and Reality in Tennessee William’s
A Term Paper
Submitted to the Council of the College of Languages at Salahaddin University-
Saman Salah Balaki
Table of Content
The Glass Menagerie
(1944) by Williams, is selected for this study and they represent the early
work of his long career to show his “obsessive interest in human affairs”
(“Production Notes” Menagerie 934). The main focus is on the escapist, Laura,
as a protagonist of this play who can relate neither to their surroundings nor
to the times in which they find themselves obliged to live. This sentiment
leads them to fill that avoid with distorted memories of the past, or longing
for and dreaming of a redemptive future. The protagonist, Laura, has done no
more connection with their past or future that they do with their present.
of the recurrent themes in Tennessee William’s plays is the theme of appearance
and reality. This theme has contributed immensely to William’s plots. The theme
of appearance and reality has often helped shape Tennessee William’s characters
from a sorrowful character (in their real world) to a character with gladsome(Cahn
9) ( in their illusionary world). The
characters that do seem like ,Lura, always keeps escaping from her real world
because it hurts her. On the other side, her Brother , Tom, too escapes from
his melancholy reality.
With regards The Glass
Menagerie, one of William’s major work, “appearance and reality” is used
merely for showing their real world. In addition, it allows an intensification
of the tension set up between appearance and reality, nature and nurture, which
are so significant in this play.” (Owens and Goodman 203) It can thus be said
that appearance and reality here is used to get the characters closer to each
other because they are able to confront and question the situation.
Appearance and reality
did not only occur in the play, it also appeared on the stage during the
Elizabethan age. The significance of this theme is so talent fully used by the
actor and playwright William Shakespeare that we may even ask ourselves if we
are not acting or appearing different in the real world, like most of his
characters do. Up until today we can still connect to this major theme and the
characters in Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare often compared life to a stage
and the stage to our life. This thought is beautifully described by
Shakespeare’s character Jacques from As You Like It;
world’s a stage,
And all the
men and women merely players:
their exits and their entrances;
And one man
in his time plays many parts,
being seven ages. (As You Like It 2.7. 138-42)
It is Williams successful play performs for the first time in
Chicago in 1944.The setting of the story is in the Wingfield house in
St, Louis Missouri, United States. It is a memory play and the time is past time and present.
Social and political background
The Glass of
Menagerie is produced in the south of America during the great Depression. It
is a powerful short story which is narrated by the character Tom Wingfield, who
reflects on his memories of family life and events leading to his departure from
the Wingfield home. Tennessee Williams writers the story in the 1930s during
the Great Depression. It deals with a southern family living in a city in St.
The story reflects
the values of the society and a family that belongs to the lower middle class
in the late 1930s a time of struggle. And national conflicts. It depicts that
how people feel lost their fortune and must walk hard to gain their fortune,
but they cannot forget their golden and wealthy past. They are nostalgic for
their past from the beginning of the play Williams shows a description of the
Wingfield apartment and its surroundings, Tennessee Williams shows how the
architecture at the buildings resembles the life of the people that live their
people living in a mass of human beings without identity he shows them as
isolated and their identity has been declined. Tom Wingfield utters at the
beginning of The Glass Menagerie:
In Spain there was revolution. here there was only shouting and
confusion. In Spain there was Guernica, here there were disturbance of labour,
sometimes pretty violent, in otherwise peaceful cities such as, Chicago,
Cleveland, saint louis…. This is social and political background.
Gale says that, a memory
play means it is mostly an Expressionistic play. Expressionism is a literary
movement arose in Europe in the late ninetieth and early twentieth centuries
and response bourgeois complacency and the increasing mechanization and urbanization
of society (p. 253).
plays do not deal with the extend reality but sheds light on the inner reality
of the characters, they show life as felt rather than seen. From the first
sentence of the production notes declares that “it is a memory play”
(Yeganeh, p.401) which shows inner world of the character.
Tom, in 1945, as the
narrator tells the audiences his memory life about Wingfield’s complex problem
about years ago. The time moves from the past (1930) to the present (1945) or
The narrator of the
play is Tom Wingfield. Tennessee Williams sheds light on his personal life and
his difficulties during his time through The Glass of Menagerie. And it can be
said that Tom is a reflection of Williams who tells a story about himself and
his family too. Many critics’ regards The Glass of Menagerie as a biographical
play in which Williams attempted to show (how felt) his own life. The characters
of the play prove that it is a biographical play about Williams’s life, in
which Amanda represents his mother, Laura represents his sister, and Tom
represents himself. All the members of the family prove that they escape from
their reality into an illusionary world. This paper shows the escapism of Laura and Tom from their
The Glass Menagerie
Tennessee Williams’s first successful
play, The Glass Menagerie (1945), opens with Tom, the narrator of the play,
entering as a merchant sailor who has escaped the frustrations in his job and
strains of his home. As a narrator, he has all the rights of turning back time
to tell his own past life and people’s suffering during that crucial period in
the history of the world in general, and America in particular and he describes
Tom: … To begin with, I turn back time.
