This is an analysis of ‘The Glass Menagerie’. ‘The Glass Menagerie’ is a theatrical play which has been considered among the borders of the literary community as a play carrying lots of autobiographical elements of the author. This play which opened the path to his author Tennessee Williams for recognition and admiration won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947.
This is an analysis of the play’s main thematic core which is the loneliness of people and the way it is experienced by the members of a family. The portrait presented here is the portrait of a family whose world is so fragile as if it were made of glass. Looking into the play’s plot, into the process of the characters being unrevealed, it is as though one is looking at a world made of glass, so fragile that can be destroyed within seconds. This play is built upon human relationships and how the feeling of individual loneliness can affect them so it speaks to the hearts of its audience since it is a study of human nature.
Tennessee Williams has been characterized as the loner who would spent most of his time at his typewriter. And this play’s thematic core, the individual loneliness of people proves the author’s obsession with looking into this issue, its generating factors and its effect on people’s characters and relationships.
The play is built around three persons. Tom, his sister Laura and their mother Laura. They are a family whose father and husband has abandoned them and they seem to be trying to keep on living in such a way that they manage to deal effectively with the absence and betrayal of the man who left them. This is the first level of situation which the audience comes face to face with. The deep level is the portrayal of each microcosm which is hidden within the soul and mind of each one of these persons.
Tom Wingfield is the son of Amanda and holds the role of the narrator in the play. The plot is set in South, in St. Louis in 1937 and Tom is the young son who seems to have put aside his wish to become an acknowledged poet and works in a shoe company so that he can provide his family with the means to survive.
His sister Laura on the other hand, is a fragile girl who has been pushed by her mother to pursue a career in studies, but instead of attending her college, Laura leaves home pretending that she goes to college and instead remains wandering around the streets of her city. Like Amanda finds out in Scene 2 of the play ‘Wingfield she said, we don’t havy any such student enrolled at the school’ (The Glass Menagerie, Amanda scene 2, lines 22-23-24).
Amanda who is the mother finds out, so she turns to the conclusion that the best thing she can do for her daughter in order to provide her with a good fortune and secure future is to find a good husband for her. Amanda is the portrait in the play of the Southern Belle, a figure which has been a characteristic one of Williams’ plays.
Amanda is the woman who seems to have problem coming in terms with the reality of her life. She does not seem to be able to deal with the abandonment of her husband. Like Amanda says in scene six ‘Well, in the South we had so many servants. Gone, gone, gone. All vestige of gracious living! Gone completely! I wasn’t prepared for what the future brought me. All of my gentlemen callers were sons of planters and so of course I assumed that I would be married to one and raise my family on a large piece of land with plenty of servants. But man proposes—and woman accepts the proposal! To vary that old, old saying a bit—I married no planter! I married a man who worked for the telephone company! . . . A telephone man who—fell in love with long-distance!’ (The Glass Menagerie, Scene 6). So it is obvious that Amanda seems to be having a great problem coming in terms with her personal failure in choosing a man from a lower class. She pays attention to the social origins of a person which according to her traditional beliefs are the credentials for one gaining respect from the others. Even worse she seems unable to come in terms with the fact that life and the lifestyle itself has changed. People are not separated any more in social classes according to their origins. As stated in the Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams the period of time which the play depicts is a period of ‘social changes’ (The Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams, 1997).
Amanda Wingfield is a woman of noble origin who believes that she ought to have respect towards her and her children from others due to her origin. She appears too weak to be able to realize that social structure has started changing significantly. Amanda is the protagonist from one point of view of the play because she is the one dominant figure of the family who appears to pull the strings of the others’ personalities and lead them to specific behaviors and attitudes. She expects her children to obey to her opinion and advice and therefore she imposes her own beliefs and ideals on them. She seems to be oppressive as far as their freedom is concerned since she does not leva any room for them to express their own dreams, their own beliefs, and their own wishes.
Amanda Wingfield is the coordinator of their world as she wants it to remain unchanged. The result is that Tom leaves them in order to run after his dream of becoming a poet, after a dinner which ends up being a failure.
Laura has a habit of collecting glass miniatures and thus the title of the play is justified. There is a metaphorical use of the title. It seems that Tennessee wants to make a statement. Like the glass world of Laura’s collection, the world that the Wingfield family lives in is so fragile as made by something so fragile like the glass itself. When Laura in scene seven of the play describes her collection of glass miniatures she says ‘Little articles of [glass], they’re ornaments mostly! Most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest little animals in the world. Mother calls them a glass menagerie! Here’s an example of one, if you’d like to see it! . . . Oh, be careful—if you breathe, it breaks! . . . You see how the light shines through him?’ (The Glass Menagerie, scene seven) and these words by Laura depict allegorically the fragile nature of her family, of her character and of the relationships developed between them all.
Their lives are smashed upon the failure of Amanda’s goal to find the perfect husband for her daughter. Tom leaves and recollects. It is his recollection of that last night when a colleague of his had been invited to dinner so that he could probably be interested in his sister that he leaves them without notifying them.
Tom fell in the trap of following his father’s steps without ever having managed to forgive him or understand him. But Tom reaches a point when he realizes that there is no other escape from the world drawn in lies and fiction by his mother than his escape.
The only person Tom seems to have second thoughts about is his sister. Laura is too fragile and weak to go after her right to freedom so she remains trapped in this glass world their mother remains stuck to. The last words of Tom ‘I descended the steps of this fire escape for a last time and followed, from then on, in my father’s footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space. . . . I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something. . . . I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!’ (The Glass Menagerie, Scene seven) show his seconds thoughts on leaving his family. His main concern and grief is the fact that he has abandoned his sister.
Tennessee builds the portrait of a family in which no one ever really approaches the other. Each one is living in his / her isolated world trying to find shelter for the smashed dreams, for the failures, for the weaknesses in the denial to admit them and talk about them with others who he / she shares the same house with.
The main thematic core of the play goes round the difficulty of accepting reality for what it really is. But reality is there and whether one decides to accept it or avoid it by building his / her own fictional shelter, it never goes away. The reality that one ought to first come in terms with is the inner reality lying in one’s self. If this reality is accepted and dealt with without denial then there is always hope and light at the end of the tunnel for one to find what really he / she needs in order to feel inner peace, happiness and fulfiment.
Bloom, Harold, (2007) ed. Tennessee Williams, ‘The Glass Menagerie’, (Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations). New York: Chelsea House Publishers
Gross, Robert F., (2002), ‘Tennessee Williams: A Casebook’. Routledge
Hale, Allean; Roudané, Matthew Charles (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams, Cambridge Univ. Press (1997)
Leverich, Lyle. (1997), ‘Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams’, W. W. Norton & Company, Reprint edition (1997)
Londre, Felicia (1979) Tennessee Williams, New York, Frederick Ungar Publishers