In the play ‘The Glass Menagerie’ the audience is presented with three obvious main characters. Each of these characters, Tom, Laura and Amanda, has strong claims to the title of protagonist, but what hangs over the play is the spectre of the Wingfields’ absent father. It could be argued that his departure was the catalyst for the events of the play, affecting both the financial security and physiological well being of all the family members. The Wingfields’ father is mentioned at the beginning of the play, in Tom’s opening monologue. Tom describes their father and a little about his escape from the family. After describing him as “a telephone man who fell in love with long distances” (p14) and a mysterious postcard that he sent to the family saying “hello – goodbye” he states “I think the rest of the play will explain itself.” This indicates, right from the start, that the absence of the father has a great impact on the family. He is referred to in almost every scene, maintains a visual presence on stage at all times (in the form of the picture) and is mentioned once again in Tom’s closing monologue. Tom’s opening and closing comments frame the action of the play, underpinning his importance to the audience as a main character. The iconography that represents the father in the play serves as a constant reminder of his absence to the reader, but more importantly to the characters themselves. The most important piece of imagery on the set is the picture of the father which stays on the mantelpiece, facing the audience throughout the play. It is described in the stage instructions as (the face of) “a very handsome young man in a doughboys First World War cap. He is gallantly smiling, ineluctably smiling as if to say ‘I will be smiling forever’” and while the interior of the house is described as dim, the fathers portrait is bathed in light. The picture of the smiling father resembles the past for the Wingfield family – simultaneously representing a time of past happiness, whilst also being a constant reminder of the family’s disappointment and feelings of abandonment. The fact that he is smiling and bathed in light represents a happier time to the family, and the fact that they keep it on display suggests that they could still have illusions that he might come back or that they feel that they should pretend that he is still there with them smiling. This picture represents something further for Tom – it represents his future; how he will leave the family in a similar fashion to his father, almost ascending to take his place. As the play is told in retrospective way, The picture is a constant reminder to Tom of his future that might have been different. Another reminder of the father’s presence is the victrola music player that he left behind. The victrola is the sanctuary that Laura retreats to when nervous or stressed, For instance in scene two, while she is being chastised by her mother she ‘crosses to the victrola and winds it up.’ Her mother questions her on this and she remarks ‘Oh!’ and then ’returns to her seat.’ The use of the surprised sound and the stage directions after this suggest that it was a reflex action to move to the victrola. The victrola is a symbol to Laura, a connexion with her father; the fact that she retreats to it instinctively at hard times shows that she still feels, or hopes to feel the protection of her father, reminding the reader once again of his presence in the house. Amanda still wears a bath robe that he left behind, possibly showing her inability to accept his disappearance. These icons represent the presence of the father in the lives of the family, and shows that he is still very much an integral part of their lives. The importance of the father as a character manifests itself in the effects of his actions on the family as a unit, as well as on the individual members of the family. In the time that this play is set, pre Second World War and post Wall Street crash many families in America went through a period of financial hardship – and with no social security at this point in time it is intimated that the absence of a paternal breadwinner puts a great monetary strain on the family. This is shown through Tom’s discontent in his job and how hard he works; (in reference to the rent) “…who makes a slave of himself…” (p29) and Amanda’s desperate attempts to earn extra money selling subscriptions to the “Companion” magazine, using unsubtle sales techniques such as “you simply couldn’t go out if you hadn’t read it” (p28.) As well as making money, both Amanda and Tom vie to take the place of the paternal figure. Amanda takes it upon herself to be the mother and father figure in the family, the provider of sympathy, and the authoritarian, while Tom takes it upon himself to be an independent adult and the main money earner to support the family. This conflict of roles and perception of what is needed in the situation ultimately causes conflict and is a common phenomenon in single parenthood, as well as being a key feature of domestic tragedy – presenting the family as somewhat dysfunctional. An example of this dysfunction is that Amanda tries to curb Toms (perceived) excessive drinking and smoking: “Promise, Son, you’ll never be a drunkard” and “you smoke too much”, this tends to bring a reaction of anger or humour from Tom, as he feels that he is an adult, both reactions serving as a brush off of his mothers wishes. It could also suggest that Tom feels he has to become an adult prematurely. The capitalization of the word son in this extract indicates that Amanda is forcefully reasserting her position as the adult and parent of the family, and when Tom replies in the negative Williams capitalizes his use of the word mother, showing that he accepts, or pretends to accept this. This conflict within the Wingfield family unit is typical of Modern Domestic tragedy presenting the family as somehow corrupt or tense; equally it presents Tom and Amanda manoeuvring for control, another key feature of domestic tragedy. Laura also tries to fill the void left by the father within the family. She presents the calmer side of a paternal figure; attempting to keep the peace in the household and trying to alleviate her mother’s and brother’s needs; “Mother, let me clear the table.” Her humble attitude is symptomatic of her crippling insecurity, brought on primarily by her disability, but also added to by the absence of her father – as said Laura retreats to the victrola, the symbol of her father, in times of stress. Tom and Amanda mention the Wingfield father figure on many occasions, using him to reinforce their arguments. “One thing you’re father had plenty of – was charm!” Laura does not mention him once, suggesting that she has been the most affected by his loss, implying that she is in denial. This shows the extent of the damage that his actions have caused on the family. The effect of the father’s departure on Tom is different from the effect that it has on Laura and Amanda. Rather than a point of sorrow or hardship for him, it becomes a point of aspiration; throughout the book Tom harbours an increasing desire to follow in his father’s footsteps and leave the household. “I’m a bastard son of a bastard!” exclaims Tom, implying that his urge to escape his situation is merely a following what his father has predestined for him. This mirroring of his father’s actions would obviously not be possible if his father had not taken the actions that he did. The idea that the father has predetermined the fate of the Wingfield family is a strong indicator of his place as a main character. Williams’ has given the play this feel in several ways, for instance the retrospective way that Tom narrates the story gives it a sense of immovability – you may engage with the characters and want them to make different decisions, but there is no chance of this as it has all already occurred. This adds to the tragic effect of the play and, the way that Tom talking about his father as if it were his fault shows him to be a key character; “…he skipped the light fantastic out of town” the use of the word skipped in this instance implies sarcasm or anger – using a word usually associated with fun to describe a life altering occurrence. As a whole, the father’s ‘escape, or ‘abandonment of the family has detrimental effects and is the catalyst that sets the events of the play in motion. This is typical of domestic tragedy in several ways, showing the disintegration of the family – caused by elements of the past impinging on the present. As the fathers actions, coupled with the turbulent economic situation of the time, determine the plot which ultimately leads to the family’s downfall and a tragic ending, it is certainly fair to say that the father is the main character in the play.
Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is a play founded on illusion. Williams uses the devices of illusion and metaphor to illustrate truth, which he sometimes reveals through the use of irony. In the production notes that preface the play, Williams writes that “expressionism and all other unconventional techniques” in a play “should be attempting to find a closer approach, a more penetrating and vivid expression of things as they are” and that “truth, life, or reality is an organic thing which the poetic imagination can represent or suggest.” The role of Tom, the poet, is as a fabricator or conveyor of illusions: Tom functions as the play’s narrator and “as an undisguised convention of the play” (Sc. 1). He states in his introductory monologue: “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion” (Sc. 1). His statement removes any doubt that he is the play’s primary illusionist, controlling the memories of his family like puppets on strings for the audience to witness. Critic Joven indicates that the isolation of the Wingfields and their “untenability” with the modern world necessitates their removal into something more illusory: “The Wingfields cannot co-exist with the real world around them because to live as they wish is to deny the existence of [the outside] world.” Additionally, she points out that the entire family has fallen victim to worlds of their own making: “Amanda’s dreams deny the passage of time. Laura’s life denies the outside world completely” (54). Tom, as the messenger of memory (“This scene is memory and is therefore nonrealistic”), and the conveyor of poetic device, is accused by his frustrated mother of precisely what he has already admitted to (Sc. 1). Amanda, after her efforts to find a match for Laura have been frustrated, blames Tom: “You live in a dream; you manufacture illusions!” (Sc. 7). Amanda’s accusation is both fitting and ironic. The reader of the play has already been informed that such is Tom’s function, but his mother fails to see the truth behind the illusions—perhaps because she is within the play and therefore part of the past and Tom’s memory. Joven notes that “[i]t is Tom the poet who associates Laura with bits of colored glass and with familiar phrases of music. It is the poet’s mind which perceives the ironic contrast between the hopes of Amanda and Laura and the harsh reality of Paradise Dance Hall” (60). In a similar manner, Amanda’s accusation is ironic; she misses the point entirely. She is, on one hand, a practical woman, a planner of occasions, and it may not be within her scope to comprehend the underlying truths that Tom attempts to project. But on the other hand, the irony lies partly in the fact that she manufactures her own illusions, and accuses Tom of something she is guilty of as well. Presley supports this idea, noting: “Ironically what the playwright reveals is a cast of characters caught up in illusions of their own making. All of them…have built their lives on insubstantial premises of deception” (34). Their deception is an intentional self-deception created from necessity and self-preservation. But what is the truth that Tom intends to convey? The answer may be multi-faceted. One aspect may be social commentary. Williams indicates in the notes to Scene 1 the harsh conditions in which the family lives. Their building is, he describes, “one of those vast hive-like conglomerations of cellular living-units that flower as warty growths in overcrowded urban centers of lower middle-class population and are symptomatic of the impulse of this largest and fundamentally enslaved section of American society.” The term “enslavement” can be fittingly applied to the Wingfields. The illusion they create is an attempt at escape from the very environment in which they are trapped. Laura is more a bird in a cage than anyone else in the play: in addition to her environment, she is both physically disabled and emotionally stunted. The play’s tragic characters indicate another potential truth. At the play’s end, Tom’s narrative is wrapping up and the reader comes to understand the guilt he carries with him. The colored glass he sees in shop windows in his travels reminds him of Laura. He exclaims, “Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!” Bigsby’s interpretation indicates the narrative itself as a catalyst to the tragic events, and possibly, even, Tom’s guilt: For Williams, narrative itself is the origin of painful ironies. It implies causality, the unraveling of a time which can only be destructive of character and relationship. […] Hence he and his characters try to stop time. They react, in a sense, against plot. In a way the narrative of their lives does not generate meaning; the meaning ascribed to those lives by history and myth generates the narrative. And as a result they wish to freeze the past and inhabit it, or they spin their own autonomous fictions and submit themselves to a logic dictated by symbol and metaphor (95). Tom’s guilt over leaving his sister has resulted in his “freezing” the past and weaving a narrative “dictated by symbol and metaphor;” their lives are without meaning except by whatever truth is ascribed to them by the reader, the audience. Seen in this light, Amanda’s accusation to Tom is all the more tragic. It holds both more truth and irony than she will ever understand. After all, she is only a figment of Tom’s imagination, and more Tom, even, than she is herself. The same is true of Laura—like the other characters in the play; they are all facets of Tom: his imagination, his memory, his poetic interpretations and illusory, ironic narrative weaving. Works CitedBigsby, C. W. E. “Celebration of a Certain Courage.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988. 89-99. Joven, Nilda G. “Illusion Versus Reality in The Glass Menagerie.” Readings on The Glass Menagerie. Ed. Bruno Leone, et al. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1998. 52-60.Presley, Delma Eugene. The Glass Menagerie: An American Memory. Woodbridge, CT: Twayne Publishers, 1990.
