Life’s Work

Eng 102

Thomas Lanier Williams, better known as Tennessee Williams, like many of the greatest authors, playwrights, and poets, often wrote his best work about what he knew. The people met and situations experienced influenced the growth and characters of Williams’ work. His play The Glass Menagerie reflects Williams own life so much that it could be mistaken as pages from his own autobiography.

Tennessee’s mother, Edwina Estelle Dakin, often reflected on the past and recanted her youth as a southern belle and life as a Puritanical woman. Edwina had a huge effect on Williams’s life as well as holding a leading role as Amanda in The Glass Menagerie. Both Edwina and Amanda had a verbal compulsion. Williams had once stated that his mother “will be talking a half hour after she’s laid to rest.” Amanda seemed to work in her memory of “the time I had seventeen gentleman callers on one Sunday afternoon,” whenever she could. Williams’s own mother often talked about the more civilized way of life in the south. With this in mind Williams has referred to her as “that slightly cracked southern belle” and has implied that her “sum total influence” led him into homosexuality. As a child Williams was stricken with diphtheria and became very close to his mother while recovering from the illness. Later in life, he rebelled against her moral restrictions by making his plays, for that period in time, risqué. Like Amanda Edwina doted on her son. Between the constant smothering of his mother and his father’s lack of presence, Williams adopted somewhat effeminate mannerisms, which increased as he became older.

Cornelius Coffin Williams was William’s father and sometime tormentor. He was rarely home due to his job a traveling representative for the International Shoe Company. Cornelius was a drinker, a poker player and was abusive to all family members. The little time he spent with Williams in his youth was as an abusive father. Cornelius mentioned quite often that Williams was not “quite right.” He even went as far as giving Williams the nickname “Miss Nancy,” because of traits picked up from Williams mother. Cornelius showed preferential treatment to Williams’s much younger brother Dakin. In The Glass Menagerie, his representation is that of the missing father’s portrait. Like William’s own father, Mr. Wingfield had been apt to stay away from the family. However, Mr. Wingfield finally abandoned his family. Williams had to come up with the money and push his mother into a divorce to be rid of Cornelius.

Williams had a brother eight years his younger, Walter Dakin Williams. There was never much of a relationship between Dakin and Tennessee Williams. Partly due to the age difference and it seems primarily to his father’s treatment of Dakin. While Tennessee Williams was berated and put down by his father, Dakin was the golden boy. When introduced to new acquaintances, the two boys were introduced as “Thomas and my son Dakin.” The Glass Menagerie has no mention of a brother and no character to represent him. In effect, Williams eliminated Dakin from the play as a bit of a reprisal. Williams’s feelings toward being looked over led to this dismissal of his brother. Instead of Dakin he preferred the company of his sister, Rose.

Laura Wingfield is a clear representation of Williams’s mentally distressed sister Rose Williams. The stresses that Laura feels in the company of strangers are nearly identical to the effects on Williams’s sister, to a lesser degree. Rose suffered from crippling fear and depression. She grew less active in society to the point of secluding herself from all but Williams and his mother. Through all of her troubles, Williams remained the closest of friends with her. They were so close that the Williams servant, Ozzie, referred to them as “the couple.” Exactly like Laura, Rose had taken business classes to help gain a job and a husband. Unlike Laura, Rose actually became a receptionist and worked for over a week before she began staying home from work. She never actually quit but she never returned either. Rose also received only one real gentleman caller just as Laura had. Rose, due to the episodes of depression and panic was placed in several sanitariums. Finally, after