“A poet’s work is his life, and his life is his work”.
When I first discovered the legendary Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer, I was captivated by Violet and how she understood the symbiotic relationship between her son’s life and his poetic creations. Perhaps this was because it mirrors the interdependence of a child in a mother’s womb: If one flourishes so does the other. If ones dies, the other will also be devastated.
Symbolism in words and names often captures my curiosity. In Suddenly Last Summer, the rich characters brew in your mind long after the hour watching them unearth the truth of Sebastian’s mysterious death last Summer.
Violet’s name in Tennessee William’s play conjures many potential layers of meaning and reference in my mind. In fact, the single word began a whole catalogue of fitting references.
The entire play is set in the garden of her son, so quite literally Violet’s a flower in this bowery. As a colour, what violet represents across the world is symbolic of many aspects of the character William’s created:
Throughout Europe and the US, the colour violet represents the extravagant and artificial. Violet herself admits how pretentious, shallow and self-serving her son was, and is conscious of the artifice of their Summer sabbaticals, attending extravagant balls and staying in luxuriant hotels.
In China, violet carries an air of elegance and royalty. In their elitist bubble, Sebastian and Violet were the royalty of their European social clique. She claims that when she walked into a room with her son everyone stopped to greet their arrival, and the media reported of their travels as if of a famous couple.
For Japanese people, violet is the colour associated with purity. Violet declares early in the play that her son was chaste across his 40 years of life – she believed it was his great honour and that she was his only love.
In Hindu and Buddhist chakras, it is the colour code for the Crown Chakra. This head chakra, which symbolises “detachment from illusion, an essential element in obtaining higher consciousness of the truth.”
Suddenly Last Summer was also made into a film starring Elizabeth Taylor in 1959. Discover that, or see a play for yourself at The Sydney Theatre Company
Wishing it was Forever Summer,