In the play “The Glass Menagerie,” Tennessee Williams the author presents the glass menagerie as a metaphor for the Wingfield family and other families during the Great Depression. The author highlights the concept of the family’s vulnerability and how easily it can be shattered like glass. Laura shares a connection with the glass, and through the descriptive stage directions the audience can view the bond that links her to the collection. Williams uses foreshadowing through the breaking of a symbolic figurine to show the events that will occur within the Wingfield family and how everything will be forever different and broken, just like the figurine. A menagerie is a varied mixture or a collection of foreign animals that are kept specially for exhibition. The glass menagerie is a metaphor for the Wingfield family. Each character is a different piece of glass that when together composes a family within a menagerie. Through their differences from the outside world the Wingfields a menagerie that is stared at for being different from the rest of the world. Laura and Tom are dreamers, but they cannot act on their dreams and desires. Amanda lives in the past and is separated from her children by this. The family composes a collection of a strange mixture of personalities that cannot incorporate themselves into the world. For example, Tom describes Jim as his “best friend at the warehouse,” but the audience later questions this as he is unknowing of his friend’s engagement. “Glass is something that you have to take good care of,” and similarly a family must be taken care of to flourish. The members of the Wingfield family all strive for what they personally believe will be best for them or the family, without really understanding what that means. The inability to understand each other and take care of the family causes it to slowly fall apart. Laura is the person who holds the family together through their differences for as long as possible. She is the force that causes Tom to stay and endure the life he hates, and later she is the ghost that haunts him. Laura is compared to the glass unicorn, and Jim perceptively remarks “unicorns, aren’t they extinct in the modern world?” Laura is a loner who does not fit in with society. Her differences separate her from others and her magnified crippled leg creates a gap between her and other people. Unlike the ladies that spend their evenings at the dance hall, Laura spends “a good deal of time” polishing her glass collection. This collection has set a trance over Laura, she loves her “little animals made out of glass, the tiniest animals in the world.” If the animals are symbolic of the family, then the family is also the “smallest” – an obsolete and unimportant family that will hardly leave an impact on society. The feeble layer of glass that contains the family within the menagerie is shown to be easily broken, and Williams shows that without the proper care it will surely shatter.Laura shares a personal relationship with the figurines, because unlike her father and nonexistent friends, they can never leave or forsake her. Whenever she is nervous about anything, her immediate tendency is to reach for the glass: “Laura utters a startled, doubtful laugh. She reaches quickly for a piece of glass.” The ability to have her glass friends available whenever necessary is comforting to Laura; unlike so many other factors in her life, these animals are in her control. Over time, Laura’s bond with the animals deepen until they are almost a part of herself. When describing the glass to Jim, Laura is basically describing herself: “Oh, be careful- if you breathe, it breaks.” Here Laura is telling the audience here how fragile she is, and that she is worried that Jim might crush her. When he holds the figurine Laura is delighted that he is taking an interest in her collection: “you’re holding him gently! Hold him over the light, he loves the light! You see how the light shines through him?” The animal is personified with the usage of “he,” because it is her best and only friend. Here, Laura shows him the wonderful visions that can be created when they are held before the correct type of light. Here Laura describes herself, exquisitely delicate, but glowing under the right circumstances. The bond that she has with the glass is highlighted through the usage of stage directions. Whenever something is harmful to the glass, it directly impacts Laura. When her figurine is unknowingly smashed by Tom, “there is a tinkling of shattering glass. Laura cries as if wounded.” The breaking of Laura’s glass symbol, and Tom deliberately shattering his glass foreshadows the Wingfield family being forever shattered and split into numerous direction, never to be together again. Laura states that “Glass breaks so easily. No matter how careful you are.” This last scene highlights this concept, because the family’s personal glass menagerie is forever broken. The unicorn, Laura’s favorite figurine, is clumsily broken, and this foreshadows how Jim will clumsily mishandle Laura and break her heart. Before she knows of his fiancé Laura is optimistic, believing that perhaps the unicorn was broken as “a blessing in disguise.” By losing its horn the unicorn became “just like all the other horses.” Similarly, Laura was temporarily like other ladies as she danced with Jim and he made her more typical. When Jim abandons Laura, she leaves him with “a-souvenir…” that suggests she knows he is her first and only love; she doubts she will ever again dare to fall in love. She also knows that things will be different in her household, so she does not need the reminder of the changed unicorn. The Wingfield family members rely upon each other, and as Tom realizes that Laura will be dependent upon him for much longer than expected, he knows that if he wishes to do something for himself he must leave. Here the stage directions read: “Tom smashes his glass on the floor. He plunges out on the fire escape.” Tom breaks the glass and his departure symbolizes that just like his shattered glass, the impact this will have upon his family can never be repaired. With Tom leaving, the Wingfield family is shattered. Amanda is lost in her past, Tom in his hopes for a future, and Laura in her imaginary world of glass. The ties that the family share as so strong, though, that even when running away Tom cannot escape from his sister. “The window is filled with little pieces of colored glass…then all at once my sister touches my shoulder.” Glass will forever symbolize his sister, and thus his shattered family. The Wingfield family is to be forever changed and it will never again be pieced back together.Tennessee Williams uses glass throughout the play as symbolism for the Wingfield family and to foreshadow later events. The “glass menagerie” is a unique and effect way to portray this troubled, fragile family.
In Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie, the narrator conceives of art as a reprieve from the grim monotony of reality. Art, in this conception, is a medium that enables one to interpret reality. Tom, the narrator of the play, consciously creates art in an effort to subjectively redefine the present moment, and as a coping mechanism for the troubles in his life. Tom deals with the tedium of his everyday life by using art as an escape. He single-handedly supports his mother and crippled sister by working a thankless job in a shoe factory. At home, Tom is the provider for the household, but in the factory Tom is little more than a robot. In this stifling environment, Tom’s individuality is reduced to near-absolute anonymity. He has no great motivation or pride in his life, and turns to art to fill his emotional void. Tom’s mother, Amanda, proclaims, “You live in a dream; you manufacture illusions! Where are you going?” (1999) to which Tom answers, “I’m going to the movies” (1999). Rather than stay and face the reality of his life, Tom chooses to go to the theater and live vicariously through the fictional lives of movie characters. In reality, Tom assembles shoes, used as padding and protection for the feet while traveling from point to point. Yet, to escape the tedium of his life, Tom pads his reality with the dream-like nature of movies. Also, when Amanda asks Tom where he is going, she implicitly questions his direction in life. Tom cannot answer, and only replies that he is going to the movies. He feels that he can push ahead blindly in life as long as these artful illusions pad his feet from the constant painful reminders of reality. Tom exclaims, “Man is by instinct a lover, a hunter, a fighter, and none of those instincts are given much play at the warehouse” (1968). He feels trapped by the overbearing structure of the factory because there is no place there for these so-called instincts romanticized by the media. Tom weaves art into his life to satisfy these instincts, and to redefine his needs and priorities in life. Tom consciously creates art, since he narrates the play with a subjective approach based on his memory. He describes each event in the play as a scene:[it is] memory and is therefore unrealistic…it omits some details, others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart…the interior is therefore rather dim and poetic. (1954) Like a movie director, Tom weaves dramatic touches into his narration; what he presents is a subjective distortion of reality. The audience does not truly know whether or not Tom offers accurate recollections of his history, because the narrator can freely omit and edit any aspect at will. For example, when Amanda shares her experience with gentlemen callers with her children, “Tom motions for music and a spot of light on Amanda. Her eyes lift, her face glows, her voice becomes rich and elegiac” (1956). In Tom’s unique perspective of the event, Amanda despondently longs for her past popularity. She becomes a movie star with a spotlight on her face, her features glow, and she laments her youthful past in a rich, sorrowful voice. However, Amanda’s demeanor may have been entirely different from another individual’s perspective. She could have given the impression of being proud and boastful, belittling her daughter for not achieving the same success in courting gentlemen as she experienced when she was young. Tom conveys his personal perspective by effectively editing and tailoring the confines of reality to his taste. He manipulates qualities of the environment to reflect and focus on superficial character attributes that he deems important. Tom’s utilization of artistic symbolism transforms the intrinsic attributes of his characters, as well. Tom often employs symbolism in his narration in order to eliminate the distinction between reality and illusory art. When Amanda asks her daughter, Laura, if she has ever liked some boy, “on the dark stage the screen is lighted with the image of blue roses. The music subsides. Laura…is washing and polishing her collection of glass” (1957). Tom directs visual and aural cues to coincide with Laura’s actions, thereby emphasizing certain characteristics of her disposition. By explicitly displaying the symbol of the blue rose as Laura cleans her glass collection, the narrator removes the aspect of realism from his account in favor of abstract complexity and depth, as one sees in art. He distorts Laura’s real identity by juxtaposing her presence with an inanimate object, which he uses to represent her character. Tom utilizes a musical score to accompany his drama as well. This form of aural symbolism adds a dream-like depth and mood to the scene and provides entertainment value for the audience. Tom claims, “I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion” (1953). Tom’s memory, although altered by his subjective perspective and interweaving of artistic symbolism, nonetheless represents the essence of truth in a different form. This art that Tom presents is not an accurate reflection of reality, but rather a study of the social ramifications of the impact and influence of art on personal life and decision-making. Tom creates art from his memories in response to popular art in the media. The conflict between his reality and the ideals of happiness portrayed in the media cause him to redefine himself to fit this popular standard. Tom mentions that, “In Spain there was revolution. Here there was only shouting and confusion…This is the social background of the play” (1953). The troubles that Tom experiences are not well-defined or publicized. He experiences an internal struggle, rather than an external one with clear-cut sides of good and bad. Tom seeks a life with clearly defined paths and with rewards for valor, like those he sees in movies. As he begins his telling of the memory play, Tom “enters dressed as a merchant sailor…strolls across to the fire-escape…and lights a cigarette” (1953). Based upon this quotation, one speculates that Tom joined the military in search of the romanticized adventures that he witnesses in movies. The time period of this play is post-World War II America, when hundreds of thousands of Americans entered combat in the global arena. However, Tom completely excludes any mention of this possibly traumatic battle experience from his memory. He transforms his life into the very art that impacted him in an attempt to redefine his role in society, but ultimately fails to replicate the movie-inspired romance and adventure that he seeks. The play that is Tom’s life is nothing like a movie: there is no happy ending. He forsakes his family to escape the tedium of his life, and he continues to struggle internally. He exclaims, “Oh, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me…I reach for a cigarette…I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger – anything that can blow your candles out – for nowadays the world is lit by lightning” (2000). Whether Tom seeks to redefine himself through the fickle illusions of alcohol, drugs, or popular media, his transformation is still an illusion. Only now does he realize that the art he creates is like a candle, which subjectively illuminates only the favorable aspects of life that he wishes to see. Tom describes the world as being lit by lightning, a natural force beyond any man’s grasp. For those few seconds as lightning strikes, the whole world is illuminated, and the inescapable truth is revealed, without prejudice or subjective taint. Although the world plunges back into darkness within moments, the truth of reality remains, and there is no escape.
