In Modern Domestic Tragedies, Death Is Often Shown Off Stage or Concealed. Although There Is No Visible Death in “the Glass Menagerie”, How Far Can You Argue That Death Is Still Presented as a Central Aspect of This Tragedy?

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It can be argued ‘death’ is still presented as a central aspect of the tragedy albeit in metaphorical terms referring to William’s use of expressionism. He moves away from the literal representation of death to express a more subjective outlook on Tom’s state of mind. It is as if Williams is commenting that truth is in the mind and not in the eye, therefore there is no need for a visible death but it can have a firm presence. However, the idea of ‘death’ being central is only to an extent, as the concept of a hopeful, ‘living’ life and the ‘Romantic’ symbol of yearning for emotional and artistic fulfilment plays a significant role within the play. Life and death run in parallel epitomising there is a struggle, an internal conflict within the Wingfield household on whether death or life is superior as the characters are subjected to a living death, with the pressure of the literal and figurative metaphor of the four walls mounting upon them.

Tom reflects on an occasion where he went to observe Malvolio the Magician, in which he described the “wonderfullest trick” where “we nailed him into a coffin . . . he got out without removing one nail. There is a trick that would come in handy for me – get me out of this two-by-four situation!” (Scene 4) Here, Tom dwells on such fantastical ideals of escape yet he realises his escape would not be as seamless as a magician’s as “who in hell ever got himself out of one without removing one nails?”. The coffin symbolises the notion of Tom’s figurative death by emotional and spiritual suffocation as he experiences confinement from the strain of his stultifying life and the burden of responsibility. From this, the audience realise he defies the traditional conventions of Aristotle’s principle of a tragic hero who is “renowned and of superior attainments ”. Tom is merely an anti-hero, struggling to cope with the dreariness of his life.

The visual imagery of escape runs in parallel with the powerful metaphor of a moral death, the death of Tom’s responsibility as a provider. Due to Tom’s moment of anagnorosis as he acknowledges he is unable to escape without the disturbance of a nail; the nail symbolising the sense of responsibility that binds Tom to Laura and Amanda which he sees as stifling to his life and not part of him as a person as he feels he is perhaps not the ideal provider for his family. This scene evokes pathos amongst the audience as they observe the battle between life and death within Tom’s mind as he is divided by his responsibility, the cause of his ‘death’ and Romantic yearnings for fulfilling his artistic aspirations, his escape from death and into ‘life’. His behaviour stems from his harmatia of being unable to bear responsibilities, highlights a common human frailty and projects a ‘light’ of pathos upon him, which furthermore heightens the tragedy. There is no way of fulfilling both ‘life’ and ‘death’ as there is only one evitable outcome; he has to choose to either escape his predicament and live his aspirations or succumb to the inevitable fate of death. Yet whilst Tom ponders on escaping his predicament, he highlights his inability to escape the psychological loss of space within the coffin, his mind no matter how much physical distance is attained, “for time is the longest distance between two places”. (Scene 7)

In spite of this, life, presented, as a covenant of hope is just as important as religious hope is reiterative. The stage directions signify the distinctive “soft, becoming” light, which shines on Laura as used in religious portraits of madonnas or female saints. This religious allusion serves to give false hope as life is not going anywhere for her, indeed her physical and emotional frailty tokens an early demise, if not a death wish on her part. The play elevates death as a “law that ineluctably ends all earthly life yet ushers in the eternity of the Christian life ”. Indeed this is so, as the Glass Menagerie embraces it with the references to...
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