I reverse it to that quaint period,
The thirties, when the huge middle
class of America was matriculating
in a school for the blind. Their
eyes had failed them, and or they
failed their eyes, and so they were
having their fingers pressed
down on the fiery Braille alphabet
In Spain there was Revolution.
Here there was only shouting and
In Spain there was Guernica.
Here there was disturbance of
Labour, sometimes pretty violent
In otherwise peaceful cities such
as Chicago, Cleveland, Saint Louis….
This is the social background of the
play (Yeganah F.2009.p.406).
As a result “such a time of profound social and political
upheaval in the bourgeois world”(2) many lives will be shattered under its
heavy strains and many families will crumble down – especially those of little
income. The Wingfields, therefore, is one among the millions.
The Wingfield family
undergoes a very terrible experience, which makes them enmeshed on a piece of
canvas in the social context they live in. They are stuffed very tightly in an
overcrowded apartment that they will never have a chance for change or release
from this sordid environment unless the base of the society undergoes a radical
Wingfield apartment is in the rear
the building, one of those vast
– like conglomeration of cellular
that flower as warty
in overcrowded urban centres of
middle-class population and are
of the impulse of this
and fundamentally enslaved
of American society to avoid
and differentiation and to
and function as one interfused
of automatism.( Scene One, p.1 )
is the time and locality in which the members of this distressed family, among
many other families live. Thus, they “are trapped in their worlds, worlds
which they neither understand nor accept …. (3).Each one of the Winfield family
tries to escape from this sordid reality and searches for relief and solace in
something else that alleviates his/her pains. Their escape from the
restrictions of time and its demands forms the pivot around which the action of
The Glass Menagerie revolves (4).They escape but time chases them. It is only
through this act of loss and compensation the personality of Laura and Tom
character is revealed.
The title The Glass
Menagerie, is symbolic. Cudden defined Symbolism, that originally comes from
Greek verb ‘Symballein’,it is an object, animate or inanimate which stands for
something else.(1946,p.671) unquestionably refers to Laura even though its
symbolism can be extended to the other characters, including Amanda and Tom,
and even Jim. It symbolically refers to the fragility of Laura’s nature. But as
mentioned already, there is also a strain of fragility in the representation
even of Amanda, who usually comes across as a shrill and imposing character. In
the scene where Tom curses her in a hurtful manner, her vulnerability, plight,
and helplessness bring out her own fragility. Tom’s suffocation suffered at the
Wingfield apartment and his remorse following his flight in the end of the play
are some of the moments where the title bears significance on his vulnerable
and fragile character.
The overarching significance of The Glass
Menagerie, however, is Laura’s alienation from the world owing to her
‘peculiarity’. When Tom agrees to invite Jim over for dinner, he warns Amanda
that he has not told Jim about Laura. When Amanda gets excited about Jim’s
visit, Tom cautions Amanda and asks her not to get her hopes up owing to
Laura’s unconventional position in society. But Amanda is abhorred even by the
mention of the words ‘crippled’ and ‘peculiar’ to refer to her daughter:
AMANDA: …He’ll Jim know about Laura when he gets here. When he sees how
lovely and sweet and pretty she is, he’ll thank his lucky stars he was asked to
TOM: Mother, you mustn’t expect too much of Laura. AMANDA: What do
TOM: Laura seems all those things to you and me because she’s ours
and we love her. We don’t even notice she’s crippled any more.
AMANDA: Don’t say crippled!
You know that I never allow that word to be used! …
TOM: Laura is very different from other girls.
AMANDA: I think the difference is all to her advantage.
TOM: Not quite all – in the eyes of others – strangers – she’s
terribly shy and lives in a world of her own and those things make her seem a
little peculiar to people outside the house. AMANDA: Don’t say peculiar.
TOM: Face the facts. She is. …
AMANDA: In what way is she peculiar – may I ask?
TOM gently: She lives in a
world of her own – a world of glass ornaments, Mother… (Williams 2009, 42?43)
Appearance and Reality
conversation also points to another central theme of the play: the conflict
between illusion and reality. Invariably, all the characters are enmeshed in an
illusion which would be categorically dismantled. In the first line of the
conversation quoted above, it can be seen how Amanda dreams of bright future
for her daughter with Jim. Just as she revels in that bubble, her momentary
happiness is swiftly undermined when Tom reminds her of Laura’s ‘different’ and
‘peculiar’ nature. He points out how Laura is divorced from the reality of the
world and lives in ‘a world of her own – a world of glass ornaments’. But, at
this particular point at least, Laura’s illusory world is not exposed yet; it
would, of course, be done deftly by Jim when he breaks the news of his
engagement. Here, in this moment of the conversation between Tom and Amanda, it
is, however, Amanda’s own dreams that are receive the blow.
