The Glass Menagerie
Woman As Victim In Tennessee Williams’ “Glass Menagerie”
The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams, is a play that tells the story of a mother, Amanda, and her two children, Laura and Tom. Laura is a young woman who suffered from a disease that left her crippled, mentally and physically. Tom brings home a gentleman caller for Laura at the request of his mother. The Glass Menagerie not only reflects on the playwright’s sister Rose’s diagnosis of schizophrenia and her lobotomy, but also Williams’ feelings about the procedure. Williams’ had a close relationship with his sister and doted on her. He grew up experiencing Rose’s episodes of insanity and blamed himself for her lobotomy procedure (Morton). Therefore, Tennessee Williams was affected by his sister’s schizophrenia and lobotomy, resulting in his memory play, The Glass Menagerie, and the development of Laura’s character.
A lobotomy is a form of psychosurgery that requires the drilling of holes into a patient’s head to treat chronic mental disorders and behaviors. One of the first psychosurgeries was performed by Gottlieb Burckhardt in 1890 and Ludvig Puusepp in 1910, however, both surgeons decided that the procedure was far too dangerous to be conducted on patients. In 1935, Portuguese neurologist António Egas Moniz and surgeon Pedro Almeida Lima brought back psychosurgery and modified the treatment. “Holes were drilled into the patient’s head and then injected with ethyl alcohol”, in which the alcohol was used to “disrupt the neuronal tracts” that they believed caused the recurring symptoms of a patient’s mental illness (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica). Created by Moniz, the leukotome was used to be inserted into the drilled holes in a patient’s head, “designed specifically to disrupt the tracts of neuronal fibres connecting the prefrontal cortex and thalamus of the brain” (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica). In 1936, physician Walter J. Freeman II and surgeon James Watts introduced the procedure to America. The two men modified the procedure and called it the Freeman-Watts standard lobotomy, in which it was modified again into the transorbital lobotomy ten years later. The transorbital lobotomy required a sharp instrument to be pushed into the eye socket to break the bone behind the sockets, and then “inserted into the frontal lobe and used to sever connections in the brain” (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica). The current form of lobotomy today has been modified throughout the years and a few operations were reported to be effective for several patients. When other forms of therapy and treatment were developed in the mid-1900, the lobotomy became less popular, but, it is still rarely used to treat some mental illnesses today.
Schizophrenia was one of the disorders that were treated by a lobotomy. This common psychotic disorder alters the way one thinks, feels, and behaves. The term “schizophrenia” was coined by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler (Piotrowski). Symptoms usually begin to develop in the twenties for males and females, and then progresses as a person gets older (Piotrowski). Symptoms of schizophrenia are separated into three categories: positive, negative, and cognitive (National Institute of Mental Health). Positive symptoms are thoughts and behaviors that are present in people with the illness. Symptoms can include hallucinations, delusions, and withdrawal from reality. People often confuse hallucinations and delusions, thinking that they are the same thing. Hallucinations involve seeing or hearing things that others do not, while delusions are misconceptions about the actual truth and reality. Negative symptoms are thoughts and behaviors that are “taken away” from someone with schizophrenia. Negative symptoms of this disorder may include “disconnected speech patterns, broken sentences, excessive body movement, and purposeless activity” as well as “extreme anger and hostility”. Cognitive symptoms deal with one’s thinking, with cognition meaning reasoning or understanding. Symptoms can include “poor ability to understand and make decisions, trouble focusing, problems with “working memory”. There is not one exact cause for schizophrenia, just like how there is not just one reason as to why someone has depression or any other mental illnesses. But the psychotic disorder can be caused by “genetics, the environment (viruses or malnutrition), and/or brain chemistry” (National Institute of Mental Health). Schizophrenia cannot be cured, but there are ways to treat this mental illness such as medication and therapy. While schizophrenia affects about “one percent of the general population”, it is still a serious disorder, with Rose William’s falling victim to the illness, and Tennessee Williams as the witness.
Tennessee Williams puts a character in his own shoes because of Rose’s schizophrenia and lobotomy. With background knowledge of the playwright’s life, readers can conclude that Tom Wingfield is a literary representation of Tennessee Williams. Williams’ real name is Thomas Lanier Williams, and Tom Wingfield is the younger brother of Laura Wingfield. Not only are the two men’s names similar, they are also both younger brothers of their fragile sisters. Another factor is that Tom is a poet who works in a warehouse, specifically a shoe warehouse. Williams also worked in a shoe company, but then became a playwright instead of a poet. Additionally, Tom cares deeply for his older sister, Laura, in the same brotherly way Williams did for his older sister, Rose. In Scene IV, it is morning and Laura is to get butter for her mother. But when she rushes out the door, she stumbles over her legs and falls: “A second later she cries out. Tom springs up and crosses to the door. Tom opens the door” (Williams 689). In this situation, Tom’s first instinct is to quickly go to the fallen Laura, knowing that she is crippled and that any assistance would be useful for her. As simple as this act of kindness may be, it clearly portrays Tom’s brotherly love for Laura, the way Williams’ fondness did for Rose while growing up.
Also in Scene IV, Tom shows more of his brotherly fondness for Laura. After Tom and Amanda’s argument, Laura pleads with Tom to apologize to their mother: “Don’t make Mother nervous… Tom, speak to Mother this morning. Make up with her, apologize, speak to her!”. Tom argues with Laura that his mother decided to not talk to him first. But after a few exchanges with Laura after she leaves, he sucks up his pride and apologizes to his mother. With knowledge about Williams’ resentment towards his mother for allowing Rose’s lobotomy, readers can speculate that Tom apologized to Amanda to satisfy Laura’s request, not to truly make up with Amanda. Tom knows that Laura is mentally “crippled” and tends to “brood” about the things she notices, so staying on bad terms with Amanda could possibly make Laura worried and unhappy. In Scene III, prior to Tom’s apology to Amanda, the mother and son argues about little things and he ends up calling her an “ugly—babbling old—witch” before taking off for the night (Williams 687). It has been reported that Williams had a “bitter resentment of his mother for allowing Rose to be so callously mistreated” (Morton). Therefore, Tom’s quarrel with Amanda symbolizes Williams’ grudge and dislike for his mother, Edwina Williams, for allowing Rose’s lobotomy. But, not only did Tennessee Williams create a character to represent himself, he developed a character to represent his sister as well.
