The Glass Menagerie (Critical Article #1)

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Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association Tennessee Williams: The Uses of Declarative Memory in the Glass Menagerie Daniel Jacobs J Am Psychoanal Assoc 2001; 50; 1259 DOI: 10.1177/00030651020500040901 The online version of this article can be found at:

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American Psychoanalytic Association

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Daniel Jacobs


TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: THE USES OF DECLARATIVE MEMORY IN THE GLASS MENAGERIE Tennessee Williams called his first great work, The Glass Menagerie, his “memory play.” The situation in which Williams found himself when he began writing the play is explored, as are the ways in which he used the declarative memory of his protagonist, Tom Wingfield, to express and deal with his own painful conflicts. Williams’s use of stage directions, lighting, and music to evoke memory and render it three-dimensional is described. Through a close study of The Glass Menagerie, the many uses of memory for the purposes of wish fulfillment, conflict resolution, and resilience are examined.


he place: St. Louis, Missouri. The year: 1943. Thomas Lanier Williams, age thirty-two, known as Tennessee, has returned to his parents’ home. He has had a few minor successes. Several of his shorter plays have been produced by the Mummers in St. Louis. For another, staged by the Webster Grove Theater Guild, he was awarded an engraved silver cake plate. He has retained Audrey Wood as his literary agent and with her help had several years earlier won a Rockefeller fellowship to support his writing. But Williams’s Fallen Angels bombed in Boston the previous summer. Its sponsor, the Theater Guild, decided not to bring the play to New York. Since obtaining a B.A. from the University of Iowa in l938, Williams has been broke more often than not. He has no home of his own. He’s led an itinerant existence, living in New Orleans, New York, Provincetown, and Mexico, as well as Macon, Georgia, and

Training and Supervising Analyst, Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute; faculty, Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis; Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School. Submitted for publication October 12, 2001.

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Daniel Jacobs


Culver City, California. He has subsisted on menial jobs—waiting tables, operating an elevator, ushering at movie theaters—tasks for which he is not f itted and from which he is often f ired. His vision in one eye is compromised by a cataract that has already necessitated surgery. And just before moving back home from New York, he was beaten up by sailors he took to the Claridge Hotel for a sexual liaison. Arriving home in 1943, Tennessee f inds many things unchanged: his parents, Cornelius and Edwina, remain unhappily married and their bitter quarrels f ill the house. Williams must again deal with the father he despises. Tennessee is pressured by Cornelius, who opposed his return home, to f ind a job. If Tennessee will not return to work at the International Shoe Company, as Cornelius advises, then he must earn his keep by performing endless domestic chores. But it is the changes in the family that are even more troubling. Williams’s younger brother Dacon is in the army and may be sent into combat after basic training. His maternal grandparents have moved in because...
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