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The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams, book recommendation and review

Some people find God in each other. That sentence found its way into my heart and it has inspired this illustration you see here. It is the first thing that comes to my head when I think of this beautiful play. In The Rose Tattoo this line appears in a very significant place. A catholic priest fails to understand a grieving widow. One of the characters says this to him: ‘You love your people but you don’t understand them. They find God in each other. When they lose each other, they lose God and they’re lost. And it is hard to help them.’ These simple words speak volumes about love and about the grieving process. We do search for God in each other and perhaps we’re not wrong to do so. Doesn’t it make sense, searching for the best in each other? To truly love is a serious business. The loss of love is, probably, the most tragic thing that can happen to anyone.

I’m recommending this play tonight and I'm putting my heart into it . I will speak about why I love it so. I’m not trying to be objective. I might be bias, because I have this thing, this soft spot for Tennessee. I had read all of his plays (and a few of his biographies as well). I suppose it could be said that somewhere along the way I just fell in love with his style of writing. He is, possibly, one of my favourite playwrights of all time and surely my favourite when it comes to American dramatists. There is something in me that resonates with his preferred subjects of isolation, love, despair and loneliness. Moreover, there is something quite magical about the way he employs words. His plays are incredibly poetic and lyrical. This play is no exception. Perhaps it could be said that he used dreamy words to create a safe haven where his overly fragile heroines can truly shine. He shows us a world within a world, he takes us into a journey into the human soul and I love him for it.

The Rose Tattoo is a hidden gem.  It may not be one of his best known works, but it is a great play. Beautifully written (has ever a playwright been more lyrical?) and profoundly touching. Its exploration of daughter and mother relationship, is just as ingenious and skilful as the one in the better know The Glass Menagerie. As is often the case with Williams, it is a female character that is in the centre of the play. This time the tragic heroine is Serafina Delle Rose.  Serafina is portrayed tenderly but with great precious. Serafina, is shown to us, as a woman, as a human being with faults and virtues. Like Blanche from Streetcar she has her shortcomings and the way she behaves is sometimes quite absurd. Nevertheless, Serafina, like Blanche, possesses a great inner strength. Is Serafina a strong woman? That she certainly is. She doesn't give up easily, she defends her choices with all she has got and in the process takes us on a road of soul-searching with her. 

The play opens with Serafina sitting on the sofa waiting for her husband Rosario's return. Serafina is a Sicilian women living in USA. She absolutely worships her husband and makes him the very purpose of her life. She makes a religion out of her love, as her adoration of her husband is enforced by her Roman-Catholicism. Having found a complete physical, emotional and spiritual fulfilment in her relationship, it could be said that she is perfectly content. Well, it's not a drama if two people fall in a love, get married and live happily ever after, is it? I don’t think it is a spoiler if I let you know that Serafina’s marriage isn’t as perfect as she believes it to be.  She might utterly and absolutely adore her husband, but does he feel the same? This play raises many interesting questions about love and explores this subject from different points of view. What is love? Is romantic love an end in itself? What is parental love about? Is romantic love a kind of religion? What is the link between body and soul? Can love go on forever? Is love eternal? Can love between two human beings ever be perfect? The Rose Tattoo is a play that bravely and bodly explores a great number of themes: love, sexuality, loneliness, motherhood etc...

The majority of characters in this play are Sicilians. I think that Tennessee Williams once said that Italians were his kind of people. Perhaps there was something in their tempter that reminded him of Southern Americans and their French influenced ways. I would say that the writer does manages to capture something of Sicilian culture in this one. Williams doesn't stereotype Sicilians, nor does he turn them into a caricatures, which is obviously, a good thing. Another thing that deserves to be mentioned is the complex characterization. Serafina and her daughter are the main characters of this play. Similarly, to The Glass Menagerie, their portrayal is often highlighted with by contrasting them one to another. There is a clash of generations but also of desires, as Serafina’s daughter grows up she wants a life (and love) of her own. Serafina loves her daughter, but haunted by the tragedy of her lost love, she struggles to connected to her daughter, the very product of that love that consumes her so. Loneliness and isolation are something that can be felt in this play. I admire the way that cultures clash in Williams’ plays, he has a unique gift for portraying that. The cultural distance created in his plays often deepens that sense of loneliness and this play is no exception. Serafina belong to another culture, she is an Italian immigrant, isolated and alone, trying to make sense of the world she finds herself in. In Williams’ play it is often the clash between the south and the west of USA that creates trouble and tension and in this one it is the clash between the old world and a new world. Still, as always there is something incredibly tender about this play. 

I do recommend this play to all fans of this great playwright. The way it explores our human need for love is simply ingenious.


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