The Glass Menagerie
Gender Affecting Conformity of the Individual in Sula and The Glass Menagerie
Toni Morrison’s second novel, Sula (1973), is set in a tense climate of racial segregation and complex community relationships from the years 1919 to 1965, and explores conformity of the individual and how it can differ depending on gender in particular, especially when Sula Peace, a woman who acts the near opposite of her peers, states how “[she] knows what every colored woman in this country is doing (p.143)”. The Glass Menagerie (1944), Tennessee Williams’s memory play set in post-war America similarly explores a struggling family community and highlights to which degree each character conforms to their individual expected societal role, and also explores their complicity in doing so. While there are exceptions in the form of the idiosyncrasies of Morrison’s Sula Peace and forgotten aspirations of Williams’s Jim O’Connor, a general pattern on gender affecting conformity of the individual can be seen to emerge in both texts, that being that female characters generally conform more and if they do not, face a much more hostile reaction from the wider community.
However, The Glass Menagerie is a drama and the reasons that certain male character’s appear to conform less are made clearer through Tom Wingfield’s narration; the female character’s inner psychology is left to Williams’s use of ‘plastic theatre’ techniques, such as the exaggerated music at key moments and obvious lighting tactics. Conversely, Morrison is more ambiguous through her use of prose medium, the narrative point of view being overwhelmingly female, which hence provides little insight into the male character’s psyche. Arguably, this may be due to the limitations Morrison felt as a woman writing from a male viewpoint. Moreover, while Williams uses a single, microcosmic stage setting limited to five characters, Morrison is more adventurous in her depiction of society in Sula, presenting a range of individuals, all varying in conformity.
Mother’s Sacrifice and Absent Father
The first comparative point between both texts is the presentation of a mother’s sacrifice due to an absent father. Morrison displays Eva Peace’s need to conform for the sake of her children in the chapter ‘1921′ despite the opposite applying to her husband Boy Boy; this establishes the idea that conformity is gender-dependent. Strengthening this, Barbara Christian (1985) asserts the notion that male characters in Sula have little necessity to conform when in a difficult economic situation, as she identifies that the female characters in Sula “must…fit themselves into the place life has set for them”.
Morrison illustrates how this has been made impossible for certain female characters partly through the thoughtless hedonism of men; this is evidenced by the partial narrative of Eva Peace, who is abandoned by her husband “after five years of a sad and disgruntled marriage (p.32)”. Morrison, through the pensive voice of her matriarch Eva, proceeds to detail how “he did whatever he could he liked (p.32)”, implying his ability to continue living a life of Epicureanism that was devoid of any consequences. Subsequently, the character of Eva is removed of any material stability due to her abandonment, and has to continue to conform to the more idealistic role of motherhood that would have been intensified by expectations of women in the early 20th century, because her “children [needed] her; she [needed] money, and…to get on with her life (p.32)”.
The structure of this quotation furthers this; the children emerge as her priority as they are placed first in the sentence, suggesting her need to conform simply to ensure her children’s survival, as well as her own, which is perhaps of a lower importance as this is emphasised later in the quotation. Morrison’s presentation of a financially struggling mother and mostly absent father can be attributed to the contextual frame of poverty and social fragmentation arising from racism. As a result of the Great Migration of African-Americans that occurred between 1916 and 1970, this attempt to escape racial discrimination in the south consolidates Morrison’s presentation of the extreme poverty that droves “disgruntled” fathers away from their families and responsibilities. The nature of such a society tightened a mother’s duty to her children, stifling and forcing her to struggle to a much greater extent than her male counterpart. This contextual point may be heightened due to Morrison’s own life and experience as a single mother, highlighting the limited use of a male character’s viewpoint and experience, evidenced by Morrison through her choice of mostly female narrative perspectives when describing particularly harrowing plot events. An example of which can be seen in the same chapter where Eva is forced to use the remainder of her food, a further allusion to her poverty, to relieve her son Plum’s constipation.
Shoving “the last bit of food she had up his ass” in the “freezing stench (p.34)” is a highly crude and emotive description of events, reflective of the general experience of single mothers in the context of when Sula was set. Comparisons can be made between William’s portrayals of freedom granted to men by society in The Glass Menagerie, through the absence of the Wingfield’s father figure who chose to abandon his family, similar to Morrison’s presentation of Boy Boy. However, unlike Morrison, Williams suggests the use of dramatic prop devices in his stage directions rather than graphic narration, partly through the ever-present portrait of him in the Wingfield apartment to sustain the existence of this character and the nature of his abandonment, as “a blown-up photograph of the father hangs on the wall of the living room… smiling, as if to say ‘I will be smiling forever.'(p.4) Through this stage direction, Williams appears to suggest the father shows no guilt towards his abandonment, akin to Morrison’s presentation of Boy Boy, using his jovial and unbothered appearance as a vehicle to do so, “ineluctably smiling”.
This idea is sustained by Williams when Tom Wingfield details the last known contact with his father as a “postcard from Mazatlan…containing a message of two words: ‘Hello – Goodbye!’ and no address (p.5)”. Just as Boy Boy does with the Peace household, the father appears to fulfil his own desires at the cost of his families financial stability and intensifies his wife’s need to conform to an idealistic maternal role at the cost of her own freedom. Amanda Wingfield has to relentlessly belittle her son about his menial factory job, following frequent power cuts in their apartment, and as this is the sole setting of the play, Williams is able to emphasise the inescapable situation their father has left them in. Babcock (1999) encapsulates this perception by exploring Williams’s own comments concerning the “adjustment and conformity produced by organized society”. This Marxist approach can be applied to the circumstances in which Williams shows the father to abandon his family.