From the above conversation, it can also be
seen how the play captures the disillusionment of Amanda through an
expressionist mode. She literally recoils, shudders, and is abhorred,
anguished, and horrified at the use of the words ‘crippled’ and ‘peculiar’. In
this play, disillusionment is a process, and an inevitable and cyclical one at
that. The play constantly constructs hopes and dreams and then dismantles them.
The inevitability of destruction and disillusionment are already encompassed in
the word ‘glass’ used in the title. So, the audience and the readers know that
the logical culmination of hope, ambition, and dreams would inevitably end up
Coming to the moment of disappointment
of Laura, it can be seen how the author carefully constructs and relays the
scene. By now, it is quite established that Laura is ensconced within her own
world of glass menagerie. It must also be mentioned that for all of Amanda’s
paranoia about her daughter being isolated from the world, Laura herself is
very comfortable to be alienated from the conventional way of life. Even though
she perches on in an illusory world, she is secure in being different and
peculiar; it is rather Amanda who fears her daughter’s withdrawal from the
When constantly told
by the others, especially her mother, to come out of her space of isolation,
Laura adamantly nestles herself in the glass menagerie world. But, for the
first time, perhaps in her entire life, she decides to break free from the
isolated space and shed her cloak of self-consciousness when she meets Jim at
her home. Jim is very perceptive; he notices and understands how Laura has
always retreated away from the world of reality. He, then, tries to lead her
out of her cocoon slowly. As they talk, at Jim’s behest, Laura sheds her
inhibitions for the first time since the opening of the play. She, then, even
dances with Jim.
The dance is also a dramatic instrument that
captures the rhythmic movement of Laura from alienation to liberation. But just
as the dance movements intensify and Laura frees herself more liberally by
following the lead of Jim, the climax is interrupted by the breaking of the
unicorn glass menagerie. Dramatically, Williams has masterfully tuned the
transformation of Laura and just as the movement of Laura’s self reaches a
crescendo, it is dramatically followed instantly by a steep nadir.
The unicorn glass
menagerie directly symbolizes Laura. Amongst her collection of glass menagerie,
the unicorn is her favourite. When she first shows it to Jim, she says: ‘Oh, be
careful – if you breathe, it breaks!’; that is how fragile she is (Williams
2009, 74). She further says to Jim: ‘Go on, I trust you with him! She places
the piece in his palm. There now – you’re holding him gently! Hold him over
the light, he loves the light! You see how the light shines through him?’
Through these lines, in writing the manual to handle the unicorn, Laura is
essentially providing Jim with a manual to actually handle her.When she asks
Jim to hold the unicorn in the light and enjoy its beauty, she is asking to be
understood on her own terms. She suggests that if only people take the trouble
to look at her like that, then they could see her luminous and radiant self
rather than the stereotypical view thrust on her self as shy and retreating in
also remarks how the unicorn stays in the shelf with the other horses that do
not have horns. So, the unicorn stands distinctly (and differently) among them,
but still they ‘seem to get along nicely together’ (75). However, when the horn
of the unicorn is broken accidentally by Jim, then Laura too is symbolically
made to lose her distinctiveness. With the broken horn, the unicorn is ‘just
like all the other horses’. She tells Jim: ‘It’s no tragedy, Freckles. Glass
breaks so easily. No matter how careful you are’. When Jim apologizes, she says
bravely and humorously: I’ll just imagine he had an operation. The horn was
removed to make him feel less – freakish! … Now he will feel more at home with
the other horses, the ones that don’t have horns…’ Even though she reassures,
it can be seen how she is visibly shocked and irreparably broken, just as the
horn of unicorn is irreplaceably disjointed.
Tennessee Williams had
stated that the purpose of his writing was to create ‘imaginary worlds into
which, he,can retreat from the real world because…he has never made any kind of
adjustment to the real world’ (Bigsby 2004, p.33). As Bigsby remarks, this
observation could be applied to Williams’s own characters—as they inevitably
should be since he had meticulously crafted his characters based on himself and
those that he encountered in his life. Each of these characters—from Laura,
Tom, Amanda through to others like Blanche—is struggling to cope with the real
world and in their failure to do so, they create, retreat, and escape into
their world of illusion. But even if that illusion is shattered, their
craftsmanship in the creation of their respective worlds unravels the artist in
them, be it literally like Tom who is also a poet in the play or metaphorically
like Blanche, who strives to aesthetically construct her world.
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