To further express his rancor about his sister’s condition and operation, Tennessee Williams turned Rose Williams into Laura Wingfield. Rose Williams is the older sister of Tennessee Williams, and Laura Wingfield is the older sister of Tom Wingfield. The first distinct similarity of the two females is their perception of reality. Rose Williams was diagnosed with schizophrenia and underwent a lobotomy for this. One symptom of schizophrenia is withdrawal from reality, and it is unknown whether Laura is schizophrenic or not. However, in the introduction of the play, it is noted that Laura’s case of reality is much worse than Amanda’s failure “to establish contact with reality” and that she is “crippled”. Readers can theorize that Laura’s perception of reality is also skewed in the way schizophrenics are. Also, Laura being crippled may not apply to her physically, in which “one of her leg is slightly shorter than the other”, but she is also mentally crippled. Even her brother, Tom, acknowledges her behavior and disability, just like Tennessee Williams with his sister.
In Scene V, when Tom talks to Amanda about bringing Jim O’Connor home for dinner, Tom points out that Laura is “terribly shy and lives in a world of her own” (Williams 697). He further explains to Amanda that Laura is “peculiar” because “she lives in a world of her own—a world of little glass ornaments”. Schizophrenics not only withdraws from reality, but they can experience hallucinations as well. It is a possibility that Laura hallucinates in a world of her glass collection, because she, as a 23-year-old woman, personified her glass unicorn to Jim O’Connor in Scene VII: “He doesn’t complain about it… all of them seem to get along nicely together… I haven’t heard any argument among them!” (Williams 712). With knowledge of Rose Williams and analysis of Laura’s character, readers can conclude why Laura’s glass unicorn is one of her favorites out of her collection. A unicorn is a horse with a horn on its head, making it quite unique. This uniqueness in the play parallels with Laura and her fragile, yet schizophrenic behavior and her “clumping” leg brace (Williams 708). However, this uniqueness in the real world connects to Rose and her schizophrenia. When the horn breaks from the unicorn after falling off a table, this symbolizes Rose Williams’ lobotomy. Laura consoles Jim that she will “just imagine he had an operation… to make him feel less—freakish”. The “operation” parallels with Rose’s lobotomy procedure, to make her “just like all the other horses”. But, as evident as the similarities may be, critics may disagree that Rose Williams’ condition and operation had any effect on the playwright.
Critics may argue that The Glass Menagerie had nothing to do with Tennessee Williams’ personal life and feelings. The first argument would just be a speculation that Rose’s condition and lobotomy did not affect the playwright on a personal level. But, this speculation is absurd as Williams’ had a fondness for his sister and was close to her. Other plays by Tennessee Williams were also written to reflect his life, such as Suddenly Last Summer and The Night of the Iguana, in which the “heroine” was “inspired by Rose”. However, the characters of The Glass Menagerie are the closest representation of the people in Williams’ life, himself included. The similarities between Tom Wingfield and Tennessee Williams are just too coincidental. Another argument would be that Rose Williams had no effect on the playwright’s development of Laura’s character. If this is the case, then the similarities between Laura and Rose are also much too coincidental. Why would Laura also be the older sister of “Tom” who also exhibits schizophrenic behaviors of a distorted reality? If Tennessee Williams was never affected by Rose’s schizophrenia and her lobotomy, he would not have expressed his remorse and bitterness in his plays, specifically The Glass Menagerie. Williams felt guilty for not “being able to prevent the procedure” of Rose and was “haunted” by it. Therefore, with coincidental similarities between characters, especially Laura, and their counterparts, it is evident that Rose became the muse behind Williams’ plays.
Sharing a close relationship with his older sister Rose Williams, playwright Tennessee Williams watched his sister fall into a world of madness and eventually received treatment that never truly treated her. Rose was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a serious and chronic mental illness that can be treated with a lobotomy. Lobotomies, however, can be dangerous, as the procedure involves puncturing the skull and prodding the brain to disrupt nerves. Eventually, at the request of her mother Edwina Williams, Rose underwent a lobotomy. To express his guilt for not “being able to prevent the procedure”, Williams illustrated certain elements of his life and his sister’s life into one of his most famous plays, The Glass Menagerie. The first clear element is the narrator of the play, Tom Wingfield and his counterpart, Tennessee Williams, himself. Not only are their names and occupations similar, their brotherly love for their older sisters and ill feelings for their mothers are indistinguishable. Rose, the muse of many of Williams’ plays, was developed into Laura Wingfield. Rose and Laura are the older sisters of the two Toms and both have a distorted sense of reality. After witnessing Rose’s madness and hearing of her operation, it is evident that the occurrence greatly impacted Tennessee Williams, resulting in The Glass Menagerie (along with many of his other famous works) and the development of Laura’s character. The Glass Menagerie may seem like a play that revolves around an ordinary family, but it appears that the play has a much deeper significance, especially to the playwright, Tennessee Williams.
The Different Types of Blindness of the Characters in Oedipus Rex by Sophocles and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
Types of Blindness
Life is full of things that humans wish to forget. Using blindness as a buffer from reality is a natural response to dangerous stimuli. The types of blindness are easily classified into many categories. These classifications make understanding stories and characters much better. The characters in Oedipus Rex by Sophocles and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams are easily classified by their blindness to the past, present, and future.
The first group that that can be seen is those who are blind to the past. Characters in this group are blinded to their past actions and don’t think back on them. Oedipus from Oedipus Rex is a good example of a character in this group. He was the one who killed Laius but he ignores the possibility. It’s evident by how he accuses Creon of murdering Laius and trying to steal the throne. Even when faced with a prophesy by Tiresias that implicates him; “In name he is a stranger among citizens, but soon he will be shown to be a citizen, true native Theban, and he’ll have no joy of the discovery: blindness for sight and beggary for riches his exchange, he shall go journeying to a foreign country tapping his way before him with a stick..” (p. 7), he refuses to believe it. Jocasta from the same story is another character that can be used in this category. Jocasta is blind to how fate can be changed. She was told a prophecy about her child killing her husband, so she threw her baby away to be murdered. The prophecies had been spreading around the whole play, but she never really caught on until it was right in front of her. She tries to keep Oedipus blind to the truth by begging him to “…not hunt this out…” (p. 17).