By “[giving] up his job with the telephone company” and leaving his family, Williams’s belief that the standardization of production forced men into a repressive corporate structure suggested by The Last of My Solid Gold Watches1 becomes both relevant and applicable. In addition to this, according to Babcock (1999), the decades following the war bred an “instinctive radical” and “revolutionary” climate in America, drawing men away from conforming to the archetypal role of a provider, which is again evidenced by Williams in the form of the portrait of the father, depicted in military dress. The difference in contexts of the production of the texts is therefore a valid comparison; Morrison differs from Williams in this sense, as she never reveals an explicit reason for Boy Boy’s disgruntlement. Williams differs from her in this respect and utilises the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School of thought provided here by Babcock (1999), and the post-World War One context of the play to suggest a general male disengagement from previously instilled societal roles regarding the family.
Morrison, conversely, could be viewed as sophisticated in her choice write the novel in 1973, setting it much earlier in the century to convey her historical advantage and offer a more evaluative perspective of the representation of social conformity. After evaluating this specific component of the overall comparison of both texts, when discussing the fulfilment of a father’s own desires at the cost of his families’ liberty, the aforementioned links between the texts are seen to outweigh their differences, confirming gender has a significant effect of social conformity.
The Comparison of Two Characters
This essay thus far has focused on the presentation of greater female conformity and has partly been sustained by the historically ingrained societal attitudes that dictate it is a mother’s duty to sacrifice her liberty for her children, whereas an absent father will only receive the scorn of a few. However, Williams’s characterisation of Jim O’Connor shows that male social conformity is also relevant and could have been fuelled by the influence of capitalist values America, and also possibly homosexual repression, both intensifying in the 1940s and 1950s.
In the stage directions, he is simply described as a ‘a nice, ordinary, young man”, painting him from the offset as a conventional male character and simultaneously as Tom’s dramatic foil. Using impassioned dialogue as a vehicle to do so, Williams paints Tom as deeply dissatisfied with his life, unlike Jim; in anger at his menial factory job, he shouts “for sixty-five dollars a month I give up all that I dream of doing and being ever!”(p.23), articulating a similar sense of sacrifice Morrison crafts in Eva Peace. Williams’s choice of the use of props, noises and stage directions to convey a blatant parallel with the characters states of mind on stage is evidenced by the on-screen image of Jim as “The high school hero” followed by Tom’s comment that “[Jim’s] speed had definitely slowed…” (p.45)”. Williams may have done so to show Jim’s eventual sacrifice of the significant qualities he possessed in his youth as a result of conforming to fit into the role of a stable provider in a profit-driven career. Jim and Tom’s respective portrayals reinforce the idea of male conformity in the pursuit of professional success; both have the same job. However Tom seeks more creativity in his life and disregards financial gains, rejecting the expectation placed on him to be responsible in providing.
As Williams explained to his literary agent, Audrey Wood: ‘I have only one major theme for my work, which is the destructive impact of society on the non-conformist individual’ (1939). After the discussion of his portrayal of both men, Williams’s notion here can be confirmed as he presents Tom’s aguish at his unfulfilling life in Scene Three where he refers to himself as a “slave”, whilst Jim, a content conformist is presented clearly as fulfilled despite of his “slowed down” life. As a result, this point acts in challenging the argument that social conformity is overwhelmingly fuelled by sexism, with women bearing the worst of this. Williams’s own life and the effects of it on his plays may be brought into discussion here. Although writing as a man in the mid-20th century, he was homosexual and thus would have likely been derogatively referred to as possessing feminine qualities. Therefore his presentation of the social claustrophobia of Tom, the blind conformity of men like Jim, but also the anguish of Amanda, and Laura’s repression of self may possibly be interpreted as a fragmented representation of Williams’s experience living in a time when attitudes towards homosexuality were hostile. In this respect, the extent of the effect of gender on conformity is decreased.
Morrison employs a similar device through the characterisation Nel Wright and Sula Peace, and their friendship; like Williams’s presentation of Jim and Tom, Morrison crafts the characters as each other’s foil. Both characters are African-American females living in the same community, but Nel chooses a life of piety, conventionality and conformity, Sula choosing the opposite. Dorothy H. Lee (1983) attempts to explain this by suggesting that like Nel’s mother, Helene Wright, who “barricades herself against racial humiliation…behind suppression of emotion”, by living a life removed of any scandal or controversy is trying to avoid such “racial humiliation”. Although both writers are similar in their use of literary foils, Morrison uses allusions to African-American supernatural folklore, to show that although both genders have the capability to not conform, women have a lot more to sacrifice by doing so. Such allusions are seen in the chapter ‘1941′ where Morrison writes “because Sula was dead…a brighter day was dawning.
There were signs (p.151)”. Such language is rich with connotations of the supernatural, as by placing a consequence of action – the verb “dawning” – after the establishment of a death, Morrison is implying Sula can still affect reality even when her own reality has ceased to exist. This narrative comment, shows how Sula’s unconventional life aroused such vehement aversion towards her, far more than Williams’s portrayal of Tom Wingfield and his father, that she is likened to a witch-like figure who needed to be purged from her community. This is a literary feature not seen in Williams’s play; perhaps he had less creative manoeuvre to do within a shorter drama piece, and more significantly, writing as a white man, possibly wouldn’t have as strong affiliations with such cultural folklore, unlike Morrison in her piece of black-feministic prose.
Messing (2014) highlights this by reminding readers of the importance of community over individual gains in African culture; Sula is ostracised due to her selfish and nonconforming behaviour. This perhaps was intensified by contextual factors, as the racial persecution residents of the Bottom experienced meant they would have had a shared sense of unity and identity. The difference in reaction to female non-conformists in comparison to male non-conformists is encapsulated by Morrison through Nel’s chastising of Sula, saying “You’re not a man. You can’t be walking around all dependent-like, doing whatever you like (p.142)”. The imperatives “you can’t” and “you’re not” used by Morrison reinforce Nel’s concrete certainty, and by saying “dependent-like” instead of “independent” implies Nel is uncomfortable even with the concept of female independence due to such heavily ingrained ideas of conformity.
Williams shows none of the deterioration or estrangement or that Sula experiences towards Tom and the general suspicion directed at him only stems from his mother, to a far lesser extent. Williams makes the severity of the consequences Tom faces less significant than Morrison by his comparatively confined setting of the text; the play never ventures from the apartment, with a much more limited range of characters. Williams aptly uses a description of the setting to establish the claustrophobic effect it has on Tom; it is “symptomatic of the… fundamentally enslaved section of American society to avoid fluidity and differentiation” (p.3).