The 1930’s worlds of Clifford Odets and Tennessee Williams portray assertive and domineering women as the center of families in the age of the depression. Women in the plays are always fighting poverty in any way they can. The mothers often dominate the lives of their children and attempt to dictate rich futures for both their sons and daughters. Clifford Odets displays the nearly impoverished wife Edna and the bright, young woman Florence in the play Waiting for Lefty that was written in 1934 but not produced until 1935. In Awake and Sing!, written in 1933 and produced in 1935, Odets shows Bessie as the head of the household. Tennessee Williams places the intricate character of Amanda as the head of a broken household in his 1944 production of The Glass Menagerie.Odets and Williams both have strong women struggling against the onset of poverty. Edna, in Waiting for Lefty, threatens to leave her husband if he does not do something. After explaining to Joe why there is no furniture in the house she asks, “Who’s the man in the family, you or me?” (Odets 9). Edna tells her husband to do something or she will run back into the arms of her old boyfriend Bud Haas because “He earns a living” (11). Edna is a wife that has been stripped bare by the depression and she is ready to fight back in any way possible to survive. The other women in the plays are not pushed quite so far by poverty, but all are trying to maintain a style of living that has become impossible. Again, in Waiting for Lefty, Florence demands an answer from Sid concerning their three-year engagement and “The answer is no- a big electric sign looking down on Broadway!” (20). Sid then tells Florence that she deserves a better standard of living and that if they ran away together now, “in a year, two years, you’d curse the day” (21). Florence turns away from love, in order to survive, because it would only lead to poverty.Amanda in Williams’s The Glass Menagerie was not so lucky. In scene one Amanda is re-telling the story of how she received seventeen gentleman classers in one afternoon in Blue Mountain. She tells of how they became rich and left fortunes to their widows. Amanda’s story ends with the remark, “And I could have been Mrs. Duncan J. Fitzhugh, mind you! But- I picked your father!” (Williams 9). Her remark seems very subtle given the fact that Mr. Wingfield was “a telephone man who fell in love with long distances” (5). Amanda raised two children on her own, always trying to recapture the style of living she left in Blue Mountain. Tom tells Jim O’Connor that Mr. Wingfield has “been absent going on sixteen years!” (62). That would have made Tom and Laura both children themselves when he left. Amanda, a single mother, continued to push mannerisms on her children in an attempt to make them civilized. At the very beginning of the play, she nags Tom about food when the entrance to their apartment is through a fire escape:”Honey, don’t push with your fingers. If you have to push with something, the thing to push with is a crust of bread. And chew-chew! Animals have secretions in their stomachs which enable them to digest food without mastication, but human beings are supposed to chew their food before they swallow it down. Eat food leisurely, son, and really enjoy it. A well-cooked meal has lots of delicate flavors that have to be held in the mouth for appreciation. So chew your food and give your salivary glands a chance to function!” (Williams 6).The odd quote best displays the concerns Amanda expressed at the dinner table and in other aspects of her children’s lives. She pushes her children to be more than on the verge of poverty by recalling her youth in Blue Mountain.The father, Myron, in Clifford Odets’s Awake and Sing! was not absent, but not always there. The character description Odets gives tells readers that Myron is “a born follower” (37). He cried when he finally realized that Hennie was pregnant and his wife was the strong one. In several scenes, Myron is content to be out of the main conversation reading his newspaper. He is a little slow in realizing that Hennie is pregnant because when Bessie and Hennie are arguing over whether or not Jacob should stay for the discussion, Myron asks, “What’s wrong, Momma?” (53). When Myron enters upon Hennie and Ralph when they are about to make their big exit he only asks, “Where you going, little Red Ridding Hood?” She tells him nobody knows and he comments on how beautiful a baby she was in 1910. “That same year Teddy Roosevelt come back from Africa” (Odets 100). If Bessie had found Hennie leaving the apartment at night she would have drilled her for answers and made sure it was back to her husband’s house, not out with Ralph. Myron was a present father but only there for show and financial support.At the time of the play The Glass Menagerie, Tom is the only one working to support the family. Despite his employment and Amanda’s lack there of, Tom hands over his check, minus enough for movies and cigarettes, and allows Amanda to run the house. Laura has dropped out of high school and now quit going to Rubicam’s Business College because is gave her “nervous indigestion” (16). The only entrance to the small apartment is through the fire escape landing, but Amanda insists on making “preparations” for the “first young man we’ve introduced to your sister” (43). She pulls out her wedding silver and old cotillion dress, has the lampshade re-done and lays out a throw on the couch. In her best effort she even manages to whip up a batch of macaroons. All of these efforts are to insure that Laura has someone to support her and that she is not left out in the cold.Like Amanda, Bessie in Odets’s Awake and Sing! is in a hurry to get her daughter married off, but for different motives. Bessie discovers that Hennie is pregnant and she needs to be married either to the father or some respectable man. Bessie is a dictatorial head of the household as illustrated at the discovery of Hennie’s baby. She instructs, “Stop crying like a baby, Myron” and when Hennie leaves the room she calls her mother “Mussolini” (54-57). Hennie submits to her mother’s demand and marries Sam Feinschreiber. Odets writes before the character descriptions, “All of the characters in Awake and Sing! share a fundamental activity: a struggle for life amidst petty conditions” (37). It seems petty to Jacob that Hennie be married off so quickly; he responds, “Respect? Respect! For the neighbors’ opinion! You insult me, Bessie!” (55). Bessie may be worried about what neighbors will say about an un-wed mother, but realistically in the 1930’s she is also concerned about another mouth to feed and doctor bills to bring that mouth into the world.In conclusion, the 1930’s worlds of Odets and Williams illustrate how the women of each household stepped up and took charge in order to maintain a sense of “normal” life. Edna demanded her husband do something or she would. Florence agreed that an impoverished life in love was not worth settling for. Amanda drove her children to be more than they could be, even if she failed at it. Bessie took charge of a home and a husband that could collapse under the depression and struggled to keep her family life afloat. Odets and William’s women were strong, beautiful, and assertive, even if they failed to accomplish their dreams.