The next group of characters can be classified by their blindness to the present. This group is blind to what is happening around them currently. Amanda from The Glass Menagerie is a great example of this classification. Amanda is blind to how her actions are affecting her daughter, Laura. She sets up for Laura to go to business classes not realizing how Laura feels about the whole situation. When Amanda finds out about Laura skipping her business classes she goes into a long and anxious rant about Laura’s future asking her, “So what are we going to do the rest of our lives? Stay home and watch the parades go by? Amuse ourselves with the glass menagerie, darling? Eternally play those worn-out phonograph records your father left as a painful reminder of him? We won’t have a business career – we’ve given that up because it gave us nervous indigestion! [She laughs wearily.] What is there left but dependency all our lives? I know so well what becomes of unmarried woman who aren’t prepared to occupy a position. I’ve seen such pitiful cases in the South – barely tolerated spinsters living upon the grudging patronage of sister’s husband or brother’s wife! – stuck away in some little mousetrap of a room – encouraged by one in-law to visit another – little birdlike women without any nest – eating the crust of humility all their life! Is that the future that we’ve mapped out for ourselves? I swear it’s the only alternative I can think of! [She pauses.] It isn’t a very pleasant alternative, is it? [She pauses again.] Of course – some girls do marry.” (Scene 2). This rant shows her disconnection with her daughter and how obviously blind she is to her daughter’s wants and needs. Tom from The Glass Menagerie also fits into this classification because of how blind to the consequences of his current choices he is. He is always just doing whatever he wants, whenever he pleases without thinking about the repercussions. He even got fired from his job for “writing a poem on the lid of a shoebox.” (Scene 7). This shows how blind he is to his current actions and how he doesn’t think about what he does before he does it.
The third group of classification is blindness to the future. This group is blind to what the future holds. Amanda is the perfect fit for this classification. She is blind to what the future holds for her and her family. She is terrified of this fear and lets it control her decisions. When Laura stops going to business school she asks herself, “What are we going to do, what is going to become of us, what is the future?” (Scene 2). She tries so hard to start a future for her children but is blind to where they will end up. Even Laura fits into this classification. Laura is so blind that she doesn’t even think about the future. Her mother set’s her up so that she may live a life worth living, but drops it because she was frightened. She doesn’t see any error in her actions above the fact her mother would get disappointed. Her only reasoning for not going back to the class was because she “threw up -on the floor!” This shows that she’s blind to the consequences of her actions as well as blind about how her life will end up.
In conclusion, the stories Oedipus Rex and The Glass Menagerie have many characters who can be classified by their blindness to the past, present, and future. Classifying characters help make them easier to understand and like. This brings realism to the story as well as allows the reader to connect with the characters. Without understanding the blindness of these characters, they wouldn’t be as distinguishable from the flat characters.
Heart of Glass: Sexuality and Naivety in Laura Wingfield’s Development
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?
Life’s Fire Escape
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.
A Comparison of The Glass Menagerie and Hamlet
The Glass Menagerie is a play that involves characters like Amada, Laura, Tom, his friend Jim and their father a character who never physically appears only that he is said to have left them since he was constantly away for a job. Laura is disabled, and her mother always worries that she might never find a “gentleman caller”. The Hamlet on the other handle revolves around the life of the dead King Hamlet’s family in old Denmark kingdom. Hamlet is the Son of a king who had died not long before. He was the heir to the throne but when his father the king died, Hamlet’s uncle Claudius took over. As if that was not enough, Claudius married Gertrude, the late king’s wife. A ghost that belonged to Hamlet’s father appeared to him, informed him that it is Claudius who killed him by having poison put in his ear. The king’s ghost then asks Hamlet to revenge for his death. The unravelling of incidences in the Helmet and the Glass Menagerie, the memories and the future happenings are comparable. This essay will focus on the influence of the past on the present based on the incidences that took place in the Hamlet and the Glass Menagerie and how they influenced the lives of the involved characters.
In both the Hamlet and the Glass Menagerie, a few of the characters have known each other for a long time some of which have high expectations for each other with the hope of being in a relationship and spend a life together. In the Hamlet, Ophelia and Hamlet were said to have been in a relationship, but Ophelia was instructed against entertaining Hamlet into her life. As her brother Laertes makes preparations to leave for France, Ophelia is cautioned by her Brother to avoid falling in love with Hamlet, and he refers to Hamlet as a person who is high above her level to be able to love her honourably. He mentions that Hamlet had a far greater responsibility of taking care of his feelings as well as those of the kingdom which means that the marriage between the two might be impossible. Ophelia’s father Polonius then makes enquiries from her on what the brother was speaking about, and she opens up to her father. She told her father that the brother spoke of “something touching Lord Hamlet” (Shakespeare, p89). When Polonius enquires about her relationship with Hamlet, she discloses to her father that Hamlet speaks of being in love with her. The father rebukes this act and warns his daughter not to fall for the false vows that Hamlet makes to her. He warns her against being associated with him.
After the death of Hamlet’s father, Hamlet seemed to have gone mad, and his reactions were far more erratic. With everyone not knowing the cause of such behaviours, Polonius assumed that his reaction was because his daughter Ophelia had refused to reciprocate his love for her by loving him back. At one point when Polonius sends out his servant to spy on Laertes, Ophelia enters the house looking upset and tells the father that Hamlet had at one point confronted her looking unkempt and with wild eyes. Hamlet out of anger grabbed her but did not even make a word. Polonius concluded that irrational behaviour was because Ophelia has kept a distance from Hamlet since her father warned her and that all these forms of reactions that Hamlet had been due to the love Hamlet had for Ophelia. Polonius was for the idea that this might have been the reason as to why Hamlet was in a strange mood, an idea that he rushed to tell Claudius.
To prove that Hamlet’s madness was due to the love he had for Ophelia, a plan was devised to have both Hamlet and Ophelia converse as the father listens. Ophelia was then ordered to approach Hamlet and tell him that she would reciprocate by loving him back since he seemed to be so much in love with her. Surprisingly, Hamlet denies having loved her at any point. Hamlet makes known to Ophelia that humankind is wretched and that she should not let herself to be a “breeder of sinners” (Shakespeare, 122). He even urged Ophelia to join the nunnery. Hamlet makes a critic of women where he argues that women make men behave like monsters and that they always paint their faces which makes them look more beautiful than they are supposed to be. Hamlet then denounced humankind, women and Ophelia and made known his wish to Ophelia of bringing all marriages to an end (Shakespeare, 122). Ophelia could not believe the words that were uttered by Hamlet, and she suffered heartbreak after being warned by the father not to associate herself with Hamlet since he might not be able to love her. This heartbreak was then aggravated by her father’s death which then made her commit suicide by drowning herself.
In comparison with The Hamlet, the Glass Menagerie is a play that revolves around the life of disabled Laura who thinks that she might never get a man at any point in her life. Her mother however believes that this is possible and when Laura makes no efforts to get herself a man after she dropped out from the business school (Tennessee, scene ii), Amada her mother tells her that she should not spend all her life playing with her glass menagerie and that she should find something meaningful to do with her life. Laura, however, feels inferior and her disability barricades her from exploring and venturing into life.
