Three Players Of A Summer Game by Tennessee Williams, 1952
The magic trick:
Telling the story through the eyes of a neighbor
This story recalls to mind both a story SSMT discussed last summer – Peter Taylor’s masterful “Venus, Cupid, Folly And Time” – and a novel – Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides. We have bad parents; alcoholism; lonely, damaged children; and maybe most crucially, the judgments of a community as relayed through the narration of a neighbor.
The narrator in “Three Players Of A Summer Game” is not one of the titular three players. But that’s the point. As a neighbor with only minimal connection to the key characters, he is able to give the story from outside their defenses. A third-person omniscient narration, obviously, could provide that same advantage; but the neighbor narration has one up on the godlike perspective in that it can imbue the community’s point of view. This gives a much deeper feeling of scorn toward Brick Pollitt’s relationship with the widow; much more embarrassment felt for Brick’s nude, late-night outburst on the croquet lawn. A third-person narration would probably detach the reader too far from the community. The first-person narration from a tangential character provides the perfect balance, closeness to distance, and makes the portraits of the three players that much richer. And that’s quite a trick on Williams’s part.
But people did not approve of what Brick Pollitt was doing. They sympathized with Margaret, that brave little woman who had to put up with so much. As for Dr. Gray’s widow, she had not been very long in the town; the Doctor had married her while he was an intern at a big hospital in Baltimore. Nobody had formed a definite opinion of her before the Doctor died, so it was no effort now simply to condemn her, without any qualification, as a common strumpet.
Brick Pollitt, when he talked to the house painters, shouted to them as if they were deaf, so that all the neighbors could hear what he had to say. He was explaining things to the world, especially the matter of his drinking.