Suddenly Last Summer Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Suddenly Last Summer Symbols, Allegory and Motifs


Mrs. Venable wants the doctor to “cut this hideous story out [Catharine’s] brain.” This is the play’s strongest suggestion that the procedure of lobotomizing someone is a symbolic representation of the overall theme of repression. Lobotomy is forcible repression; otherwise known as oppression. It is itself a hideous—and ultimately misguided and futile—attempt to impose control through morality.

Holy Cathy

Catharine means “innocence” and her last name Holly has an obvious connection to “holy.” In addition, the original stage production notes by the playwright specifically calls for Catharine to be well lit as opposed to a shadow construction of lighting for every other character. She notably wears a white swimsuit in her story about last summer. Add in a plot that has Catharine headed for a lobotomy and she is the play’s ultimate symbol of purity amongst the monstrous.

Matrons Living in Illusion

Mrs. Violet Venable is part of a motif that recurs throughout the works of Tennessee Williams. Like his most famous creation—Blanche DuBois—Violet represents a part of Dixie that is long gone and that faded glory is what feeds her illusions. Unlike Blanche DuBois, however, Violet is strong and domineering…like Mrs. Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. While Mrs. Wingfield does not fit into the mold of the faded southern belle as comfortably, she is also strong yet weak and full of illusions like Violet.


Sebastian Venable is one American drama’s most famous characters who is never actually seen on stage. He only comes alive through the memories of others and the story of what happened to him—suddenly—last summer is the horrific centerpiece of the drama. Take away the literal cannibalism and project it downward into the figurative and he is essentially a symbolic stand-in for the playwright.


The play's most forthright symbol. Cannibalism is a metaphor for reactionary society's desire to feast upon the artist. The feasting can be "positive" in the sense of attending a production of a play and being entertained by the dramatization of the most painful aspects of the writer. The feasting can also be negative as in demanding that a controversial writer adapt to mainstream expectations. And, of course, the feasting can also be a physical attack against undesired characteristics such as homosexuality.

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