This paper reveals my response to the three main characters in the play and then examines three stage techniques that Williams uses to convey his message to the audience.
Key words: sympathy, delusion, dysfunctional, absent fathers, projections, symbolism
I found myself sympathizing withall three member of the Wingfield family when I read the play. The play is set in the 1930s and the family are trying to cope with the economic effects of the Great depression. All three characters are deeply unhappy and unfulfilled, and there is a lot of tension in the Wingfield home.
Amanda Wingfield, the mother, is filled of nostalgia for ther wonderful youth in the South when things seemed so much better. She has never really recovered from her husband leaving her, and a huge portrait of him hangs on the set to remind the audience that Mr Winfield’s departure has changed the family’s fortunes forever. Amanda has a lot of conflict with her son, Tom, on whom she relies financially: she resents the time he spends at the ‘movies’ and suspects that he is spending every night in bars getting drunk. This leads to a lot of arguments between mother and son. Amanda also has unrealistic expectations for her daughter. She wants Laura to be the outgoing extrovert type of woman that she herself is, but she cannot escape the facts of what Laura is like. Amanda is self-delusional and unrealistic in her expectations.
Tom also provoked my sympathy. He wants to be a poet and to experience life to its full, but he is stuck working in a shoe factory, a job he hates, because his family depend on him as the breadwinner. He has enormous sympathy for his sister Laura, but at the end of the play repeats his father’s behaviour by abandoning the family and leaving them to fend for themselves. His ambition to break free can be seen as selfish, but it may be that his departure will prove to be the catalyst for Laura to finally overcome her morbid shyness and timidity and actually find work. Perhaps Tom is being cruel to be kind. The play was first performed in 1944 and what awaits the Wingfields and the whole of America in the 1930s is the Second World War – which led to an economic upturn and lots of job opportunities for women.
Without doubt, most of my sympathy was extended to Laura. She is chronically shy – so much so that she only attended one session at the secretarial college where she was to learn shorthand and typing, in order to be able to contribute to the Wingfield family finances. Laura’s crippled foot because her painfully self-conscious, and she feels unable to work and to lead the normal life of a young woman. There is hope towards the end of the play for Laura: Jim compliments her on her sense of humour and this may lead to increased confidence for Laura in the future.
Williams uses his set well to suggest some of the most important themes of the play. The decision to have a portrait of the absent Mr Wingfield, and the way it is selectively lit throughout the play, reminds the audience of the plight of the family – in both an economic sense and in an emotional sense: because the father has simply run off there are devastating emotional consequences for all the characters. Williams projects images onto a screen at various points in the action which often act as an ironic counterpoint to what is going on on stage. The curtains open to reveal an inner city setting of squalor, but thee words porjectde on the screen are a total contrast to this picture of urban poverty: “Où sont les neiges”. This refrain from French love poem by François Villon called ‘La ballade de Dames de Temps Jadis’ dates from the 15th century. In full the refrain reads “Où sont les neiges d’antan?” – “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” The “snows” are a symbol for the pure white snowy skin of all the women the poet has loved. It is a deeply nostalgic and romantic poem completely different from the urban American that the play is set in.. Williams uses this disparity to show us that this play is about unrealistic being confronted by the realities of real life and its problems. The glass menagerie itself also serves as a symbol for Laura herself – fragile, easily broken, unconnected with the gritty reality of life. It shows some development in Laura that she remains calm towards the end of the play when Jim breaks the unicorn: earlier in the play she would have broken down in hysterics if any harm came to her glass animals so perhaps this is a hopeful sign that she may change in the future.