Conversely, by not only spanning the geographical range of her text (the larger Bottom community and Helene Wright’s journey to other American states in the chapter 1920), the time frame that ranges from 1919 to 1965, and the much vaster number of characters, Morrison can display the effects of Sula’s non-conformity in a far more multifaceted, and therefore damning way, as Morrison depicts a wider society, in a geographical and historical sense. In both texts, the characters of Jim O’Connor and Sula Peace together represent exceptions to the previously instilled belief that women are usually forced to conform in a higher instance to men, as they have a lot more to lose from deferring from social norms. However, the society crafted in Morrison’s novel still sustains the original argument effectively, as they react overwhelmingly more vehemently towards Sula, the female character, perhaps emphasised by what Moya Bailey (2010) coined as ‘misogynoir’, describing the intersection of anti-blackness and sexism experienced by black women.
In response to the above arguments, it is clear the representation of social conformity deals with a psychological phenomenon that has deeply complex roots; there is no single factor to blame, as through the study of just these two literary texts, issues of gender, race, class and sexuality are all brought to discussion. However, some are revealed to a greater extent than others, namely gender, and this is also the factor most convincingly conveyed by both Morrison and Williams. When suggesting the more convincing of the two in portraying gender-driven conformity, one cannot ignore Morrison’s explicit declaration of such inequality that has been previously discussed, Nel Wright’s assured statement that “You’re not a man. You can’t be walking around all dependent-like, doing whatever you like (p.142)”. This quotation alone arguably embodies the point made that women face an overwhelmingly more hostile societal reaction when they do not conform, in comparison to men.
When evaluating Williams’s contributions to this discussion, his aforementioned portrayals of gender driven conformity lack the passionate, at times graphic, portrayal offered by Morrison; it is harder for an audience to understand his character’s interactions with conformity as they are set in, and also written within a slightly more accommodating context. Williams himself may have been projecting his frustrations at homophobia and his characters may have struggled with financial inhibitions, but neither could draw upon the brutal forms of racism and misogyny both Morrison and her characters share to an extent. Returning back to the argument initially offered, exploring the extent to which gender plays a role in the representation of social conformity, it can be understood from this argument that both authors portray the effects of race and class significantly. However, ultimately gender emerges as exercising the greatest influence due to institutionalised societal roles dealt to men and women, forcing most into lives of mindless conformity and condemning those who dare not to into a life of ostracism and resentment.
Tennessee Williams’ Classic and Memory-Laden The Glass Menagerie
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams is base on the struggle of two young adults who lived with their trying but loveable mother, Tom and Laura. Tom and Laura were different in many ways but their mother Amanda did not allow their differences to stop her from longing for the best for them, “I’ll tell you what I wished for on the moon. Success and happiness for my precious children! I wish for that whenever there’s a moon, and when there isn’t a moon, I wish for it, too”. The Glass Menagerie has held status because many of the issues presented in the play are still among us today. In the Bahamas and worldwide, there are still single parents, gender role, and escapism. In the play The Glass Menagerie, Amanda is a single mother because Mr. Wingfield left her along with their two children Tom and Laura. Amanda is forced to raise her children on her own, which is not an easy task. The Bahamian society can relate to this in a major way. According to Tribune, “more than 65% of live births are to ‘single’ parents, meaning females. In 85% of the households in New Providence and Grand Bahamas are headed by ‘single’ females with multiple children and the putative fathers are nowhere in sight”. This has shown that children have to depend on their mother for everything since the father is not around or in their lives. There are not many differences between the Bahamian Society and The Glass Menagerie. In the Bahamas single female parents outnumbers single male parents. There are single female parents everywhere who has the same mindset as Amanda. Like Amanda, they all want what is best for their daughter(s) and son(s). They want their daughter to find someone who is not like their father and they want their daughter to be just as popular as they were in the earlier days or want their son to be better than their father.
Overall, they just want their children to be successful and not follow their father’s example, especially if the father left on a bad note. However, when it comes to the male child, single female parents seem to have a hard time raising them in the right way. In The Glass Menagerie, Tom and Amanda had a hard time getting along and Amanda struggled with Tom when it came to doing things her way. It came to a point in the play when Amanda got angry with Tom; she shouted, “What is the matter with you, you big-big- idiot!”; this argument was intense and continued back and forth between them. Today, parents and their child argue with each other and it is not healthy for their relationship. Like any household, the man is always the head of the family. In the Bahamian society, this tradition is still ongoing. The men are responsible for providing for the family and supporting the family financially. In The Glass Menagerie, Tom was the man of the house especially because Mr. Wingfield left them. Tom had a job at a warehouse that brought in money to keep the family living comfortably. However, Tom wanted to let all of that go but Amanda did not allow that to happen. She said to Tom “What right have you got to jeopardize your job? Jeopardize the security of us all? How do you think we’d manage if you were”. Amanda depended on Tom and if she loosed him, she will have nothing, “I’ve had to put up solitary battle all these years. But you’re my right-hand bower! Don’t fall, don’t fail”. Tom had a hard time living for himself and doing what he really wanted because Amanda made sure he did everything as the man of the house. This includes paying bills, “That light bill I gave you several days ago.The one I told you we got the notices about?”. Tom also had the responsibility to find his sister Laura a man, “Find one that’s clean-living doesn’t drink and ask him out for sister!”; his was Tom’s job as long as he was around. This was also a way for Amanda to prevent Tom from doing what he really wanted to do in life, “As soon as Laura has got somebody to take care of her, married, a home of her own, independent – why, then you’ll be fine to go wherever you please”. In today’s society, fathers are missing from the family so; the mother tries her best to raise the son in a way to help within the household. The role of the son/male is a tradition in families today and they usually get a job at an earlier age than the daughter/female. A mentality that men are in charge of the household will never change, especially when the father is absent.
