The Glass Menagerie is one of the major plays by Tennessee Williams who has worked on numerous drafts of the same play before it was finally written in its current screenplay version. Some of the initial ideas regarding the play came from William’s short stories and the screenplay were originally under the name 'The Gentleman Caller'. The premier of the play was in Chicago in 1944 where it was championed by literally critics such as Ashton Stevens and Claudia Cassidy. This is what is considered to have led the play to win an award at the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in the year 1945. The Glass Menagerie was William’s first successful play; he went on to become one of America's most highly regarded playwrights (The Glass Menagerie (1987 film)). The play is seen to have been reworked from one of William’s short stories "Portrait of a Girl in Glass" as well as borrowing heavily from the narrator Tom Wingfield point of view. The following analysis proves that Amanda Wingfield is the main character in the play based on the underlying factors that supports the same.
The Glass menagerie is seen by many as an autobiographical play that somehow tries to relate to William’s life. This is going by the fact that the characters in the play seem to be mimicking his own life as compared to his related works. According to Kusher, Williams (whose real name is Thomas) would be Tom, his mother, Amanda, and his sickly and (supposedly) mentally ill sister Rose would be Laura (whose nickname in the play is "Blue Roses"(pp 57). It has also been suggested that the character Laura depicts Williams himself with respect to his introvert nature and obsessive focus on one part of life.
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The major characters in the play are;
Amanda is a woman who has been abandoned by her husband for almost sixteen years. She is a lively character "Rise and Shine! Rise and shine!" Part 2, Scene 4, pg. 28 therefore has to raise her children under very unfriendly financial conditions. According to Gross, Amanda admits that her devotion to her children has somehow in a way affected her perception regarding her children where at some point she appears to be "hateful" towards them and she longs for the kind of Old South gentility and comforts which she remembers from her youth for her children (pp 119) Amanda consoles herself by stating that problems will always be there and the real challenge is to try and overcome them "You think of yourself as having the only problems, as being the only one who is disappointed. But just look around you and you will see lots of people as disappointed as you are." Part 4, Scene 7, pg. 76.Amanda is a signature character in most of the literally works by Williams. One of the significantly reproachable characteristics of Amanda is for her refusal to accept Laura for who she really is as well as her constant nagging of Tom.
Amanda on the other hand appears to be a selfless character who evils a willingness to sacrifice for her loved ones that is in many ways unparalleled in the play. In one of the moist significant scenes in the play, Amanda subjects herself to the humiliating drudgery of subscription sales in an attempt to try and enhance Laura’s marriage prospects (pp. 77). Apparently, she does this without uttering a single word of protest or complains. In this regard, we can conclude that Amanda herself is not evil but flawed. However, her flaws appear to be as a result of tragedy, comedy, and theatrical flair of her character. Like she is described by her children, "Mother, when you're disappointed, you get that awful suffering look on your face, like the picture of Jesus' mother in the museum." Part 1, Scene 2, pg. 15, Amanda’s character seem to go well with her role in the play. Just like her children, Amanda at one point in her life withdraws from reality into a fantasy world. This paints the theme of reality and illusion that most where most characters fail to find the difference between the two. The only distinction she has form her children is that unlike them, she is convinced that she is not doing hence constantly making efforts to engage with people and the world outside her family.
Laura Wingfield is the only character in the play that does not do anything to hurt others. This is irrespective of the fact that she also has her own problems. She appears to be the only character that shows compassion and stands strongly for her principles. As described by Amanda in scene four (pp. 54), her strong spirit of compassion is most significant when she sheds tears for Tom as a result of his unhappiness. Laura also is the only charades with the least participation in the play. This is one of the main factors that depict the aura of her selflessness. Despite her minimal participation, Laura forms the axis on which the plot turns. Significant symbols in the play such as blue roses, the glass unicorn, the entire glass menagerie all represent her presence in a way. “Laura is as rare and peculiar as a blue rose or a unicorn, and she is as delicate as a glass figurine” (Washington Post review). Amanda therefore in the play is seen to create a contrast between herself and Laura to emphasize the glamour of her youthful days and her intentions to try and re-create the same youth that she experienced through Laura. In most acts, Laura depicts a character that has a will of her own that defies other people’s perception of her.
