Posted in Short Stories

Tennessee Williams: The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 8

Tennessee Williams is best known for his plays of which some are considered the best of the Twentieth Century American stage including A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Glass Menagerie. These also have been adapted into highly acclaimed films.

I don’t know how well-known he is for his short stories but his 1951 story “The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin” proves his genius with the English language whether on the stage or the page. It also tackles a controversial topic for its time with a grace and an honesty.  It’s a beautifully written story about a young boy and his first crush which happens to be on an older boy.

The narrator is Tom looking back on his pre-teen years when his best friend, his older sister, starts to grow up. As she takes piano lessons in her home, a seventeen year-old violinist Richard begins to accompany her. Tom begins a secret infatuation with Richard by watching them practice from his bedroom doorway.

The feelings Tom has for Richard could be considered a sort of hero-worship or maybe jealousy that his sister is growing away from him. While possibly these things exist, he realizes other things are happening, too:

The transference of my interest to Richard now seemed complete. I would barely notice my sister at the piano, groaned at her repeated blunders only in sympathy for him. When I recall what a little puritan I was in those days, there must have been a shocking ambivalence in my thoughts and sensations as I gazed down upon him through the crack of the door. How on earth did I explain to myself, at that time, the fascination of his physical being without, at the same time, confessing to myself that I was a little monster? Or was that actually before I had begun to associate the sensual with the impure, an error that tortured me during and after pubescence, or did I, and this seems most likely, now, say to myself, “Yes, Tom, you’re a monster! But that’s how it is and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

There is a genteel southern charm about the way Tom retells this story that both polishes the edges of his younger self’s confusion and explains the likely reason he feels like a monster. One gets the idea that Tom eventually accepts who he is.

This story is included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. I read it when I selected the King of Spades for Week 8 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

What has been your experience with Tennessee Williams? Have you read any of his short stories? Or are you more familiar with his plays?

5 thoughts on “Tennessee Williams: The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin

  1. Hi Dale,
    My after work short story reading book club read this one a few years ago. It’s still the only Tennessee Williams I’ve read. I thought it was one of the better written stories we’ve done and deserving a place in the 100 Greatest volume. & I liked your comment “genius with the English language whether on the stage or the page.” Nice.
    -Jay

    1. Thanks Jay! This is also the only Tennessee Williams I’ve read. I haven’t seen any of his plays or their movie versions, either. I agree that it is very deserving of inclusion in the 100 Greatest collection.

  2. Another great review! A Streetcar Named Desire is a classic and one of my favorite plays but I had no idea that Tennessee Williams also wrote short stories! The queer themes in this story interest me very much, especially considering the time period that he was writing. I always found his death by a bottle cap to be quite tragic.

    1. This has probably taken the spot for favorite story so far this year. I agree the subject matter is very intriguing for the timeframe in which it was written. And the writing itself is just plain brilliant!

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