Term Paper: Glass Menagerie Tennessee Williams' Play

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¶ … Glass Menagerie

Tennessee Williams' play "The Glass Menagerie" introduces a series of strong ideas through its characters and its storyline. Audiences are likely to feel compassionate towards the characters and acknowledge the fact that the contemporary society is obsessed with material values. The play abounds in instances where characters attempt to detach themselves from the real world, acting as if they would practically acknowledge they are on a stage, but refuse to accept the roles they were assigned. Gene Roddenberry's 1966 episodes 11 and 12, titled "The Menagerie," in the Star Trek TV series, bring on a series of similar ideas, as they emphasize the concept of illusion as something that desperate people cling to, in spite of being well-acquainted with their actual condition.

Coincidentally, in an unrelated discussion, it is interesting to notice how one of the most imposing actors playing Spock in the contemporary version of Star Trek has started to play the main character of Tom in John Tiffany's production of "The Glass Menagerie." In spite of the fact that most of those viewing the play are likely to be acquainted with the plot, the way that events unfold is effective in dealing a surprising hit to anyone. "You're already familiar with the feeling of that blow. It's what everyone experiences when a sound or an image from the past suddenly looms larger than the present, and, whether happy or sad, is almost too hurtful to be borne." (Brantley)

The fact that the play has an autobiographical element amplifies the emotions, as it is certainly difficult to accept that society actually promotes such cruel ideas and that many of them are as real as the real world.

As Bloom emphasizes, "The Glass Menagerie is nonetheless Tennessee Williams' most autobiographical play, accurate to the imaginative reality of his experience even when it departs from fact in detail." (Bloom 43) It is absolutely clear how and why the central character feels an inferiority complex as the plot unfolds. Tom Wingfield cannot ignore the critical stage that his family is in, but he feels that it would be best for him to escape everything in order to be able to recover -- continuing to live the way he currently does would presumably end disastrously for everyone, while, on the contrary, leaving would give him a chance to restructure his life.

Illusion is a dominant motif throughout the play and even though it is perfectly normal to have illusions (it would be hypocritical for someone to deny ever having made one), the characters in "The Glass Menagerie" go far beyond normality when it comes to this department. They become obsessed with their illusions and they practically come to feed on them. It looks as if they would prefer to ignore their current position and live in an imaginary world filled with delusions. These characters are in pain, obviously, and illusions come as a tool to fight it, acting as a powerful, dangerous and addictive drug.

One of the most disturbing relationships in the play occurs between Amanda and her daughter, Laura. The woman clearly feels sorry for her daughter and wants to help her, but she takes on an unhealthy attitude. She appears to be denying reality in her struggle to make things work. Her illusions shape her thinking and make it difficult for her to accept reality. "Without illusion, Amanda would realize the hopelessness of Laura's condition." (Ehrenhaft & Williams 20) Instead, she keeps bombarding her daughter with information that also makes it difficult for Laura to accept who she is. Their relationship is damaging for both of them, as they are unable to direct their resources toward actually experiencing progress.

Laura keeps her hopes alive, as she is unable to truly be able to accept her position. Furthermore, she appears to find ways to meat her mother's expectations of her, coming to piece with the latter's terms. Thus, the daughter puts an enormous amount of energy on putting across attitudes that are uncharacteristic of a person in her condition. Amanda's struggle to keep her daughter from understanding her problems has a negative effect on Laura and can largely be considered one of the main reasons why she both of them are unable to make any progress, in the first place.

Amanda keeps trying making her daughter believe that she should be more like her mother instead of keeping to herself and acting shy as a consequence of her handicap. Mrs. Wingfield actually tries to recall her past to her daughter, thinking that her stories will act as incentive for the latter. To a certain degree, it is also likely that she tells these stories with the intention of boosting her own self-image. Amanda apparently tries to improve her own self-esteem in addition to assisting her daughter. At times it actually seems that she is more concerned with her personal image. It is difficult to determine whether or not she actually had seventeen suitors in a single day when she was young. What is more disturbing is that the way that she says it makes it seem that she completely believes it.

Adventure is in the mind of all three central characters in the play, with each of them hoping for their lives to take a change for the better in spite of the fact that conditions actually worsen. While Tom has more chances to succeed and while the mother of has a life behind her that must have been satisfying on some level, Laura seems to be the only person in the play who actually has an accurate idea of the critical condition she is in.

Williams' decision to write the play came as a consequence of him feeling guilty as a result of actions he committed in the past. The writer actually acknowledged that he started writing the play at the time when he realized that his sister's mind was gradually starting to depreciate (Bloom 136). "Just as Tom's memory play may be interpreted as his way of exorcising his guilt, Adler believes that Williams wrote the play in order to come to terms with his own sense of culpability over his failure to do anything to prevent the prefrontal lobotomy performed on his schizophrenic sister, Rose." (Bloom 136)

Throughout the play, characters appear to believe that illusions are the best option for them when considering the critical condition they are in. However, as the storyline progresses it becomes clear that they are actually hurting themselves by embracing illusions. What seemed to be their escape gradually started to be a form of bondage -- one that makes it even more difficult for them to be able to deal with life. Every time they feel rejuvenated as a result of their illusions they come across an episode that makes matters even worse. The instance when Laura realizes that she had false hopes with regard to her being together with Jim (her high school crush and the person Tom presumably invited with the purpose of getting them together) crushes her understanding of life. It is then when all of the characters in the play understand the horrible effects of living in an imaginary world. "While the characters adopt such an approach, it discourages them to fight against adverse circumstances of real-life in any form; it weakens their inner strength to lead a normal life resulting in the disintegration of their inner-self." (Singh 56)

Laura is certainly one of the most hopeless characters in the play. Her condition inspires pity particularly because she is a victim in the overall chain of events occurring in her home. It appears that she is unable to react to what is going on around her as her mother fills her head with false hopes and makes it impossible for her to accept who she is. It is only when she goes to college that she realizes her condition and the fact that she drops out actually demonstrates the degree to which her mother damaged her perception of herself. It is likely that if she previously became accustomed to accepting her handicap she would have been able to go through college without being ashamed of the person she was. The fact that the only thing she can think of when being asked about her interests is the glass menagerie is certainly saddening. What is even more disheartening is the fact that her interests are not even that great, as her leaving her life in an illusion made it difficult for her to understand the difference between positive goals and objectives that are pointless.

While Tom is also supportive toward the idea of having illusions, his illusions are more similar to what one would consider dreams. As unattainable as some of them are, the fact that he seems to realize that he and his family are in a desperate state somewhat manages to keep him from being as blind as his mother and sister. Amanda is generally responsible for her children's tendency to live in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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