In The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, the narrator Tom filters the story through his own memories. This technique causes the characters to be presented in a way that is manipulated through Tom’s personal illusions. In completing his objective of finding happiness, Tom comes to the conclusion that it can be achieved only through the path that his father took. This leads to Tom analyzing the actions made by the people around him through a filter. Every happy facial expression or movement is inherently a way to disguise one’s true emotions to Tom. Aside from Tom, the Glass Menagerie does not truly represent who the characters are and so every action is only a representation of Tom’s character development, and of his desires and motives in terms of attaining happiness.
Tom’s happiness comes from escaping one’s problems. When he looks at his father he sees a troubled but nevertheless happy man. “I’m like my father. The bastard son of a bastard son! Did you notice how he’s grinning in in the picture there? And he’s been absent going on sixteen years” (Williams 64)! Tom feels that he still has a personal relationship with his father despite the fact that he has been absent for most of his life. This desire for a relationship comes from admiring the act that his father was content with his life. Tom identifies with his father as he observes both his dad’s positive and negative qualities. He thinks he is “like his father” meaning he feels he has the good and bad attributes of him. When showing Jim a picture of his father, Tom remarks “notice how he’s grinning?” obviously believing that the smile signals an inner happiness. Tom does not have very much left of his father, and so he puts extreme emphasis on this one picture of him in the house. As he stares at the picture the grin on his face transforms into a life of happiness for his father. As Tom admires his father’s contentedness he begins to believe that the only way to be happy is to do what he did, and therefore no one else is able to obtain happiness.
In St. Louis, Tom believes happiness is a disguise of true emotions and therefore only false happiness exists. At work, Tom views false happiness when his co-workers “hostility wore off and they also began to smile at me as people smile at an oddly fashioned dog who trots across their path” (William 50-51). Tom is very sarcastic in the way he describes his co-workers. He feels that his co-workers view him as an “oddly fashioned dog” meaning he’s weird and out of place. He views their smiles as a way to cover up their sympathy they feel for him because he is so different. Tom also feels that Amanda uses happiness to cover up her true emotion and he sees this when Jim is in their home. While Jim and Laura are in a separate room “there is a peal of girlish laughter from Amanda in the kitchen.” Amanda is so persistent is showing Tom her family’s southern hospitality that she puts on a fake persona in order to hide how uneasy she truly is. She uses a “girlish laughter” in order to hide her true emotions of nervousness and to charm Jim. Her laughter is in no way true happiness, but instead, a device used to disguise who she really is.
Laura’s actions also convey the idea of using happiness to disguise inner feelings. After being devastated by the news of Jim’s engagement, she fakes glee to avoid hurting Amanda’s feelings. “Laura’s dark hair hides her face until at the end of the speech she lifts it to smile at her mother.” Laura is clearly still very upset about the events that occurred with Jim as she sits in a depressed state with hair over her face. At the end of the scene, however, she uncovers her face not because sudden happiness accrued, but to “smile at her mother” in order to act as though Amanda’s plan didn’t not turn out terribly. In no way does Tom inherently believe that people are happy, but rather the contrary. Everyone that he is able to witness he sees as a lacking genuine contentment. The sole exception is someone that he hasn’t seen for more than sixteen years, his father.
To escape boredom, Tom decided to leave St. Louis. On his journey, however, he doesn’t find what he was expecting to. “From then on in my father’s footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space” (Williams 97). Tom tries to get the happiness his father has by following his “father’s footsteps”. He tries to gain this by going in “motion” meaning he feels he must keep moving in order to find answers. He learns however that what he’s looking for is “lost in space” meaning what he is looking for can not be found and his ideas are unrealistic. It was not until he left his family and home that he realized that his father’s happiness was only an illusion he created and the idea of finding this happiness is “lost in space” and will never be achieved. Tom spent his life looking at a picture of a man grinning and fantasizing about his happiness despite the fact that he hadn’t seen him in sixteen years. Looking for his father’s happiness he felt that the only way to gain true joy was to do what he did and leave. This caused him to see any happiness portrayed by the people living in St. Louis as false.
Tom created his father’s happiness in order to have hope for the future, but as time went on the more he looked at his father’s grin the more he believed that his father was the only one that was happy. This lead to the Glass Menagerie being narrated through the illusion that everyone is fake when in reality it is only Tom’s memories that remembers the characters actions as hiding the truth. The filter that The Glass Menagerie is narrated through only allows the reader to see how Tom views the characters and does not allow an unbiased character development of the characters in Tom’s life.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. New Directions, 1999.
In Tennessee Williams’s, The Glass Menagerie, sexuality is a concept developed through the Laura Wingfield’s naivety and innocence. This can first be examined by analyzing Amanda Wingfield’s unreasonable expectations for her daughter, Laura. By prescribing her the sexual identity which she sees fit, Amanda undermines the sexual identity that her daughter is truly comfortable with. Secondly, it is clear that for Laura’s character, sexual innocence is an important characteristic. This is especially seen in her relationship to her longtime crush, Jim O’Connors. Due to Laura’s overwhelming shyness, it is clear that naïvity inflates her emotions, and goes a long way in showing the effects of her stunted sexual maturity.
To begin, is important to understand that as a faded southern belle, Amanda Wingfield struggles to accept the reality of her situation. She sticks to traditions that her household cannot quite afford, and continuously attempts to transfer her upscale upbringing into her much poorer and less-graceful home. This form of denial is then translated to her parenting style, as Amanda makes a lasting impression on her daughter, Laura, and her perception of sexuality. First, Amanda profusely searches to find herself in her daughter who, to any onlooker, is clearly shown to be her mother’s opposite. Furthermore, not only does Amanda practically ignore her daughter’s disabilities and incapacity to function socially, but she pressures her into following the paths that “normal” girls follow. Mainly, she expects Laura, who is obviously shy and uninterested in romance, to have many gentlemen callers. Amanda tries to control her daughter’s life, and her involvement with Laura intrudes on her daughter’s sexual development.
