The Glass Menagerie: Memory Play
The Glass Menagerie is Tennessee Williams most autobiographical work. However, it is not a true autobiographical work in the sense that there is chronological order and true documented facts to his life. Instead the play is more along the line of an “emotional” autobiographical piece. At times individuals exhibit selective memory, this is a period whereby we choose to remember certain things the way we would like them to be rather than the way things actually happened. The Glass Menagerie is similar to the author’s life and his biographers often rely on it as a thematic source. The play centers around three family members – Laura, Tom and their mother Amanda. Missing from the family group is the father. He is represented in the play by a photograph that sits on the mantle. It is learned early on in the play from Tom that the father had abandoned the family and that the father had sent a postcard one time. Tom says in Scene One, “The last we heard of him was a picture postcard from Mazatlan, on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, containing two words: ‘Hello-Goodbye!’ and no address” (Williams 5). Also in Scene One Tom tells us that the play is memory.
Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental and not realistic. Here the audience begins to have the feeling that it is a flashback to a type of recollection – whether it is true enough to the reality of the event is yet to be determined. In memory plays everything seems to happen to music. The tone and the timing of the music give another type of dimension to the audience. It sets the mood and even foreshadows events to come. Given the strong emotional similarity to William’s life and the fact that the main character tells us the play is memory, the play begins to obviously feel more like a dream and because of that element there is an abundance of themes, motifs and symbols that permeate the play with literary significance.
Tom is the narrator of the play and Amanda and Laura rely on him for their financial well being. He is usually situated out on the fireplace which again allows the audience to also be viewing what had already happened. He is physically removed from the current activities that are going on in the play and he becomes the storyteller. Giving is opinion to what happened from recall. Tom works at a shoe warehouse and despises his work. Tom escapes through literature, movies and liquor. Amanda is a genteel southern woman with what she paints as a glamorous past. She often discusses the many suitors of “gentlemen callers” she had in her youth. She too is living from memory and not on the present. Laura is a physically handicapped girl who is agonizingly shy. She also appears to have strong mental vulnerabilities. One example is her maintaining a lie about going to business school even though she spends countless hours wandering around the streets of St. Louis. Laura lives in her own glass house. A world of fragile glass figurines, fragile just has her mental state. However she is able to care for them and mesmerize herself. She is kept in a world of glass out of touch from everything and sometimes out of touch with reality. Amanda’s main goal which eventually becomes her obsession is to find her daughter a husband or at the very least a suitable “gentlemen caller”.
After a fair amount of coaxing and pleading with Tom, Amanda finally manages to manipulate Tom into inviting a work associate home for dinner with the premise of finding Laura a suitor. Not only does Amanda view her daughter as having physical crippling issues, she further continues with the crippling of her daughters psyche in being able to choose her own companions. Tom too after all of the duress that he lives under by his over powering, overzealous mother caves into yet another request from her. In Scene Six Tom says “And so the following evening I brought Jim home to dinner… In high school Jim was a...
Cited: Devlin, Albert. Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams. New York: New Directions, 2000.
King, Thomas L. "Irony and Distance in The Glass Menagerie." Educational Theatre Journal (1973): 85-94.
Kolin, Philip. A Guide to Research and Performance. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998.
Spoto, Donald. The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams. New York: Brown, Little, 1985.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. New York, 1945.
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