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Drama and English

By usherj3stpats May 07, 2013 1199 Words
Drama
Discuss the dramatic role of the Gentleman Caller in ‘The Glass Menagerie’. In this essay, the dramatic role of the Gentleman Caller in the infamous play ‘The Glass Menagerie’ will be discussed in a number of different roles. First, it will be shown that the Gentleman Caller was the last hope of financial stability for a young woman, Laura, and her mother, as well as the last hope of escape for Laura’s brother, Tom. It will also be shown that Jim, the Gentleman Caller, shatters the lives and illusions of three unhappy people, while, at the same time, connecting the various fantasies of those three people. One may also view how the playwright, Tennessee Williams, made use of pathetic fallacy to warn all of the characters what was about to take place, as the main centre of drama enters and exits their lives in a very short space of time. The Gentleman Caller is of utmost important in this play, as he was Amanda’s very last hope for a daughter that was incapable of succeeding in a business career. The first mention of the Gentleman Caller is at the end of scene two, when Amanda finds out that Laura has failed at Business school. Laura unwittingly speaks about the actual Gentleman Caller, Jim, as the only man she has ever liked (probably the only one that has ever spoken to her besides her father or Tom). Amanda wishes to have both herself and Laura taken care of for the rest of their lives and she sees any prospective Gentleman Caller as the key to this: “Seen through the eyes of Amanda, Jim fundamentally is a potential husband for Laura. Just as he embodies Laura’s only hope for a future, he also is Amanda’s only hope for fulfilling one of her major duties as a mother.” (Presley, 1990, 44) Tom is vaguely interested in the prospect of a Gentleman Caller also, as he knows that if Laura was to be married Tom would have his mother’s blessing in leaving home forever. However, Tom is aware that Laura is very fragile and, as he doesn’t honestly feel the need for his mother’s blessing, so he is not very enthused in his search for a suitable man to fill the role. If Tom had taken more of an interest and persisted in his search for a suitable match perhaps the play would never have happened as he would never have been haunted by his memories of Laura and what he had left behind. Tom would have been able to escape from his repressive home completely, with a clear conscience and no regrets.

The Gentleman Caller brings the drama to the play, as he is a person that Amanda is fixated on throughout. She constantly speaks of him and seems to think of little else. She tries to force the idea on her daughter, Laura, who knows that it is unlikely one will ever appear. Laura is too delicate for the stress of the imaginary marriage that Amanda tries to push on her. Both Laura and Tom can recognise this fact but Amanda constantly ignores it, even ignoring the fact that Laura has never had just one Gentleman Caller. A fragile, crippled daughter has no place in Amanda’s fantasy and she does not, therefore, ever admit that Laura is fragile or crippled until the last moment, when it is far too late: “Amanda Wingfield [...] endangers Laura by forcing her into her own dream, of ‘gentleman callers’ and prosperous marriage.” (Hayley, 2) The Gentleman Caller is used as the main dramatic focus in the play. He is the outsider who enters the fantasy world of the Wingfields, shattering the awful existence that they had shared up until this point. The whole play is leading up to the Gentleman Caller. He comes and is gone again in less than two scenes, but he manages to shatter the various illusions of every other character in the play, apart from Tom’ s father, the Gentleman Caller who managed to escape family life and responsibility many years before. Jim manages to make Amanda realise that she will never be able to marry off Laura, he allows Tom to see that if he ever wants to be happy he will need to escape and he shows Laura that the climax of her life will be a twenty minute conversation with a practical stranger. Her life will quickly fade into nothingness as her support, Tom, will become the third and final man to abandon her. The Gentleman Caller’s visit is given a dramatic effect also by Williams’ brilliant use of pathetic fallacy. The weather becomes a forewarning for the family on what will happen towards the end of the play. Within only a number of minutes of Jim being in the house we see the strain he puts on Laura. We first see a storm break out when Laura insists that she cannot come to the dinner table. This is followed by a clap of thunder when Laura almost faints and there is steady rain until Jim enters the sitting room and charms Laura. Here the rain fades out, but when Jim tries to make his quick escape by telling Amanda about Betty, his fiancé, “there is an ominous cracking sound in the sky” (Williams, 1962, 309). When he fully explains his relationship with Betty, the rain falls from the sky with unstoppable force. Finally, one of the last dramatic roles that Williams uses the Gentleman Caller for is to connect all three character’s fantasies- Tom’s poetry, Amanda’s youth and Laura’s glass world. The Gentleman Caller is the person that everyone is waiting for throughout the play. He embodies everyone’s escape: Tom from the family and his job, Amanda from a life of poverty and Laura from a life of nothingness- although we are not fully sure that Laura really wishes for an escape from this: “A collection of glass animalculae means a great deal too much to Laura, an introvert whose shyness is enhanced by a limp and whose youth and beauty are being wasted on daydreams.” (Arnott, 1985, 22) With the departure of the Gentleman Caller, we see the rise of Tom’s poetry, the fall of Amanda’s youth and the shattering of Laura’s glass menagerie (which is the symbol for Laura’s fragile mind and body). Amanda works in a very demeaning job in order to save up money for preparations- this money she wastes on the Gentleman Caller who is already engaged. This loss of important money signals the beginning of the real money problems that are about to befall Amanda and Laura, after Tom’s departure into his world of poetry.

Therefore, we can see that the Gentleman Caller is not only important in the play ‘The Glass Menagerie’, but he actually embodies the main dramatic roles in the play and Tennessee Williams uses him very effectively to gain these means.

Bibliography

Arnott, Catherine M. Tennessee Williams on File. Metheun London Ltd., 1985 Hayley, Barbara. Abbey Theatre Programme, Production of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ Presley, Delma E. The Glass Menagerie; An American Memory. Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1990. Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. Penguin Books Ltd., Middlesex, 1962.

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