[Amanda produces two powder puffs which she wraps in handkerchiefs and stuffs in Laura’s bosom]
LAURA : Mother, what are you doing?
AMANDA : They call them “Gay Deceivers”!
LAURA : I won’t wear them!(…)
LAURA : You make it seem like we were setting a trap.
AMANDA : All pretty girls are a trap, a pretty trap, and men expect them to be.” (Williams 52: sc. 6)
Here, despite Laura’s protest, Amanda focuses on sexualizing her daughter in order to make her more appealing to the gentleman caller, Jim. Amanda’s stubbornness is depicted by her excitement and the use of an exclamation point after “they call them ‘Gay Deceivers’!”. It is clear that to her, there is no alternative, and that this is the way the world works. By deliberately objectifying her daughter, Amanda compromises her sexuality. Rather than being herself, Laura is forced to change in order to conform to the gender roles imposed on her by her mother and, ultimately, society. Laura’s inherit innocence towards sexuality is evident as she states “You make it seem like we were setting a trap.” She does not understand her mother’s intentions, nor does she see the purpose of stuffing her bosom and “setting a trap”. It is clear that Laura has not yet reached the sexual maturity and confidence her mother assumes her to have.Laura’s approach to sexuality is thus notably innocent. She is shy towards men, and is shameful of her feelings (as seen when showing her mother the picture of her high school crush Jim in her yearbook).
This is further demonstrated when she is left alone with Jim in scene 7. During her conversation with Jim, the emphasis is placed on Laura’s youth.
LAURA [hastily, out of embarrassment]: I believe I will take a piece of gum, if you–don’t mind. [clearing her throat] Mr. O’Connor, have you–kept up with your singing?
JIM : Singing? Me?
LAURA : Yes. I remember what a beautiful voice you had. (73: sc. 7)
In this exchange, Laura’s crush is obvious. She speaks “out of embarrassment”, but finally summons the courage to start a conversation with Jim by asking him about his singing, a concept which would not have been thought of for her in previous scenes. Thus, it is clear that although her voice is nervous and hesitant, she is comfortable around Jim. This indicates the sweet sentiments that he surrounds her with. Furthermore, it is evident that throughout High School, she paid a special attention to Jim, and that even now he is trapped in her memory, as she remembers his singing ability when he himself barely remembered. These feelings go a long way in shaping Laura’s sexuality. Just like most other girls at their school, she has been swept away by Jim’s charm and attractiveness.
However, the main reason for Laura’s infatuation is revealed when Laura first describes their relationship.
LAURA : He used to call me–Blue Roses.[Screen image: Blue Roses.]
AMANDA: Why did he call you such a name as that?
LAURA : When I had that attack of pleurosis–he asked me what was the matter when I came back. I said pleurosis–he thought that I said Blue Roses! So that’s what he always called me after that. Whenever he saw me he’d holler, “Hello, Blue Roses!” (…) (17: sc. 2)
The name Blue Roses goes a long way in explaining Laura’s emotional understanding of sexuality. In this piece of dialogue, it is clear that Laura adores the way Jim called her Blue Roses. When her mother practically grimaces at the absurdity of the name, asking in snide wording “Why did he call you such a name as that?”, Laura is all too happy to explain it to her. She tells the story giddily, and exclamation points are added every time she mentions Jim calling her Blue Roses. This is important because her whole life, Laura has seen herself as inferior due to her disability. She grew into a timid and unsure young women due to her crippling fear of being shunned by others. The fact the Jim paid attention to her, and made light of her greatest weakness; the shame she bears for her illnesses; contradicts everything negative thing she’s ever thought and felt about herself. Her whole life, Laura has seen herself as a ‘cripple’, but Jim, shows her that all the defects she sees in herself are only in her own mind.
By treating her like any other girl, significantly as a handsome, charismatic and popular High School boy, he makes her feel good about herself in a way no one else ever has. This is where her feelings for him arise. This is an important development, because it entails that Laura bases her sexual desires on not necessarily instinctive needs, but emotional ones. This further depicts her innocence, as it brings into question her sexual maturity. To her, the only person she imagines herself being with is the only person outside her family who’s ever treated her as an equal. This brings into question the legitimacy of her feelings for Jim. Is she truly in love with him, or is she simply in love with the idea of being ‘normal’?To conclude, Williams’s The Glass Menagerie succeeds in displaying sexuality in terms of youth and growth through the character of Laura. By creating contradicting identities between the mother and daughter, this exposes exactly how sexual confidence can differ from one person to another, especially in terms of age. Furthermore, by analyzing the construction of Laura’s feelings for Jim, it is clear that her sexual maturity is far more complicated than it seems, and seeks to develop the true meaning behind Laura’s grasp on romance. All in all, much like Shakespeare’s’ Romeo and Juliet, the question must be asked if this is truly a romantic tragedy, or simply the result of a childish understandings of the world?
“The Glass Menagerie” is fundamentally a memory play, in that both it’s style and content are shaped and inspired by memory. The lighting effects emphasise these incessant reminiscences, as do the unique stage directions and screens, which appear regularly, accentuating key themes and motifs that recur throughout the play. As Tom himself states clearly, the play’s lack of realism, its high drama, its exaggerated symbolism, and even its frequent use of music are all due to its origins in remembrance, yet underlying this theme of the inexorable power of memory is the idea of entrapment, and the impossibility of true escape.