In society, we all turn to activities or entertainments in order to forget about real life problems. This behavior is referred to escapism. In The Glass Menagerie, Amanda, Laura and Tom found ways to escape the discouraging reality. Amanda escaped by living in the past. She was obsessed with her Blue Mountain popularity and she bragged about her gentlemen callers. She claimed that they were “some of the most prominent young planters and sons of the planters”. Amanda’s past has kept her utterly out of touch with reality. Laura on the other hand, escapes the reality that she is cripple, shy and self-conscious and to escape, she turns to her father’s Victrola and her glass ornament collection, Glass Menagerie. Laura imagines a world just as beautiful as her Glass Menagerie and is separated from the challenges she is faced with. Finally, in order to escape the real problems at home, Tom writes poetry and spends most of his time at the movies, “I go to the movies because – I like adventures. Adventures are something I don’t have much of at work, so I go to the movies”. Tom found happiness at the movies and used it as an escape from Amanda and the plans she wants for him. However, Tom got fed up of the state he was in and escaped leaving his mother and sister behind. Generally, Escapism was a major part of this play and everyone had his or her own way of escaping reality. Today, people still find ways to escape reality problems. Some people escape through alcohol, drugs, entertainment, clubbing, movies and many other ways. We will always need a break from reality therefore; escapism is something that will be around forever. As seen throughout the comparison between the Glass Menagerie and the Bahamian society, not much has change. If anything, things are more advanced and serious from then to now. We are faced with this sort of difficulties and challenges on a daily basis and some things we cannot avoid because it is a part of life.
Glass Menagerie – an Unforgettable American Play of 1944
Along with Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill, his curtain raising partners in crime, Tennessee Williams was an American playwright, considered to be one of the three foremost playwrights in American theatre throughout the 20th century. Born Thomas Lanier Williams III in Mississippi, Williams, accompanied by his two siblings Walter and Rose, spent much of his youth in the parsonage of an Episcopal parish run by his grandfather. Due to a nasty case of diphtheria that almost claimed his life as a child, he was much more frail and weak growing um than his alcoholic shoe selling father, Cornelius Williams, would have preferred. Due to his father’s tendency to employ his fists when unhappiness overcame him, his mother Edwina spent most of her time and energy doting over and defending her epicene son. Because of his father’s penchant for voluminous violence and his mother’s desire to live in a place that she deemed proper and acceptable, the family moved several times around their city. His education was tended to by establishments such as Soldan High School, University City High School, and the University of Missouri until his junior year, at which time his father pulled him out of school and made him to work at the International Shoe Company factory.
Although at 21, Williams hated the tediousness of the job, he later admitted that the job forced him out of the highfaluting civility that had dominated his youth, a childhood that has been ‘tinged with his mother’s snobbery and detachment to reality.’ At twenty-four he had a nervous breakdown, his writing not having taken off by that time. In 1936, Williams enrolled in to Washington University in St. Louis. By 1938 he had then moved again to University of Iowa. Where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Around 1939, he became part of an amateur summer group in Memphis Tennessee, and later wrote, ‘The laughter…enchanted me. Then and there the theatre and I found each other for better or for worse. I know it’s the only thing that saved my life.’ That same year he embraced the professional name of ‘Tennessee Williams.’ Williams’ plays are a greater extension of the turmoil he endured as a child, with many of his characters inspired by himself, his mother and father, and the pain they endured as a family. His most notable works include The Glass Menagerie, Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Night of the Iguana, Orpheus Descending, and Suddenly Last Summer. Based on the memories of the play’s main character and narrator Tom Wingfield, the show takes place in St. Louis in 1937. Tom, his mother Amanda, and his sister Laura live in a lower-middle-class apartment facing an alley. The time is late 1930’2 with America still recovering from the devastating effects of the Great Depression. There is also news of how the civil war in Spain has recently caused a massacre of Guernica civilians.
In this scene, Laura is talking to her high school crush Jim, the hero of her high school whom she hasn’t seen since graduation. Jim was always nice to her, but he doesn’t quite remember her from high school until she reminds him of his nick name for her, ‘Blue Roses.’ Nevertheless, he is charming and warm towards her, which eventually breaks her out of her shell. He is very reassuring of her when she begins to doubt herself, and even when he fumbles badly and kisses her even though he is engaged to another woman, she can’t help but forgive him. He is a light in her dark world. Jim doesn’t feel any way about Laura at first, but as the scene progresses he becomes warmer and warmer towards her, gravitating towards her fragile and translucent beauty. Because of Laura’s limp, and the fact that her mother has spent her entire life trying to live out her lost fantasies through her daughter, Laura has become resistant to change, reserved, painfully shy and unable to break away from her mother’s powerful grip. She is close to her brother, but not enough to have any real influence over his decisions. Amanda expects Laura to become a college graduate, get a job, and marry an eligible suitor.
Because of this, Laura is buckling under the weight of the expectations being thrust upon her. Laura’s objective through the course of the show is to gain the same sense of control over her life as she has with her menagerie. In the scene her objective is to get Jim to kiss her, as she has never been kissed before. Even though she doesn’t go in to the scene wishing for this, it becomes the all-consuming desire before it’s all over. Because of my mother’s determination to see me married, she has dressed me in a white dress to suggest how beautiful I’d look as a bride. It is a bit too young for me, but she has done my make-up and hair so that the end-product is one of temporary perfection.
Symbolism in The Glass Menagerie
In just about every piece of literature, there is some form of symbolism. Authors, poets, and playwrights use symbolism to add deeper meanings and messages for the readers within what they wrote. The Glass Menagerie also has various symbols within its writing but the one symbol that reveals the most about a character is Laura’s glass unicorn. Laura’s glass unicorn represents how fragile Laura was, her uniqueness, and her desire to be normal.Laura is considered to be disabled because one of her legs is shorter than her other one, so she often hid away. This caused her serious anxiety when interacting with people and doing certain things. She is as fragile as her glass unicorn.
