a theme, I looked vague and say, it’s a play about life”[13]. Some critics consider it to be “the dark mirror” of Williams’s conception of life—full of black and appalling images”[14].
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By Abderrazzak BADDOU

PLEASE cite the Author's name, the Title and the URL if you use anything from this paper in your research.


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