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Communists, Cowboys, and Queers

The Politics of Masculinity in the Work of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams

1992
Author:

David Savran

Communists, Cowboys, and Queers

Historical sociology, deconstruction, psychoanalysis, and rhetorical analysis are just a few of the techniques used with great subtlety and sophistication in this study of gender in the plays of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. David Savran gives us a sobering portrait of the patriarchal postwar epoch in the United States.

Edmund White

During the late 1940’s and 1950’s, argues David Savran, the baiting and brutalization of “communists and queers” were high on the national agenda. Within this historical context, Communist, Cowboys, and Queers offers a bold and radical reassessment of the works of theater’s most prominent and respected figures - Arthur Miller, the alleged communist, and Tennessee Williams, the self-acknowledged “queer.”

Savran analyzes the radically different configurations of gender and sexuality in Miller’s and Williams’s writings and studies the ways in which each confronted and negotiated the postwar homophobic and anticommunism crusades. Through a detailed reexamination of their plays, films, and short stories, Savran argues against the popular images of both playwrights and the findings of most academic critics. Ultimately, his provocative exploration of the constitution of the Old Left, the demographic changes following World War II, the gay rights movement, the New Left, and the counterculture distinguishes Communists, Cowboys, and Queers as the first book rigorously to historicize the achievements of Miller and Williams.

Communists, Cowboys, and Queers

David Savran is associate professor of English at Brown University. He is the author of Breaking the Rules: The Wooster Group and In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights.

Communists, Cowboys, and Queers

Historical sociology, deconstruction, psychoanalysis, and rhetorical analysis are just a few of the techniques used with great subtlety and sophistication in this study of gender in the plays of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. David Savran gives us a sobering portrait of the patriarchal postwar epoch in the United States.

Edmund White

David Savran’s Communists, Cowboys, and Queers is a passionately conceived and beautifully articulated work hat not only throws new light on American dramatic literature but illuminates in a new way an entire cultural epoch.

Martin Duberman

Just as the official period of generalized gloating seems to be winding down, David Savran has posed a timely question: for whom is it, exactly, that the Cold War has ended? In his incisive and path-breaking study of the plays, short fiction and screenplays of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, Savran has transformed the received critical verities about these old Cold Warriors of the American theater in the 1950s and 60s. At stake is a new understanding not only of the poisonous homophobia in the cultural politics of that period, but also of its tenacious resurgence in the New World Order.

Lesbian and Gay Studies Newsletter

Those who do not write history are doomed to the representations of those who do. David Savran understand this. His book asks all the right questions: Are the works of historical gay playwrights expressions of internalized homophobia because we read them as such? What happens if we read them as something else, like revolutionary performatives? What happens if we re-vision a work within a new discourse of empowerment and active determination? Savran writes from both exhaustive research and an incredibly rigorous, poststructuralist mind. Exemplifying the best in contemporary scholarship, he gracefully blends theory, historiography, and criticism. Savran does an extended queer reading of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) that no self-respecting theatre queen should miss. The book is representative of the emerging voice from the second generation of queer politics. [Savran] represent[s] part of the diversity of queer/gay/lesbian voices, a diversity that reinforces the foundations of an increasingly vital political movement and field of performance scholarship.

The Drama Review

Cowboys, Communists and Queers offers an elegant critical examination of Arthur Miller’s and Tennesee Williams’s plays, one which performs a queer reading that doesn’t pin them down to categories.

Theatre Journal

Savran’s book adds significantly to our understanding of crucial literary figures by situating them within an ongoing cultural debate. By so doing he not only supplements the important theoretical advances in performance theory and homosexual aesthetics. He places these insights within a broad historical perspective to offer the most wide-ranging recent analysis of U.S. culture on the eve of sexual liberation.

Journal of the History of Sexuality