Meanwhile, Amada had asked Tom her son to look for a gentleman caller for his sister at the warehouse where he used to work. Tom hand invited his friend Jim for supper. Laura had revealed to her mother that she had a high school crush who to some extent found her unique from the others. When she realizes that the person who had been invited over for supper is the same guy she had a crush on back in high school, she was reluctant to open the door for him when the doorbell rang. She even fell sick and could not take supper with the rest of the family. Her mother, however, had ensured that she looked decent to have something to attract the visitor. Jim was said to have been in the singing group in high school, and as they converse with Laura, he is carried away by a song that was singing from a distance, and he decided to dance with Laura. As they danced, Jim told Laura that she was exceptional, referred her to “blue roses” (Tennessee, scene II) the famous name that she used to call Laura in High school and ended up kissing her (Tennessee, scene VII). Laura’s hopes are shuttered when Jim confesses that he is an engaged man and that he had to leave. The only man that Laura had ever loved was gone which led to a lot of pain to Laura, the mother and the whole family.
Both, Laura and Ophelia despite living a different life can be compared to that they all at one point feel shuttered and restrained by things that are beyond their control. Laura feels that now that she is decapitated, she can only spend her life playing with her glass menagerie. She even dropped from business school and spent her time going to the zoo, to the museum and at the houses where they “raise the tropical flowers.” (Tennessee, Scene ii). Feeling useless also made her think that she might not even ever get a man in her life despite her mother’s famous motivational story of how at one point she had seventeen gentlemen watchers within one day. The lives of the two characters were not so different since each one of them had their battles that they even never knew how to win. When an opportunity to advance and make life better came along, Laura played around with it, dropped from school and continued with her normal old fashioned life playing with her glass menagerie and spending time in the house. When Jim, Laura’s high school crush came to visit them, Laura practically fell sick. When she was motivated, she took the opportunity with passion, danced with him, showed him her possessions, received a kiss from him but when she thought that it was the beginning of a life she was so much longing for, Jim made his confession that he was engaged to someone. In a blink of a second, all she was hoping for was long gone including her brother who later confessed that he would never forget her.
Hamlet was a dreamer who longed for the best in his life and everyone’s life. Being the rightful heir to his father’s throne, he felt shuttered that his father’s most inferior brother had taken his position and ended up marrying his mother. This in combination with his father’s death made him long to die. Unfortunately, he did not know where to begin and what exactly to so that he can put things in order. Things seemed to be beyond his control, and he ended up suffering psychologically. The lady to which he had confessed his love for was not willing to be with him after she was advised by her father to stay away from him. Nonetheless, Hamlet was still confused on how to fight his battles. When an opportunity prevailed itself when his father’s ghost appeared to him informed him that it is his uncle who was responsible for the king’s death and asked him to revenge for his death, Hamlet felt motivated (Shakespeare, p189). He embraced the opportunity and devised plans on how to destroy his uncle. Just like the way Laura dropped from the business school hurting his mother so much, Hamlet ended up killing his lover’s father, and this drove her crazy.
After Hamlet realized what killed his father, he made a play that captured similar incidence based on how the death of his father occurred. He was hoping to see his uncle the king react, and this would make him guilty. The most expected thing occurred, and when the point of putting poison into the sleeping king’s ear came, Hamlet’s uncle left the scene. Unfortunately, when Hamlet followed him, he found him praying, and he was reluctant to kill him since he thought that if he killed him at this juncture, his soul would go to heaven and this would not have been enough revenge. This hesitation can be compared to that of Laura to meet Jim her longtime crush (Tennessee, scene vii).
When the king realized that Hamlet might be dangerous, he decided to send him away. He even planned a fight against him and Laertes, the son of Polonius who was murdered by Hamlet. This was vengeance, and Laertes would be so much willing to engage in a fight with Hamlet and destroy him. Claudius poisoned the blade that was to be used by Laertes so that when the blade cuts through the fresh of Hamlet, this will result in his death. Hamlet refused to take the poisoned wine that Claudius offered to him. When the queen took the wine, she could not resist but die (Shakespeare, p189). Nonetheless, Hamlet was struck with the poisoned sword, but he managed to win the fight by slaughtering Laertes with the same sword. Hamlet then realized Claudius’ plans, and he made him drink the poison. This was an opportunity that he was so passionate about and he could not let go. With high expectations that this was over, he lost his whole family, and he also died losing everything that he ever longed for. This moment can also be compared to the moment when Laura was so much passionate about having Jim in her life and then all was shuttered after Jim’s confession, and she lost it all.
Both the Glass Menagerie and the Hamlet are comparable regarding the tension that was being experienced in the families. Tom and his mother were always quarrelling about various issues like spending time doing a job that he did not like, always going to the movie every night, failing to pay for electricity and also bringing into the house an engaged man who Amada hoped that would take Laura as his spouse. Hamlet, on the other hand, was not in good terms with his uncle the king since he had immediately married the fallen king’s wife. Hamlet also thought that he was the rightful heir to the throne to which his uncle was now sitting on. He also knew that his uncle killed the king that Hamlet was always looking for a way to revenge for his father’s death as he was advised by his father’s ghost (Shakespeare, p40).
Both the Hamlet and the Glass Menagerie can be compared in that the incidences that take place in both the writings depend on what had happened in the past. The present characters life is influenced by what happened in the past. Laura is struggling with her longtime disability which to a great extent influences her life. She then meets her high school crush the only person she has ever loved. Her hopes however never bore fruits since Jim was already engaged. Hamlet, on the other hand, is possessed with the vengeance of his father’s death. Along the way despite having taken the revenge with his dying breath, he lost everything his family and the throne that he always thought that he was the rightful heir
The Conversations Between Characters in The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
The Glass of Menagerie
Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass of Menagerie” is a play set in an apartment in St. Louis. The play presents the narrator’s memory of the life he went through in 1937. As a character in the play, Tom Wingfield, the play’s narrator presents his memories from the time his father abandons the family to the time he leaves home to look for a job. Although Tom is an aspiring poet, he works in a shoe warehouse to support his mother Amanda and sister, Laura. His father, Wingfield, as Tom narrates, abandoned them at the time they were young. Tom’s memories and his mother’s contemplations reveal that the family misses their breadwinner. Amanda tells her children about the many suitors she had when she was the age of her daughter, Laura. She wonders why Laura does not attract suitors.
