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.
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