For example, she dropped out of college because she was so overwhelmed with anxiety that she became physically ill. If she is put in situations that she deems dangerous or ones that make her anxious she tends to flee because she does not want to break like glass. Which why her glass unicorn symbolizes how fragile she is, because like her if put in situations that are dangerous for them they break.Laura is unique because of the way she acts and because of her disability much like unicorns. Unicorns are considered by many to be super unique animals because of their color pattern and the horn on their heads. Laura is very unique, especially in that time period not only because she is disabled but because of her anxiety and obsession with glass menageries. She is severely socially anxious and just anxious in general which keeps her from attending college, hanging out with other girls her age, and basically anything that is considered normal for her age. She also has what is considered to be a strange obsession with glass menagerie. She instead of having friends had her glass animals which she cared for obsessively.
The glass unicorn was her favorite one shows that she knows that she is considered to be peculiar and she identifies with the strangeness of the unicorn. Laura had a hidden desire to be normal that no one really knew about. This desire comes out when her brother Tom gets her a date with her high school crush Jim. She at first is overcome with anxiety and gets ill but eventually, Jim gets her out of the shell when he dances with her. While they are dancing, they knock over the unicorn and break off its horn. Laura calls it a blessing in disguise because now it is like the other horses. Jim’s advances on her make her feel like a normal girl her age, which is something she has wanted for a long time. After he kisses her and says he has a fiance, she gives him the broken unicorn because now that it is just a horses it is more fitting for him than her. The unicorn symbolizes her differences from everyone else, and when it loses its horn it shows that she wanted to be just like everyone else even though she is so different. The play The Glass Menagerie there are many symbols throughout the play but one of the most important symbols is Laura’s glass unicorn.
The unicorn represents that just like glass Laura is very fragile under pressure. Laura’s anxiety gets really bad when she is put in situations that trigger her like interacting with people. She gets physically ill, it is a bit like she is afraid of breaking like glass. It always symbolizes her uniqueness. The unicorn-like her is different from everyone else. Since one of her legs is shorter than the other and her anxiety is so crippling she is considered to be rather peculiar. To add to her being odd she does not have any friends but is obsessed with glass figures. Finally, the unicorn symbolizes that she wants to normal. This evident when the unicorn’s horn breaks off, she calls it a blessing in disguise, and she then gives to Jim. She just wants to be able to have dates like her mother did and socialize with people but for now, she is as peculiar as the unicorn used to be.
Characters in a Play The Glass Menagerie
The play is set during the nineteen-thirties, it appears to be nothing out of the ordinary, even now to modern perspectives. The Southern setting supplements more to the storyline of the conflicts arising in the play. The Glass Menagerie written by Tennesse Williams displays the Wingfield’s family with an innocent mask, through this memory play numerous conflicts happen to the family from the beginning. Within the play, each of the Wingfield family members interiorly grows as each conflict collides by the end. They each affect one character to another and how the story is portrait. Through his writing, the author, Tennesse William, illustrates that each member of the Wingfield family is subtly “crippled” throughout the play.
Though Mr.Wingfield is not a character that is briefly spoken about and the audience does not discover or know a lot about, his departure from his own family displays that he was fatigued with them and decided to leave. Mr.Wingfield discloses by his actions that he is fantasized about traveling rather than being with a father figure. In the Glass Menagerie, it states, “He was a telephone man who fell in love with long distances; he gave up his job with the telephone company and skipped the light fantastic out of town… a message of two words: Hello – Goodbye!”. Amanda covers her husband’s departure by stating that he has simply found a new hobby and interest in long distance. The father can be considered to be “crippled” due to his disappearance of the family. He decided to leave his wife, son, and his daughter who has a disability. Disconnecting from his children and Amanda without justification can be considered he was not and did not want to understand the concept of responsibility and taking care of others.
Amanda Wingfield, the mother, desires for her daughter to have a man to that purely takes care of her. She carries out a planned future she wants Laura to have and is motivated to do everything in order for her handicapped daughter to have a happy life. “They knew how to entertain their gentlemen callers. It wasn’t enough for a girl to be possessed of a pretty face and a graceful figure…I mean that as soon as Laura has got somebody to take care of her, married, a home of her own…” Amanda recites about her young life to her son and daughter, mostly targeted towards Laura as for her mission is to get her a husband. She wants Laura to be like her but obtain a man that is better than her own father. Because she believes Laura is in need of one because she is going to need some to protect her. Therefore, she gives Laura her role as a woman that she needs to achieve in order to get someone in the future. Amanda pressures Laura to find a man and get married, as Laura neglects her decision, she takes it upon herself to scout her a gentleman caller to love Laura without thinking of the consequences. Her motive is seen to take over her, not allowing her to realize certain things that occur right in front of her eyes that cause tension among herself and her son.
Tom Wingfield, the breadwinner of the family, attains great eagerness to do as his father did and leave his home. From the burden that he believed he had mostly from his mother about his sister, he wished to leave and have the liberty to do as he pleased. “I don’t want to hear any more!… Yes, movies! Look at them- All those glamorous people-having adventures-hogging it all, gobbling the whole thing up!” Tom has viewed multiple movies that he now observes them as an escape that he is fascinated with, he is envious of them along with what his father was capable of doing. Tom can also be viewed as “crippled” by the situation he is in, cornered in his own home with no escape. Taking care of his mother and most importantly his sister became the priorities for him. One can say that his anger caused him to be jealous of how easily his father was able to leave his family and he is not.
Laura appears to be the only normal one within the Wingfield family but is viewed weirdly within the whole play by her mother and brother. Laura avoids interacting with others and tends to be more on the fragile side. “It isn’t a flood, it’s not a tornado, Mother. I’m just not popular like you were in Blue Mountain. . . . [Tom utters another groan. Laura glances at him with a faint, apologetic smile. Her voice catches a little.] Mother’s afraid I’m going to be an old maid…The horn was removed to make him feel less-freakish”. Laura understands that she cannot be like her mother and is trying to prove to her that they are not alike. She collects animal glass ornaments to which she has conceived a small world of her own. Apart from being handicapped from her legs, she is stuck with the illusion and tension from her mother to get a gentleman caller. The glass collection displays how delicate she is, but how she views herself as well, strange and unloveable. Blinding her worth causes her to be easily hold backed by her own mother. She traps herself in her fantasy avoiding to make any self-growth throughout the story. Laura has to go through the struggle of living with her physical crippleness and deliberate imagination neglecting the outside world.