Amanda enrolls Laura in a business college so that she can provide for herself when she graduates. However, Amanda comes to learn that Laura dropped out of college and spent time polishing her glass menagerie. Disappointed, Amanda tells Tom to look for a suitor for his sister and he agrees to bring Jim who turns out to be engaged, thereby disappointing the family. The author’s concentration on the events that take place in Wingfield’s family has triggered criticism that the play only features the theme of family relations. Critics have argued that the book is not rich in thematic concerns. However, an in-depth review of the text reveals the author’s success in presenting the themes of marriage and love, abandonment, freedom and confinement and dreams and aspirations.
The insistence that Amanda has on Laura to get herself a man reveals the theme of marriage in William’s play. Although the writer does not explicitly show an intention of presenting the theme, it comes out clearly based on the conversation between Amanda and Laura. The mother asks her daughter; “haven’t you ever liked some boy?” (Williams 35). The question opens a conversation that reveals the theme of marriage and love as one of the main ideas that Williams presents in the text. Amanda claims that failure to get married prepares women for lowliness and forces them to live sorrow lives. She claims that women that are not married are tossed from relative to another as they look for a place to end their loneliness (Williams 33). The author creatively packages Amanda’s message to her daughter about marriage in a way that portrays marriage as a social fulfillment in the society. For instance, Amanda says that women that fail to get married in her society end up developing grudges with their brothers’ wives or sister’s husband. Interestingly, Amanda does not say anything concerning love in marriage. Williams may have omitted Amanda’s views about love because she is a victim of abandonment.
Although Amanda asks about her daughter’s love life, she does not experience love in her marriage given that her husband abandoned her and the children. Contrary to the reader’s expectation, Williams portrays Laura as having fallen in love with one person. Laura remembers Jim and tells her mother that he is the only person that she has had love for in her life. Since Jim calls Laura “Blue Roses,” she remembers him as a person that has recognized the uniqueness in her (Williams 37). Williams builds the theme of love as something that develops after a character is abandoned. For instance, Tom’s family hangs a portrait of their father on the wall to remember him after he abandons them. Also, Laura remembers Jim at the time she cannot get him. Besides, she feels weak when she discovers that Jim is engaged.
The brief interaction between Laura and Jib when the latter comes visiting reveals the author’s ability to package theme of love. Although Jim and Laura been out of touch for a long time, their interactions lead to a kiss that gets Laura out of her shell and confesses that she liked Jim from the time they were in school (Williams 57). By portraying Jim praising Laura for her uniqueness the author builds the theme of love in a way that suggests that the two characters may want to get married in future. Williams portrays Jim as the only man that has managed to trigger Laura’s desire for love. For instance, the author reveals that Laura shows Jim her favorite artwork and he likes it. Although the play ends in suspense, the audience understands that Jim is interested in Laura even though he has a fiancé.
Tom’s narration reveals that his father abandoned the family and he did not seem to regret his decision. Williams’ presentation of Tom’s memories reveals the theme of abandonment. Tom says that the last the family heard from their father was a note saying “hello-goodbye” (Williams 1). Tom’s memories show that his father was a soldier who might have fought in the world war and he could have abandoned the family to continue fighting in the war. In his conversation with the mother, Tom expresses his displeasure with the five-dollar salary and claims that he can abandon the family just like the father did. He says to his mother, “…listen, if self is what I thought of, Mother, I’d be where he is-GONE” (Williams 34). Williams seems to suggest that in the play’s setting, abandonment happens after a conflict between the characters. By showing Tom contemplating to abandon the family after his argument with his mother, Williams manages to connect the themes of dreams and aspirations with abandonment and family conflicts.
By saying “where he is gone,” Tom points at his father’s photograph and therefore, he suggests abandoning his sister and mother (Williams 34). The theme of abandonment is also seen when Tom quarrels with his mother and leaves home for unnamed location. Although Tom makes the final decision to abandon the family, Williams presents him thinking a lot about his sister. The thoughts indicate that Tom is haunted by his decision to abandon his sister and mother.
Williams uses the experiences of Tom at the workplace and home to bring out the theme of freedom and confinement. For instance, Tom claims that he does not want to spend his years in the “celotex interior with-fluorescent-tubes” (Williams 33). The author uses the claim to show that Tom is confined to his workplace and he lacks freedom. As a poet, Tom feels that his talent is threatened by his continuous stay at the shoe factory. However, Williams portrays him as an individual with little options given that he has to take care of the family.
Regarding the theme of dreams and aspirations, Williams builds the play in a way that portrays Tom, Laura and their father as individuals that are constantly pursuing their dreams but fail in most of their attempts. For instance, Laura dreams of becoming a successful artist, but her mother interrupts her aspirations as she sends her to a business school and always reminds her to get a boyfriend. Amanda’s hope for Laura fails to materialize when she abandons school and starts loitering in town. Amanda says that she hoped for “success and happiness” for her children, but she did not achieve it (Williams 23). Tom’s aspirations for a better life, just like his father lead him to abandon the family. The author uses the conversation among the characters and their memories to show how the play explores the theme of failed dreams.
The critics of Williams’ work, especially the aspect of themes argue that the play only reveals family conflicts that lead to the separation of characters. The argument is based on the setting of the play in that the acts revolve around one environment. However, the criticism fails to consider the author’s use of conversations among characters to build other themes. For instance, the conversation between Laura and her mother brings out the theme of marriage while Tom’s ranting and memories portray the theme of abandonment and confinement.
Therefore, contrary to the critics’ assertion that Williams’ “The Glass of Menagerie” fails to reveal its thematic concerns, the play reveals the author’s main ideas in the form of the theme of marriage and love, confinement, freedom and abandonment. The author uses the character’s conversations to portray these themes in a way that show the views of the protagonists. By using Tom’s narrations and the confrontation between him and his mother, the author succeeds in showing how the aspect of family relationships in the play gives rise to the other themes. Thus, the book can be recommended for readers that want to be entertained as they read much about the American society during the 20th century.
Light and Music in The Glass Menagerie and Master Harold…And the Boys
Light and music are two elements of drama that can become significant in developing the plot and characters. Certain playwrights may further incorporate stage lighting including directional lighting and setting lighting in order to not only divert attention to the critical area of the stage, but as well to adequately present their ideas. Correspondingly, music as well can be indirectly implemented in plays through the characters’ dialogue and allusions to musical pieces; thus, becoming symbolic. Furthermore, this music can be directly presented in the background of the play. Both playwrights, Tennessee Williams and Athol Fugard employ the elements of lighting and music in their respective plays, The Glass Menagerie and Master Harold and the Boys in order to both intensify the reality of their plays as well as develop the theme of escapism and the accompanying theme of hope and hopelessness.
