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Conflict and Main Idea of "Suddenly Last Summer"

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In “Suddenly Last Summer”, Tennessee Williams portrays the external and internal conflict through the emotional complex character, Catharine Holly. She must decide between telling the truth and lying, and between closure and family reputation/inheritance. It is hard to imagine that such a young girl is faced with such a mentally straining situation. The juxtaposition between these two compelling desires illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole which is truths and lies become intertwined, blurring the lines between sanctity and sanity.

Catharine Holly is conflicted throughout the novel and despite her protests, is being begged to refrain from revealing the truth about Sebastian’s death. While all she desires is to tell the actual story of her cousins death, her mother and brother attempt to keep her from doing so. In the beginning of the book, we see that Mrs. Venable had an extremely close bond with her poet son Sebastian, who she vacationed with every year, but who died the previous summer while on a European vacation with Mrs. Venable’s niece, Catherine Holly. Mrs. Venable’s $1 million donation to Lion’s View is seemingly predicated on Dr. Cukrowicz institutionalizing and lobotomizing Catherine, who Mrs. Venable states is mentally deranged. Catherine, in meeting with Dr. Cukrowicz, claims that she is not deranged but that something is disturbing her from her vacation last summer with Sebastian. Catherine does not remember the specific incident which is causing her this grief. With pressure from Mrs. Venable (which is equally directed at Catherine’s mother in the form of $100,000 to sign Catherine’s commitment papers), Dr. Cukrowicz has to decide to go forward with the operation against the vehement denials of lunacy by Catherine, or wait to try and find out exactly what happened last summer between Catherine and Sebastian. Here we see the cause of the conflict: Catharine struggles to convince everyone of her truth and is paying the price for it but the only reason she struggles is because no one is looking for justice- just a story that will satisfy their needs.

The many interrupted attempts of Catharine Holly to tell Dr. Sugar the truth about what happened to Sebastian Venable along the harbor of an Italian resort, Cabeza de Lobo, drove her crazy. Sebastian was protected all of his life by his mother, and he had used her the last few years of his life to procure partners for his sexual appetite. Even Catherine’s own brother and mother pester Catharine to reveal the truth that they want to hear, not the actual one, all for the $50,000 inheritance money and the desire to maintain the family reputation.Because of the selfish desires that protrude the already greedy human nature, Catherine’s own family persist and repeatedly try to keep her from telling the truth. Catherine does not want to receive the lobotomy. The demonstration of greed illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole: The desire to lie is purely selfish. The Holly family rather sacrifice Catherine’s sanity then lose out on $50,000 and their reputation. Because Catherine’s mother and brother are blinded by greed and insist on being selfish, they fail to see that telling the truth of Sebastian’s traumatic death will actually give Catherine the closure she needs. Even when under the influence of the truth serum given to her by Dr. Sugar, everyone around her refused to accept her truth.

Though the truth may sound unbelievable at times, Catherine relays the actual events that occurred leading up to Sebastian’s final days. Unfortunately, this story is a common one, told over and over again in our modern day society. How many times have we seen individuals act out of selfishness and greed for personal gain. It is a hard pill to swallow that this is the scope of humanity. People need to accept the truth, believable or not, in order to maintain a healthy, sane, state of mind. Tennessee Williams makes an effort to warn his reader of the blurred distinction between truth and lie. He wants to emphasize the destruction of human desire. As human beings, it is easy to take the easy way out and delude ourselves into thinking or believing that something is good for us, when it is most certainly not. However, only when we are able to face reality head on and embrace the truth, will we be able to grow internally as human beings and be better for one another. Also, it is imperative that we let the happiness and health of others precede our own desires and wants. Only then can we hope and expect to see a purely selfless, and honest community and society. While this may be a seemingly unrealistic reality, it is not truly unreachable.

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Conflict and Main Idea of “Suddenly Last Summer”. (2018, January 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from
“Conflict and Main Idea of “Suddenly Last Summer”.” GradesFixer, 06 Jan. 2018,
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Conflict and Main Idea of “Suddenly Last Summer” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Jan 06 [cited 2022 May 20]. Available from:
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