Through other perspectives, the manner of some of the members of the Wingfield family has a different meaning behind them. For instance, a few speculate that Amanda was simply trying to help her daughter like any mother would in any situation. Some suggest that Tom’s real problem or intentions were to be a trader that was overly desperate for freedom. Laura is viewed as the normal one and that her only issue was her physical one. However, the mother caused pressure and no support towards her son, Tom, therefore he began to fantasies about his own escape and took over his mindset. As well as causing her own daughter, Laura, to create her own abstract world. The mother has created almost a domino effect on her family, adding up to her husband leaving her and then in the future her son. Contradicts the views of the other people in virtue of her actions caused her family to disfunction through the play.
The Wingfield family members are very distinct in their own aspects they all displayed their “crippled” personality in the play. Each member portraits that the characteristics within them are the same, a desire and need. All throughout the story, each character odd passion towards something is discovered. Laura, herself and Amanda both proceed to be delusional about Laura’s future life. While resulting in Tom’s wish to escape through the fire escape in the household. Each member’s “crippleness” contributes to generating a flawed family. Tennesse Williams has brought in small elements through the storyline, applying them hard to or faintly to be discovered by covering them with a problem that is usually within a family. Though they are not physically crippled such as Laura, all still take in that aspect of having a disability of some sort within their own world and mindset.
Analysis Of The Glass Menagerie
Our final reading was The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. From this text we were instructed to choose a monologue for our finale presentation. I chose a monologue for James D. O’Connor (Jim) a man who works with Tom our main protagonist. Tom’s sister went to the same high school as Jim. But, Jim doesn’t remember Laura until she says something to him about it. “Do you still sing?” The story is made more dynamic by the fact that Jim was meant to be a “Gentleman Caller” for Laura. Tom never told Jim that when he invited him over for dinner.
The story is made more interesting by the crazy and comical way Tom and Laura’s mother Amanda prepares for the evening. She makes a fancy dinner and complains about not having time to buy new furniture. She purchases items that the family can hardly afford on only Tom’s wages. Their father left years earlier, leaving the family to fend for themselves while he traveled the world. Over all this has been my favorite play that we’ve read this semester. The concept that the father left in it’s own right is sad but when Tom fallows in his footsteps it becomes tragic. It’s heartbreaking to see this memory that Tom has of his sister and Mother progress into such an unhappy ending. The fact that the ending of this memory play isn’t happy makes it even more real. The text is relatable, Tom’s selfishness is justified by our own subconscious, what would we each do if put in his situation. Tom’s Memory is the main focus of the play and also his character is the most appealing to me. However I chose to challenge myself with one of Jim’s monologues. In this paper I will analyse the text using six of the twelve guideposts we used in class as they relate to Jim’s Character and the way I’ve chosen to play him.
The first guidepost we used was “relationship” what was Jim’s relation to each of the characters in the text. Specifically Laura who will be Jim’s scene partner for the monologue I’ve chosen. What is Jim’s relationship with Laura? She has had a crush on him since high school. There is evidence in the text that suggests that Jim and Laura could be romantically interested in each other. Jim even kisses her in the heat of a moment. Even though this is the case there are two sides to Jim, opposites that I’ll discuss later. His character is given more depth if the kiss was out of passion to help her come out of her shell rather than to seize a romantic opportunity he saw. This conclusion that he is not romantically interested in Laura is emphasized by the news that Jim is engaged to be married. The following quotations are from my acting journal, these are written as if I was Jim, I think that writing like this helps me get into character.
“My emotional attitude is that I’m trying to prove to Laura and myself that we can both rise above our stations. I’m optimistic that Laura isn’t as helpless as she seems. By proving to her that she is beautiful, this will somehow make my own self esteem higher. I like to think of my relationship with Laura as this reminder to my time in highschool. She reminds me of the confident person I use to be, and gives me the confidence to be that person again. But, I’ll never be in love with Laura, although I am grateful for our paths crossing again because she has reaffirmed that I can reach my goals.”
The second guidepost was; “What are you fighting for? What is the Conflict?” Jim is fighting for influence over Laura. He wants to make her believe that she is beautiful. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re pretty? You are.” His motives are derived from self interest though. He will get personal gain from the situation by improving his own public speaking. He’s preparing himself for the future by practicing having influence over people. He believes in the future of Television and soon he’ll have to influence producers. The problem with this, the conflict is that if Laura can’t be convinced than it could hurt Jim’s confidence.
The third guidepost we discussed was “the moment before.” This can be the immediate moment before as well as some background on Jim. Here’s what I gathered about Jim. He was one of the popular kids in high school but not because he bullied or disrespected others. In fact he was a nice guy. He didn’t care that Laura has a small physical defect. It didn’t matter he still treats her with respect. He was predicted to be the most successful in his class but that hasn’t happened for him yet. He’s taking night classes to improve himself. He is engaged, though he doesn’t mention this soon enough in the play. It’s almost cruel how he toys with laura’s emotions. He has a large amount of motivation to rise above his station and create a better life for himself.
Immediately before the monologue I’ve chose Jim and Laura had a conversation about Laura’s lack of confidence in herself. Jim asked her to dance and he pushes her out of her comfort zone, it seems to be going well until he leads her right into the Glass menagerie and her favorite piece of glass, a tiny unicorn, is broken. She says it’s alright and says that she’ll pretend he had an operation to make him feel less “freakish”. This sparks a thought in Jim’s mind and that’s where my monologue picks up.
