“The Glass Menagerie” is a memory play written by Tennessee Williams (real name is Thomas). Before writing the final version of the play, Williams created several small stories, one of which became the background for the main play. The initial name was “The Gentleman Caller”.
The premiere was released in remarkable 1944, Chicago and performed on famous Broadway in 1945. In 1945 the play won the Drama Critics Circle Award of New York (Pressley, 2009).
Many knowledgeable people consider “The Glass Menagerie” to be an autobiographical work of the author’s life: Williams is Tom, his mother is Amanda, and his ill sister, Rose, is Laura. An interesting fact is that Laura can be quite Williams himself. He was an introvert and mentally sick Laura quite well reflects his way of thinking.
“The Glass Menagerie” is quite a melancholy drama for the whole family. The whole play is shot performed in the meager apartment of Wingfields which is situated next to the alley in St. Louis. The play begins with Tom’s narration which takes the audience to the 1930s (Bradford, n.d.).
Mrs. Wingfield was abandoned by her husband a long ago. Her husband disappeared and then simply sent a postcard from the city of Mazatlan in Mexico saying: “Hello – and Good-bye!”. The home turned into financially and emotionally stagnant place since then (Bradford, n.d.).
Amanda’s love for her children is very strong. Nonetheless, she allows herself to reprimand her son about his behavior, job, eating habits, and personality in general. The mother finds faults with her sick daughter, too. She demands from her to be more outgoing when the girl is very shy. Amanda, on the contrary, is an extravert, and therefore, very sociable, reminding from time to time about her younger years when she even once got seventeen male callers during one day.
Laura, however, has no ambitions and hopes for the future. She quits her typing class because she is too shy to try to perform the speed exam. The only interests that the girl seems to possess are old music records and the collection of tiny animal figurines, “glass menagerie” (Bradford, n.d.).
Tom is feeling like in prison at home. Therefore, he is constantly longing to leave the house and look for some adventures in the world. Frequently, he comes home very late at night saying to the mother that he goes to the cinema.
Amanda’s wish for Tom, however, is to find someone who will care for Laura in future. Tom dislikes the idea at the beginning very much, but already in the evening he informs his mother that a gentleman will visit them the next night who can be interested in Laura (Pressley, 2009).
This man is Jim O’Connor who went to high school together with Laura and Tom. At that time, Laura was in love with him. Amanda considers it to be her duty, as a mother, to look very beautiful for the potential husband for Laura. She dresses up into a gorgeous gown. After Jim arrives, Laura is utterly petrified to face him again. The poor girl can hardly open the door. However, when she finally manages to do so, Jim shows not the slightest hint that he remembers her.
The evening continues and Tom with Jim discusses the future. Jim is studying public speaking as he wants to become an executive. Tom shares his soon collaboration with merchant marines which means leaving his ill sister and mother. He even reveals that he did not pay the electricity bill to save up some money to join the union of seamen.
The time for dinner comes. Poor Laura spends almost all the time on the coach as far from other as possible, fainting with anxiety and shyness. Her mother, on the other hands, enjoys the dinner to the fullest extent. At that moment, the lights go out due to the unpaid bill, but Tom ‘forgets’ to tell the reason of it.
The candles are lit in the house. Jim decides to approach the petrified Laura. Minute after minute, she becomes to open up her soul to him. Jim is pleased to learn that they studied at school together. He even manages to remember the nickname he made up for her: “Blue Roses” (Bradford, n.d.).
The special moment comes when Jim says: “Somebody needs to build your confidence up and make you proud instead of shy and turning away and-blushing-Somebody ought to-ought to- kiss you, Laura!” (Bradford, n.d.). And they kiss.
The audience may start thinking during that charming moment that everything will end up happily. Probably, people imagine that Laura and Jim get married, Amanda’s hopes for Laura’s safety fulfill, and Tom finds his happiness far away in the sea. However, this is Williams and his vision of American dream. At once after the kiss, Jim regrets about his hasty deed. He reveals of being engaged to a great girl, Betty. Jim explains that he will never visit again, and Laura finds brevity to smile. She gives him a broken figurine from her collection as a gift (Bradford, n.d.).
On Jim’s leaving, Amanda reproves her son for inviting an engaged gentleman caller and Tom exclaims in his irritation that he is leaving too.
Tom becomes a narrator again, as in the beginning of the play, explaining the audience what happens next: He leaves the house, running away the same way his father did. In his traveling to the foreign countries, he always feels like something is haunting him: Laura is always in his thoughts. The ending lines say: “Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger—anything that can blow your candles out! For nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura – and so good-bye…” (Bradford, n.d.).
As we can clearly see, the house in the whole play represents a little prison for the whole family. Amanda and Laura can never escape it as if they serve a lifetime sentence. In the end of the play, the audience even notices that they seem to look even more claustrophobic, living in that closed world, than they were in the beginning.