At the beginning of Scene Four, Tom regales Laura with an account of a magic show in which the magician managed to escape from a nailed-up coffin:
“We nailed him into a coffin and he got out of the coffin without removing one nail. There is a trick that would come in handy for me – get me out of this 2 by 4 situation”.
Evidently, Tom views his life with his family and at the warehouse as a type of coffin, cramped, suffocating, and morbid, in which he is unfairly confined. “The Glass Menagerie” takes an ambiguous attitude toward the moral implications and even the effectiveness of Tom’s entrapment and escape. As an able-bodied young man, he is locked into his life not by exterior factors but by emotional ones, primarily his loyalty to and possibly even love for Laura and Amanda. Escape for Tom means the suppression and denial of these emotions in himself, and it denotes doing great harm to his mother and sister. The magician is able to emerge from his coffin without upsetting a single nail, but the human nails that bind Tom to his home will certainly be distressed by his departure. One cannot say for certain that leaving home even means true escape for Tom, because as far as he might wander from home, something still “pursues” him. Like a jailbreak, Tom’s escape leads him not to freedom but to the life of a fugitive. Tom’s statement, however, that “I am more faithful than I intended to be” indicates that he is fully aware that deserting his family was a faithless and morally reprehensible act, and the guilt associated with it may have something to do with his inability to leave Laura fully behind. Also, Tom’s highly poetic language when he functions as narrator contrasts with his very plain language as a character, pointing up the split between the imaginative world of the mind and the everyday world of the body that the characters live in but are unable to reconcile.
Another form of escape in “The Glass Menagerie” is the fire escape leading out of the Wingfields’ apartment. On the most concrete level, the fire escape is an emblem of the Wingfields’ poverty, yet it represents exactly what its name implies: an escape from the “implacable fires” of frustration and dysfunction that rage in the Wingfield household. Laura slips on the fire escape in Scene Four, highlighting her inability to escape from her situation. For her, escape is impossible, and the fire escape, which takes the people she loves away from her, represents only the possibility of injury and destruction. Tom, on the other hand, frequently steps out onto the landing to smoke, anticipating his eventual getaway.
The family also seems to have a sense of isolation. Tom seeks solitude on the fire escape because of the absence of a patriarchal figure, in “a world of reality that we were somehow set apart from”. The Wingfields live in the patriarchal society of 1930’s America, where the majority of jobs were given to men. Without a male provider the women would feel trapped and so the role of patriarch falls to Tom. Tom does not welcome the responsibility of being the authoritative figure even though he appears to have been given the financial responsibility of being one. It is a coerced role, which has been imposed upon him, and he refuses to accept it thoroughly, consequently trying to avoid it by abandoning his commitments.
The plot of The Glass Menagerie is structured around a series of abandonments. Mr. Wingfield’s desertion of his family determines their life situation; Jim’s desertion of Laura is the centre of the play’s dramatic action; Tom’s abandonment of his family gives him the distance that allows him to shape their story into a narrative. Each of these acts of desertion proves devastating for those left behind. At the same time, each of them is portrayed as the necessary condition for, and a natural result of, inevitable progress. In particular, each is strongly associated with the march of technological progress and the achievements of the modern world. Mr. Wingfield, who works for the telephone company, leaves his family because he “fell in love with long distances” that the telephone brings into people’s consciousness. It is impossible to imagine that Jim, who puts his faith in the future of radio and television, would tie himself to the sealed, static world of Laura. Tom sees his departure as essential to the pursuit of “adventure,” his taste for which is whetted by the movies he attends nightly. Only Amanda and Laura, who are devoted to archaic values and old memories, will presumably never assume the role of abandoner and are doomed to be repeatedly discarded themselves.
Moreover, the characters in “The Glass Menagerie” experience difficulty in accepting reality, and each consequently withdraws and escapes into a private world of illusion where he or she finds the comfort and meaning that the real world does not seem to offer. Reality has the weakest grasp on Laura, as glass animals, objects that, like Laura’s inner life, are incredibly fanciful and dangerously delicate, populate the private world in which she lives. Unlike his sister, Tom is capable of functioning in the real world, as we see in his holding down a job and talking to strangers. Ultimately, however, he has no more motivation than Laura does to pursue professional success, romantic relationships, or even ordinary friendships, and he prefers to retreat into the fantasies provided by literature and movies and the stupor provided by drunkenness. Amanda’s relationship to reality is the most complicated in the play, as unlike her children, she is partial to real-world values and longs for social and financial success. Yet her attachment to these values is exactly what prevents her from perceiving a number of truths about her life. She cannot accept that she is or should be anything other than the pampered belle she was brought up to be, that Laura is peculiar, that Tom is not a budding businessman, and that she herself might be in some ways responsible for the sorrows and flaws of her children. Amanda’s retreat into illusion is in many ways more pathetic than her children’s, because it is not a willful imaginative construction but a wistful distortion of reality.
To summarise, although the Wingfields are distinguished and bound together by the weak relationships they maintain with reality, the illusions to which they succumb are not merely familial quirks. The outside world is just as susceptible to illusion and escape as the Wingfields. The young people at the Paradise Dance Hall waltz under the short-lived illusion created by a glass ball – another version of Laura’s glass animals. Tom opines to Jim that the other viewers at the movies he attends are substituting on-screen adventure for real-life adventure, finding fulfilment in the illusion of escape rather than real life. Even Jim, who represents the “world of reality,” is banking his future on public speaking and the television and radio industries, all of which are means for the creation of illusions and the persuasion of others that these illusions are true. Escape to the characters in “The Glass Menagerie” is an illusion, and the statement Tom makes in scene 4 is equally relevant to every character in the play. “The Glass Menagerie” therefore identifies the conquest of reality and confrontation by illusion and escape, as a huge and growing aspect of the human condition in its time.