Tom Wingfield in the play doubles up as a character whose recollections the documents in the play as well as the character that operates within those recollections. This implies that the character Tom strikes a balance between the objectively presented dramatic truth and memory’s distortion of truth. Tom is however a little bit different from the other characters in the play in the sense that he sometimes addresses the audience directly. This is with an overall attempt of trying to provide a more detached explanation and assessment on the happenings on the stage. However, the audience cannot really comprehend who the character tom is. He seems to be a character torn between two worlds one which questions his ability to be trusted and another world where he allows his emotions to affect his judgment such as his perception for women "[a]all pretty girls are a trap, a pretty trap, and men expect them to be." Part 3, Scene 6, pg. 52. His role in the play also shows that the nature of recollection is itself problematic. Tom as a character appears to be total contradiction and difficult to comprehend. His attitude towards Amanda and Laura has also left most critics wondering what type of person he really is. One side of his is that he cares of them and is compassionate towards them while on the other hand, he is cruel to towards them and exhibits a total disregard of humane characteristics.
There are various factors that make Amanda the main character in the play. One, it may be as a result of her role of being the bonding point or her gentle nature to try and keep all the main characters in the play in an operational manner in accordance to her wishes. At one point, she encourages her son Tom not to give up in life “I know your ambitions do not lie in the warehouse, that like everybody in the whole wide world -- you've had to -- make sacrifices, but -- Tom -- Tom -- life's not easy, it calls for -- Spartan endurance!" Part 2, Scene 4, pg. 32. Her strong will relates and indicates a character that would go up to any length to make sure that she achieves her objectives. She is also seen to try and influence the lives of the people she loves for example when she relentlessly tries to influence Laura’s marriage as well as prevent her form becoming who she really wants to be. Amanda and her strong spirit are responsible for the outcomes in the play as well as ends up influencing the lives of the people she loves. One particular instance, Amanda discovers that Laura’s crippling shyness has led her to drop out of the class secretly and spend her days wandering the city alone. Under this, the author introduces the theme of loneliness in the role of Laura and the fact that she feels not able to love or experience romantic attachment. This is the main reason why she spends her time collecting glass animals. This leads her to believe that the only hope for Laura in this world id only if she is married. She therefore begins selling magazines subscription an attempt to raise money that she hopes will go a long way in helping to attract suitors for Laura.
Amanda also appears to be the kind of person who is both a survivor and a pragmatist in the sense that despite being abandoned with her family by her husband many years ago, she was able to raise her family and ensure that all their basic needs are well taken care off. She is also overly concerned about the general welfare of her children and most importantly the life decisions that they make that will undoubtedly affect their future lives such as when she tries to encourage Tom to make appropriate life decisions "You are the only young man that I know of who ignores the fact that the future becomes the present, the present becomes the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don't plan for it!" Part 3, Scene 5, pg. 45. Amanda yearns for her daughter to have the things that she Amanda had in her early life. This is despite the fact that Laura is emotionally crippled and spends most of her time collecting small glass animals and as she is described by her mother she lives in "a world of her own -- a world of glass ornaments." Part 3, Scene 5, pg. 48. Knowing the emotional state of her daughter, Amanda tries to find a suitable suitor for Laura in an attempt to avert an emotional breakdown by her daughter in the occurrence of heartbreak or a wrong choice with respect to the people she loves. However, it appears that Tom was out there to jeopardize the efforts by his mother to find his sister a suitable suitor in that he brought an already engaged friend despite all the preparations by his mother knowing to well that his friend was engaged. Jim O’ Connor tells Laura that "For nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura -- and so, goodbye . . ." Part 4, Scene 7, pg. 97. Critics see this as a depiction that Tom was emotionally attracted to his sister and did not want her to leave.
In the film The Glass Menagerie directed by Paul Newman, the plot basically revolves around Amanda and her family making her the main character in the film. The movie is bases on the disillusioned and delusional Amanda, her shy, crippled daughter Laura and his emotionally stable though unpredictable son Tom. The scenes revolves around the three characters where in order to appease his mother, Tom comes home with a friend who Laura discovers later is her the man she loved in high school. However, her hopes are dashed don learning that Jim O’Connor is engaged and Amanda lashes out at Tom for raising his sister’s hopes only to get her even more disappointed. Tom therefore leaves the family never to return again. In this, the author depicts the theme of the wish by many characters in the story to run away and escape some of their most pressing life challenges and encounters.
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