Williams accurately depicts the problems of the American dream in his play: All Amanda’s desires never become the reality. Her daughter never graduates from the business college, pursuing a good career of a secretary. Finding out that Laura is even too shy to go to classes, she loses any hope that she can ever have a husband. Amanda lives a life full of constant worry, economic dependency and insecurity are inevitable (Novel Guide, n.d.).
A great contrast to such imprisoned life is presented in the picture of the father which hangs on the wall throughout the whole play. Unfortunately, when Tom decides to do as his father did and escapes from home, he is trapped by his memory and constant reminiscences of Laura and her misery. Despite being far from family, he is always with it, feeling that desperate unhappiness that occupies the hearts and minds of his mother and sister. Who knows, maybe the father feels the same, too (Novel Guide, n.d.).
The big problem of two women is that they prefer living surrounded by their own illusions. They are afraid to face the real world. Amanda looks at the world through pink glasses of her youth spent in the South. However, the city of St. Louis in the 1930s is very different from her past life. Therefore, Amanda fails to adjust her life to reality. She does not get tired of repeating the southern tales and mentioning her numerous admirers, only adding up with such behavior to Laura’s problem. She does not understand that what has worked for her, cannot work for her children, too. She thinks that happiness for all people is one and the same. She forgets about the individual needs of her children, trying to promote her own views on their future. Time does not change for her. She does not grow up (Novel Guide, n.d.).
Tom’s endeavors to show Amanda the difference between Laura and other girls also fails. Amanda cannot accept such way of things, even concerning her own daughter. Amanda is the brightest representative of all people who were illusory to the ideals of the American dream which concerns such opportunities that helps to gain success and prosperity fast and working hard will always ensure an increasing social mobility. Neither social class nor birth circumstances can be an obstacle for the person to achieve wealth and success if the abilities of this person and the achievements at work are outstanding. Because of this, Amanda continues to wait for the perfect chance which will drag the whole family out of the unlucky pit (Janardanan, 2007).
Unfortunately, her daughter seems to live in the world of illusions even more than the mother. She describes her glass animals as real people, playing old records left by her father. There is no future for her.
Owing to the economic downturn of the Wingfields, and ending up with a very little of real life experience, is a perfect situation for the American dream which still makes people hope for the perfect life. Amanda tried to persuade Tom that the harder he works, the sooner he will succeed. However, such creative personality as Tom cannot stay within four walls. Success and wealth are not the goals of his life. He is not a victim of the American dream which is more presented in Jim who is fond of achievements and advantages of technological progress, envisioning his happy life to come after studying a lot. Jim believes that the more he studies, the easier it will be for him to reach heights in the professional world (Novel Guide, n.d.).
Despite the fact that Williams depicts his personal past in the “Glass Menagerie”, the conflicts and situations described are common for many people. The values of the American society during the times of the Depression are aptly reflected.
Most readers and also the audience in the theatre can easily identify their own lives with the play since they also experience the same trap they got into due to the financial needs. Many of people were also brought up in the families with a single parent, lacking the care and education from, mostly, father. For this reason, many boys are too weak and lacked confidence in the adulthood, and girls have problems with the opposite sex as they did not have the opportunity to experience father’s care (Zapotoczny, n.d.).
Practically, everyone feels the overwhelming rebelliousness of Tom, his longing to find independence, to feel the taste of adventures, and in such a way, to escape the deadly routines of daily life.
Many of us can have at least once in our lives that overpowering feeling of conflictive emotions which Laura always has with her shyness, on the one hand, and desire for romance, on the other hand, her petrifying fear of the whole world beyond the borders of her house and the constant yearning for being connected with it (Zapotoczny, n.d.).
As we can see, the main conflict of the whole play comes from the inadequate dreams for the future. This is especially true when one person’s expectations for the other person do not coincide with the longings of the latter. While Amanda is wasting her time of empty dreams for her kids, they know what they really want in life. Tom’s initial desire to become a writer does not appeal to him mother, who thinks that he must work very hard to help the family out of the financial crisis; she does not care about his desires at all.
Unfortunately, it is often observed in our society when children go the paths of their parents, and cannot choose their own lives. They live their parents’ dreams, and either put up with it soaking in their misery, or rebel against their parents’ wishes, as Tom does, creating a conflict between which can hardly be resolved. The way of finding your own path in life is never easy, but it is vital for each human being who wants to be happy to discover what the source of this happiness is.
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In real life situations, the expectations must correspond to the actual state of things. However, the ideals of the American dream do not recognize this fact. These ideals tell people that everyone can have that success and wealth that one can only imagine in their best dreams. Believing in this, people do little to change themselves to fit those lives which they would like to have, they prefer living in their illusionary worlds, closing up from the life around them (Pressley, n.d.).
In the conclusion I would like to state that Tennessee Williams managed to show us all the problems that our own society created believing in the values that cannot bring happiness. Wealth and success are just complementary sources of true happiness but never the real reasons for it. Parents should understand that the more they go against their children’s interests and ambitions, the more problems both of them will experience in the future. Happy relationships are always based on mutual understanding and support of each other’s ideas, and the sooner people will realize it, the less problems they can have.