The fourth guidepost is “Humor.” Humor is found in everyday life. We inject every situation with humor so that we don’t have to bear the seriousness of it. That is a human characteristic. So it’s important to keep the humor in a scene. “ One would think actors are trying to reverse the life process by what they do on stage. They take humor out instead of put it in. That’s what makes acting un-lifelike… Sometimes we lighten the burden for others because of the weight we are dumping on them.” In the monologue I have chosen, Jim gives Laura some really serious information. He tells her that she is pretty, this isn’t a moment I would add humor to. But, in the spirit of doing what I’m told I will try to lighten the seriousness of the conversation with a small amount of humor. Perhaps when I say “wonderful people” I can try to sound sarcastic. Sarcasm is funny even if it’s just in a mean way it’s still humor. I could also add a laugh after I say “they’re common as weeds.” This would add a small amount of humor to the situation which would make it seem more realistic to those watching.
The Fifth guidepost we practiced with in class is “opposites” The first side of Jim that I could think of is that he might have a part of himself that is attracted to the idea of Laura. So he would be genuinely excited and passionate about the things he’s talking about. So for the in class activity I chose Excitement and Lust as my first definition. The opposite of that for me was calm and compassionate. Although I was having a hard time in class relaying these emotions I do think they would work if applied in different ways than I used them. At that point I had decided that maybe I had bit off more than I could chew. Jim was going to be a really hard character for me to play. I want my final Jim to embrace both sides, I want him to be both passionate and calm, understanding and protective of Laura, excited and serious.
The final guidepost is “discoveries” this is when you learn something new every time you do the scene. It’s not you as the actor learning something new, but it’s your character making discoveries. When I portray Jim he’s going to have to make all these realizations in his mind as he scene moves along. It’s very important to not fake these, they have to be real. I think using a circle of attention might be helpful for this particular task. I need to see in the audience that they each understand that they have self worth. I’m convincing Laura but I’m also convincing each audience member. It’s very important that they believe I’m going through these experiences for the first time.
These six guideposts have helped me analyse the text on a deeper level and will make presenting the monologue easier. I have really enjoyed The Glass Menagerie and this class. Even if I crash and burn when presenting this monologue I know that I have taken in a lot of new skills and have practiced applying them. Nothing is perfect and neither am I, but all I can do is try as hard as I can and overcome one of the hardest projects I’ve undertook thus far in my life.
Social Conflict in The Glass Menagerie
Independent Reading Quarter Two: The Glass Menagerie
The Glass Menagerie depicts the life of Amanda and her adult children Tom and Laura, as a small family trying to find their way in life. Playwright Tennessee Williams uses the symbol of the fire escape, the theme of memory, and stage directions all to guide his audience’s responses to the central characters and their actions.
The Glass Menagerie, told from the perspective of Tom, is based solely off of his memory. Tennessee Williams uses the theme of memory throughout the play to show how strong of an impact it had on the characters’ demeanors. Plagued with the memory of her failed marriage and abandonment by her husband, Amanda is overtaken with the idea that her children must not suffer the same fate that she did. This is why she was constantly pushing for Laura to go to business school and to get married and settle down with a husband that was far better than Laura’s father. It is also why she pushed Tom to get a good paying job so that he could provide for the family instead of going out to the movies every night which she viewed as being selfish, which was also how she viewed the actions of her husband by abandoning the family. As the play is told from Tom’s memories, a lot of what he recalls has the possibility of being melodramatic, therefore skewing the events that actually happened in his favor, while making his mother Amanda to be seen as the root of the family’s problems. Laura’s memories from her childhood in high school of feeling out of place and extremely self conscious, had never left her mind and continued to torment her with fear and anxiety throughout her life such as when she dropped out of business school, or was afraid to talk to Jim. All of the characters’ memories hold them back from seizing on the present, as they are constantly reliving the past.
The fire escape is used as a symbol to give the audience a deeper look into the nature of the conflict between the characters in the family. The fire escape is frequently used throughout the play whenever a character wanted to literally escape from the madness going on inside of the house. Tom often would be on the fire escape during one of his many monologues, describing the new drama that had occurred in his family’s life. Tom’s eventual abandonment of Amanda and Laura to pursue his own dreams by leaving from the fire escape further highlights the literal escape that it offered. For Laura however, even though the fire escape was free for her to use to escape from the drama as well, her overwhelming anxiety and timidity never allowed her to use it as an escape from her situation as symbolically shown by her slipping and falling on the fire escape. The main cause for both of these characters to want to use the fire escape is because of the overbearing nature of their mother, Amanda. Contrary to this, Amanda does not use the fire escape to get away from her kids. She may become frustrated at times with them when they don’t follow her direction, but she still want to the best for them and wants to be there to support them, so the fire escape is of no use to her.
The stage directions provided by Tennessee Williams gives further insight to Tom and Amanda’s wants, and to Laura’s outward demeanor. Tom frequently spoke of wanting to live life to the fullest but not being able to because of his mother. The stage direction when he is leaning over the fire escape talking to Jim tells that he looks like a voyager. This suggests the notion that Tom wishes to live adventurously and not under the confines of his mother’s house. For Amanda, the stage directions suggest that she is trying to recapture her youth especially during the dinner with Jim as it described her coyly smiling, shaking her girlish ringlets, wearing a girlish frock of yellowed voile with a blue silk sash, and carrying a bunch of jonquils. The fact that she’s carrying jonquils which she was obsessed with when she was younger, only further supports the idea. Lastly, the stage directions give the audience insight to just how frail and timid Laura is through the mannerisms it suggest that she have such as “…darts through the portieres like a frightened deer”, “in a tone of frightened apology”, and “looks down” when being questioned by others.
Tennessee Williams used the techniques that he did to explain Tom’s wanderlust, Laura’s succumbing to her anxiety, Amanda’s overbearing nature, and the interaction between the characters. This greatly helps the audience to grasp the type of people and conflict Tennessee Williams was trying to convey in The Glass Menagerie
Main Ideas in The Glass Menagerie Novel
“Through the (Cracked) Looking-Glass”
In Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, the characters of mother Amanda Wingfield, her children Laura and Tom Wingfield, as well as Laura’s gentleman caller Jim O’Connor, exemplify three different themes found in the play: The past and the present, dreams and reality, and optimism and pessimism. Through these characters and their respective struggles, Williams portrays a reality of American life during the latter years of the Great Depression, in which the future only bears further uncertainty and is fueled by the hopes of millions that their livelihoods may eventually improve with time.