Williams uses light for stage directions and as a symbol in The Glass Menagerie in order to develop his theme of hope; more specifically, to portray Laura’s ultimate sense of hopelessness. The stage directions call for “gloomy gray” lighting with a “turgid red glow” and a “deep blue husk”. This form of lighting helps construct the images of memory and its unrelenting power as well as its associated mood of nostalgia and deep melancholy. Such a mood is one that alludes to a sense of hopelessness for which Laura experiences. This hopelessness is emphasized through the symbol of light rather than the stage lighting. That is, the following simile is developed where Laura is described to be “like a piece of translucent glass touched by light, given a momentary radiance, not actual, not lasting”. Such a description not only forecasts her inability to maintain confidence but as well suggests that her beauty is innately tied to her delicacy and the disadvantage she has with her condition. Moreover, it displays the impermanence of hope in her life, as it comes as quickly as it goes. Williams further emphasizes Laura’s delicacy through another character—Jim. Upon Jim’s arrival to their home, and Laura’s refuge, there is a “delicate lemony light” that appears and eventually a soft light that brings out Laura’s “unearthly prettiness”. As the light symbolizes hope, it becomes evident that Jim provides Laura with a temporary sense of hope upon his arrival. The “lemony” or yellow color that the light is described through, however, becomes of significance as it becomes cautionary of the damage that Jim will ultimately provoke in Laura. Though Jim enlists hope in Laura by providing her with comments that temporarily raise her self-confidence, he flees abruptly, leaving Laura hopeless once again and thus sparking the argument that the play ends on a rather pessimistic note. Williams underscores this lack of hope through Tim’s physical escape from the house; that is, his attempt to escape their reality suggests that he too has withdrawn all his hope in Laura having a better, happier life.
Williams further conveys the very theme of escapism and demonstrates the characters’ abstinence from confronting reality by incorporating music in his theatrical piece. Not only does the music hold a great degree of symbolic significance, but it as well provides emotion to the scenes. In the fourth scene, for example, Williams incorporates “Ava Maria” in the background in order to allude to the harsh responsibilities that Amanda has as a mother. These responsibilities are what ultimately fuel Amanda’s desperate efforts in obtaining a better life for her daughter. In the process of doing so, Amanda feels inclined to escape her reality and own failures as well as the reality of Laura’s handicap. As Tom attempts to make his mother face the reality of her daughter’s handicap, “the music changes to a tango that has a minor and somewhat ominous tone”. The music helps to provide a worrying impression and thus demonstrate Amanda’s fear of reality and the consequences that come with confronting reality. Another character whose attitude towards reality is described through music is Laura. That is, as Jim arrives, Laura becomes terrified and begs her mother to open the door, but she refuses and forces Laura to open it. Before reluctantly opening the door, however, she winds the Victoria to play music. Laura attempts to play this music in order to escape from the intense situation—to escape reality. With Amanda escaping from her past, Laura escaping her troubled existence and Tom escaping the house with its responsibilities including the burden of obtaining a better life for Laura, the characters ultimately push each other farther apart as they retreat into their own imaginations. Hence, music aids in conveying not only the idea of escapism but as well in depicting the alienation the characters feel from not only one another, but from society as a whole.
Fugard as well employs light in his play, Master Harold and the Boys merely as a symbol for hope. When Hally and Sam discuss ballroom dancing, and whether or not dance is considered a form of art, Hally argues and describes that in his imagination, dancing simply involves people “having a so-called good time”. Sam offers another description, claiming that it Hally’s imagination “left out the excitement” and that it is “not just another dance…there’s going to be a lot of people…having a good time…party decorations and fancy lights all around the hall…the ladies in beautiful evening dresses!” The lights evidently become symbolic for positivity and hope as the description of such lights aid Sam in defying Hally’s pessimistic outlook on ballroom dancing. Fugard associates “fancy lights” with the extended metaphor of ballroom dancing in order to present ballroom dancing in a rather positive and hopeful manner. By doing so, Fugard describes the dreamlike quality that the dance and dancers possess. This sort of description demonstrates the dance as a metaphor for social harmony. The symbolic element of light is again presented at the end of the play when the jukebox “comes to life in the gray twilight”. This gray light is incorporated at the end of the play in order to further emphasize the hope for such potential harmony and peace among Blacks and Whites. As gray is midway between black and white, Fugard deliberately incorporates this light as a means of conveying the hope for Blacks and Whites to come together as one. This very idea is further highlighted through Fugard’s employment of the motif of music and the corresponding theme of escapism.
Fugard uses music to not only provide movement to the play, but as well to develop theme of escapism; more specifically, escaping reality as attempted by Sam and Willie. Throughout the play, Sam and Willie practice the “waltz” and “foxtrot” for their ballroom dancing. Similar to light, music as well becomes associated with the extended metaphor of ballroom dancing. Thus, the music helps to allude to a dreamlike, collision-free world by which the dancers are capable of enlisting order in a disordered world, and respectively, an ideal society with no “collisions” between Blacks and Whites. Sam and Willie use music and ballroom dancing to escape their realities; however, Hally interferes with such an escape as he claims “The truth? I seem to be only one around here who is prepared to face it. We’ve had the pretty dream; it’s time now to wake up and have a good long look at the way things really are. Nobody knows the steps, there’s no music, the cripples are also out there tripping up everybody and trying to get into the act, and it’s all called the All-Comers-How-to-Make-a-[Mess]-of-Life-Championships.” As music becomes a symbol for escaping reality, Hally specifically indicates that there is “no music” in order to suggest that escaping reality is impossible. Fugard does not, however, allow these words to convey his final message. Rather, he officially ends the play with lyrics of a song sung by Sarah Vaughn called “Little Man, You’ve had a Busy Day”. This song becomes significant as it suggests that Hally is the little man who was compelled upon adulthood. The little man in the context of the song is in tears because he lost his toys; this seems so simple and foolish to the adult but heartrending to the child. Rather than neglecting his child or disregarding his sadness, the father comforts the child and suggests for him to go to bed. Correspondingly, Sam, who is presented as the ‘father’ of Hally provides him with unconditional support, and suggests for him to sleep so as to allude to escaping the harsh reality of the apartheid system. Though insulted by Hally’s spitting, he ultimately does not lose hope on Hally waking up and realizing that he can control his life and personal decisions and overlook the system of apartheid.
