Brecht's Influence on the Glass Menagerie

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Bertolt Brecht created an influential theory of epic theatre in his Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction, which stresses that a play should not cause the spectator to emotionally identify with the action being presented before him or her, but rather provoke logical self-reflection and a critical analysis of the actions of each character. For this purpose, Brecht employed the use of techniques that remind the spectator that the play is a representation of reality and not reality itself, which he himself referred to as the process of alienation, or that which is "necessary to all understanding." (Brecht 388) Such techniques, which Tennessee Williams clearly made use of in The Glass Menagerie, include the direct address of actors to the audience, unnatural stage lighting, and explanatory screens. The process of alienation begins immediately at the start of the play. In Tom's direct address to the audience, in which he declares "Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic" (Williams, Part I, Scene 1, 324) he acknowledges the play's status as a literary work and admits that it does not represent reality. Tom's address also suggests the bias present in the portrayal of events that have already taken place, as everything the audience sees will be filtered through Tom's memory and subject to his subconscious distortions. The existence of a character who both narrates and participates in the play is relatively unique, and this dual role creates certain difficulties for the spectator in characterizing Tom. As a narrator who recalls the actions of each character from the future, Tom has already acquired an emotional distance from the action. However, as a character Tom is emotionally and physically engaged in the action. Thus, Tom first appears as an objective narrator who earns the...
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