In The Glass Menagerie, the mother-daughter duo of Amanda and Laura serve as personifications of the past and present. Amanda is a faded Southern belle, whose speech occasionally and unintentionally reverts to her Southern dialect when she pays her words no mind (8). Similarly, when entertaining company like Jim O’Connor in Scene Six, her drawl slips through and Amanda attempts to return to her glory days as a sought-after prize among her callers (63). While behaving this way is almost instinct to her, Amanda does not realize that, with her cheap velvety coat with an imitation fur collar and a cloche hat that is around five or six years old (11), she is already far past her prime, as demonstrated by her dated style of dress. Even her youthful ringlets and burst of “girlish Southern vivacity” (62) initially astounds her son Tom, who is greatly confused by his mother’s slipping grasp on her past.
Laura, on the other hand, does not dwell on her past or future very much. She simply lives in the moment and allows the day to take her wherever it wishes, hence accounting for her daily explorations of the city ever since dropping out of business college (14). As she explains to Amanda on the following page, “I went in the art museum and the bird houses at the Zoo. I visited the penguins every day! Sometimes I did without lunch and went to the movies. Lately I’ve been spending most of my afternoons in the Jewel Box, that big glass house where they raise the tropical flowers.” Laura spent the six weeks following her withdrawal from Rubicam’s Business College making spontaneous trips and wandering across the city. In a sense, her cluelessness may even represent Amanda’s personal heartbreak and insecurities as a single parent struggling to support her family (95-96). To further the parallel between Laura and Amanda, Laura’s fixation with her glass menagerie is perhaps a reflection of Amanda’s jonquil craze during the days of her youth (54).
Through the glass menagerie, Laura pursues a form of quiet escapism, in which she can leave reality and enter a world where everything possesses life (83-84) and all is fragile aside from her. As Tom observes, “she lives in a world of her own—a world of little glass ornaments” (48), a world which allows Laura to feel like the bigger person with more control over her personal stability. Williams describes Laura as “a piece of translucent glass touched by light, given a momentary radiance, not actual, not lasting” (51), becoming a manufactured piece of glass that is hand-crafted the same way Amanda rearranged her appearance. However, as the opening quote by e. e. cummings on the foremost page of this book says, “nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.” Though Laura devotes plenty of her time and energy towards caring for her glass collection, she does not possess the ability to eternally protect her collection nor become a piece of glass herself—suspended in eternal beauty but fragile in its livelihood. Even in her obvious enamorment with Jim, despite their years of separation after graduating from high school (55), Laura is shown to be caught in a dream, living a more developed life within the confines of her mind than in reality with the rest of her family.
Contrarily, Tom’s role as both the narrator and a core character within the play makes him dually part of our reality and the dream-like essence of The Glass Menagerie as a “memory play” (xv). Throughout the play, Tom consistently returns to the movies and manages to escape the reality of his struggles at home (26-27), but soon tires of them, feeling like “it’s our turn now, to go to the South Sea Island—to make a safari—to be exotic, far-off!” (61) These constant late-night journeys and Tom’s belief in personally seeking adventure causes a strain in his relationship with Amanda. Though he continuously attempts to pursue writing while working at the warehouse, he eventually fails (96) and is therefore unable to chase his own dreams. Jim even jokingly warns him that “[he’s] going to be out of a job if [he doesn’t] wake up” (60). Even in the final moments of the play, Tom states that he “didn’t go to the moon, [he] went much further—for time is the longest distance between two places” (96). Therefore, although he was initially bound by reality and distanced from his dreams as he did not have the means to travel across the world, he finally managed to follow in his father’s footsteps and create his own traveler’s reality instead.
Finally, in terms of contrasting attitudes, Jim is very much the optimist of the play. In his conversations with Laura, he reveals a strong belief in the goodness of people (76) and “the future of television” (82), exhibiting a mindset that differed with the socioeconomic circumstances America was going through during that time period. Even in managing a near-conflict between Amanda and Jim regarding the unpaid light bill, Jim chose to view their situation through a positive and realistic scope, maintaining a warm atmosphere in which everyone remained content (69). As depicted by the stage directions, Jim’s warmth is what draws Laura out of her shell and “[dissolves] her shyness” (77), temporarily allowing her personality to shine through. However, in his optimism, he inadvertently blinds himself to the reality of Laura’s situation as well. Not only does he fail to fully realize Laura’s love for her menagerie and her feelings towards him, but he also convinces himself that his experience grants him the ability to “fix” her inferiority complex (80-81). As a result, he unwittingly hurts Laura’s feelings, perhaps breaking her heart the same way he broke the glass unicorn’s horn (85).
On the other hand, Laura is extremely pessimistic. In the case of any event that triggers her anxiety, such as her first day at Business College and hearing the news of Jim’s impending visit, she allows her worries to get the better of her. “I’m—crippled!” (17) and “I’m sick!” (57), she would apologetically exclaim, using her personal issues as excuses to make her way out of certain unwanted situations. Yet, in favor of Jim, she minimizes her problems and brushes them aside—saying “it doesn’t matter” (86) that one of the oldest ornaments in her collection broke, considering the possibility of it being a blessing in disguise rather than an unfortunate accident. Thus, Laura sacrifices an important part of who she is for his sake, without managing to address her own struggles nor find a solution to them.
In conclusion, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie provides an in-depth view into the aspects of past and present, dreams and reality, and optimism and pessimism through the play’s characters and their individual struggles. Not only does this play convey the difficulties brought on by the Great Depression in the late 1930s, but also delivers a potent message regarding the differences between the generations in terms of their aims and goals, and a family’s shared but stunted journey towards reaching mutual understanding with each other.
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.