Both Athol Fugard and Tennessee Williams develop the theme of escapism and theme of hope and hopelessness in their plays Master Harold and the Boys and The Glass Menagerie through their incorporation of light and music in the form of stage directions and motifs. Though there is an evident similarity in the manner by which the two playwrights develop these themes, there is also an apparent difference in the final meaning that the two are attempting to convey. That is, Tennessee Williams uses light to convey a sense of hopelessness while Athol Fugard employs this light to leave the audience with a more hopeful attitude towards the future by the end of his play. Williams’ use of light helps justify the characters’ desire to escape their reality and retreat into their fantasy world. Because there is no hope in enhancing their lives, all the characters cope through a complete escape. Fugard offers an antithetical message; rather than the characters’ hopelessness propelling them to escaping their reality, it is their ability to escape the harsh reality of the apartheid system that provides them with hope.
The difference in the two plays is further understood through the macrocosmic vision that the two playwrights allude to. In The Glass Menagerie, Williams portrays a sense of hopelessness and an ultimate desire to escape in his play in order emphasize the way in which individuals viewed the 1940s as an exciting escape from the 1930s. Hence, Amanda, Laura, and Tom become associated with other Americans in the Great Depression who sought relief from their distressing lives by escaping their reality through films, false identities, and fantasies. By making such an association, Williams demonstrates the negative affect of The Great Depression. In Master Harold and the Boys, Athol Fugard ends on a more optimistic note in order to send out an anti-apartheid message—a message that transcends the norms of South Africa at the time. He encourages the fight against the racial segregation as he suggests that society can be a whole and can be harmonious if Blacks and Whites function in unison with each other. Thus, it becomes evident that the manner by which the two playwrights present their themes in their plays correspond with their macrocosmic visions—with and without hope.
Tom Wingfield’s View of Happiness
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.
The Age of Miracles and The Glass Menagerie
Passage: “Meanwhile my soccer team practiced mostly as usual, and my mother’s drama students continued to rehearse their production of Macbeth. All across the country, events like these were held as planned. Shows had to go on. We clung to anything previously scheduled. To cancel seemed immoral, or it might mean we’d given up or lost hope” (Walker 104).
Julia describes the tenacious hold everyone has on adapting and what tactics they will use to continue on with their existences.
Although the public just found out about this unfortunate event, they are deciding to carry on with what is already programmed.
To be able to keep sane, preserving routines help control outrages.
Not yet obtaining realism.
Karen Thompson Walker’s novel gives a view on how the country, North America, is hooked into their own reality in a way and is aspiring to stay with their “flow.”
Schedules and plans are made to keep everything intact and organized. Without them there would be a sense of chaos everywhere we go.
This considers how insubstantial we would all be if there wasn’t something we could hang onto i.e., a clock.
Passage: “At school, we dissected frogs, we ran the mile, our spines were checked for scoliosis. Soccer season stretched into January because of all the games we’d canceled in the fall. But I’d lost interest in the sport. What was the point anymore? What did it matter?” (Walker 220).
After the discovery, the story suggests as if everyone wanted to keep everything little thing under control, but now it seems as if dismissing the fact is making it worse. Especially for those who are younger and/or do not apprehend with what is happening.
It suggests as if everyone is just going on with their personal lives with no worries.
Julia’s doubt of those who are investigating the subject at hand is growing stronger and stronger.
She is starting to give up and is question everything.
To Julia, nothing appeared as important and her persistence was beginning to fade.
In the middle of the novel, people are starting to lose hope in the scientists and their advances on figuring out what is going wrong with their planet.
Passage: “My mother says I spend too much time thinking about the past. We should look ahead, she says, to the time that’s left but the past is long, and the future is short. As I write this account, one ordinary life, our days have stretched to the lengths of weeks, and it’s hard to say which times are most hazardous now: the weeks of freezing darkness or the light” (Walker 388).
The past is something that you can’t help but consider at certain times.
Julia’s past made a colossal impact on her life.
As a result of this affect, Julia had to mature instantaneously and ultimately did not have the finest adolescence because of this.
What the general assumed was going to be a temporary dilemma, turned out to be everlasting.
Passage: “The straight realistic play with its genuine Frigidaire and authentic ice-cubes, its characters who speak exactly as its audience speaks, corresponds to the academic landscape and has the same virtue of a photographic likeness. Everyone should know nowadays the unimportance of the photographic in art: that truth, life, or reality is an organic thing which the poetic imagination can represent or suggest, in essence, only through transformation, through changing into other forms than those which were merely present in appearance” (Williams xix).
This play is meant to capture the audience’s attention and give the people something they can relate to or something that they are familiar with.
Tennessee Williams wanted to represent the realistic part of a family or of life in general.
Playwright Tennessee Williams also wanted to give an idea of what life was like in America during his time using during his time by using the literary genre, southern gothic and memories.
Passage: Laura: Now it is just like all the other horses
Jim: It’s lost its—
Laura: Horn! It doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.
Jim: You’ll never forgive me. I bet that that was your favorite piece of glass.
Laura: I don’t have favorites much. It’s no tragedy, Freckles. Glass breaks so easily. No matter how careful you are. The traffic jars the shelves and things fall off them.
Jim: Still I’m awfully sorry that I was the cause.
Laura [smiling]: I’ll just imagine he has an operation. The horn was removed to make him feel less—freakish!
[They both laugh.]
Now he will feel more at home with the other horses, the ones that don’t have horns…
This represents how much Laura wants to be like the others in a metaphor of her being the unicorn and everyone else being the horses.
She realizes that if she gets rid of her horn or her disability in her case, she could become like the others and not stand out from the crowd.
Laura has a true complication of in grasping onto the real world.
Laura believes that her limp is keeping her from being with others who are not like her.
This could also show how alike Laura and the glass unicorn are.
They both do not fit into crowds and are both fragile.
Passage: Tom: I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something. It always came upon me unawares, taking me all together by surprise. Perhaps it was a familiar bit of music. Perhaps it was only a piece of transparent glass. Perhaps I am walking along a street at night, in some strange city, before I have found companions. I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! (Williams 97).
It seems as if he can find a piece of Laura everywhere he goes and cannot escape his former home.
This quote could also imply what Tom is feeling after leaving his mom and sister as his dad did once before.
The memory of Laura gives the impression that Tom must be slowly regretting his departure.
The Glass Menagerie Illusion vs Reality [Essay]
The Fundamentals of the Play
When discussing one of the most famous plays like The Glass Menagerie written by Tennessee Williams, I would like to consider the fundamentals of the work. So, first of all, I would like to define the key themes.
Generally, one is to keep in mind that famous work discloses ten major themes, namely, illusion vs. reality, memory, freedom, quest, instinct vs. civilized behaviors, famous American Dream, a person’s survival in the machine age, fragility vs. strength, and a person’s need to be far away from his or her surrounding. The Glass Menagerie illusion vs. reality theme I would like to highlight in detail in this paper.
While speaking about the first theme, illusion vs. reality, I have to point out that the play explores a family that lives in the shadow of reality. The playwright Williams Tennessee alludes from his early life to write an explicit play focusing on the social lives of specific individuals. Amanda is a mother of two adult children Tom and Laura.
After her husband abandoned her, Amanda struggles to take care of the family. Unfortunately, besides suffering from mental instability, Laura is also crippled. Therefore, Tom has a job at the shoe warehouse to provide for the family. Consequently, the three members of the family become engrossed in illusions, an aspect, which separates them from the real world.
As the essay on illusion vs. reality in the story shows, the so-called illusions help the main characters escape an unpleasant reality. I suppose it is a loss of psychological space that makes the characters to realize that it is impossible to escape the realities of the real world. Dipa Janardanan believes that the author is able “to get to the marrow of universal truth – the human condition of an individual’s inability to escape a psychological loss of space no matter how much physical distance is attained” (24).
I have to admit that the playwright uses innovative production techniques to draw the reader’s’ attention to the contrast between illusion and reality. Moreover, the author showed us that the so-called survival mechanisms family decided to rely on were transformed into destructive power.
The Thesis Statement
One of the major themes of the play is considered to be the characters’ inability to meet reality, and the meaning of illusion for them. Taking into account the attitude of all characters towards the realities of life, one can conclude that the main characters require objectivity. No one is ready to accept reality because it is really painful. While considering such complex psychological situations, it becomes evident that the psychological loss of space seems to be one of the key problems the author highlights in his play.
Tennessee Williams and his Story
I would like to say a few words about the author of the play. Generally, there is a need to point out that the author’s father was adventurous and an alcoholic. His mother was a submissive but hysterical woman. Tennessee spent the first ten years of his life living with his grandparents.
His health deteriorated an aspect that did not only make him shy but also contributed to his social weakness (shy). Due to constant relocation and social/financial instability, Williams and his sister became close, however, after some time, Rose suffered from a mental breakdown, a development that equally traumatized Williams.
Similarly, Tennessee acquired poor social skills, and most of his peers referred to him as ‘Miss Nancy’ (Londre 20). Education-wise, he did not finish his first degree after failing his exams in the third year. However, after acquiring literacy skills from his grandfather’s library, the author embarked on writing plays. Most of his plays were a reflection of his early life.
He focused on themes such as sexual violence, social misfit, family, and financial constraints, among others. Tennessee wrote the play glass menagerie when the Second World War was about to end. Consequently, most spouses (men) had abandoned their families and ventured into the war, therefore, creating a social gap.
The Theme of Illusion vs Reality in The Glass Menagerie
Amanda Wingfield, who is one of the main characters of the play doesn’t live, but exists. Socially, Amanda’s husband abandoned her, leaving her with the financial and emotional burden to take care of the family. Amanda longs for financial and social success, but this element makes her adopt an illusionary life. Secondly, Amanda declines to accept the exit of her husband from the family; thus, acquiring a domineering and hysterical attitude, especially towards the children.
For instance, Amanda says, “Gone, gone, gone. All vestige of gracious living! Gone completely! I wasn’t prepared for what the future brought me” (Williams 694-696). This shows that Amanda has declined to let her past go and accept reality. So, this is an example of illusion. Unfortunately, Amanda can’t face the realities of life.
When analyzing the play, it becomes evident that in real life “Williamses were never as hard up as the fictional Wingfields and so, without denying the effect of the general socio-economic environment as an intensifying element, I tend to see Amanda’s insecurity as characteristic of the alcoholic’s family” (Debusscher 59).
While speaking about the second character – Laura, I have to point out that the girl lives in an illusionary world. According to Williams, Laura has “Little articles of [glass], they’re ornaments mostly! Most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest small animals in the world.
Mother calls them a glass menagerie!” (547). Therefore, Laura distances herself from the real world. According to Joven, Laura is “like a piece of her own glass collection, too exquisitely fragile” (57). Consequently, as the summary shows, Laura is using both her physical and mental disability to detach herself from realism.
The third character is Tom. He struggles to balance his family’s responsibility as the breadwinner, thus, trying to escape from reality. According to Williams, Tom says, “There is a trick that would come in handy for me—get me out of this two-by-four situation!” (680).
Although Tom is narrating a movie to Laura, his mind is struggling to devise ways in which he can run away from home and offload the responsibility burden that always awaits him. Furthermore, he visits bars and theatres to stay away from home. However, Tom’s actions are unreal because he is the only male figure in the family.
However, abandoning his family means running away from the real aspects of life thus, he is living in a fantasy. The movie is only an illusionary step that, in reality, it is hard to accomplish. For instance, he says, “I am more faithful than I intended to be!” (Williams 682). As The glass Menagerie conclusion evidences, this statement shows that Tom finds it unreal to abandon his sister and mother, therefore, his dream of pursuing adventure away from home is only illusionary.
Similarly, according to critics, Tom’s “nature is not remorseless and to escape from the trust he has to act without pity” (Broom 20). However, he finally deserts his family when he loses his job. Therefore, Tom lives with an illusion that if he stays alone, then he may have a comfortable life.
Conclusion: Reality vs. Illusion Theme
In brief, Williams’ play focuses on the lives of three family members, who lack social skills. Thus, they become caught between realism and fantasy.
Although Amanda’s husband left her with family responsibilities, she is reluctant to accept her situation. She lives in the American dream, whereby everybody should have a comfortable life. In addition, she reflects on her early life, whereby her family was wealthy.
Surprisingly, she confers her son with financial responsibility a step, which motivates him to dream of how to abandon his family. Finally, due to her physical disability, Laura detaches herself from other people and become engrossed with her glass menagerie. Therefore, all three characters have to come out of their cocoons to face the real world. Thus, in the conflict of illusion vs. reality in The Glass Menagerie, reality wins.
Bloom, Harold. Tennessee Williams’s (Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations): The Glass Menagerie. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2007. Print.
Debusscher, Gilbert. Tennessee Williams’s Dramatic Charade: Secrets and Lies in The Glass Menagerie, 2000. Web.
Janardanan, Dipa. Images of Loss in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Marsha Norman’s night, Mother, and Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, 2007. Web.
Joven, Nilda. “Illusion Verses Reality in The Glass Menagerie.” Diliman Review 1.1(1966): 52-60. Print.
Londre, Hardison. Tennessee Williams. New York: Frederick ungar publishers, 1979. Print Williams, Tennessee. The glass menagerie. New York: Random house, 1950. Print.