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The Glass Menagerie
The Glass Menagerie: Plight of the Wingfields
In Tennessee Williams: A Portrait in Laughter and Lamentation, Harry Rasky uses extensive interviews with Williams to explore the playwright’s intent. Through these interviews, Rasky presents a glimpse of the playwright’s life-world and the driving force behind his creations. Rasky reports Williams as saying:
“I have always been more interested in creating a character that contains something crippled. I think nearly all of us have some kind of defect, anyway, and I suppose I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge on hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person” (134).
This statement supports the idea that Williams incorporates something crippled into all his major characters. In The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams portrays a crippling mother and child relationship comprising fundamental themes of dysfunctionalism. He poignantly illustrates that none of the characters are capable of living in the present. They believe their functionality and life’s happiness lies in their repeated quests for escape from plight. As such, they retreat into their separate worlds to escape life’s brutalities.
Their daily tribulations thrive in an overcrowded building’s rear apartment where lower middle-class population is a symptomatic impulse of a large and fundamentally enslaved section in American society. Set in Depression-era St. Louis, the overbearing Southern ex-charmer, Amanda Wingfield is the de facto head of the household. A former Southern belle, Amanda is a single mother who behaves as though she still is the high school beauty queen. Williams’ still-resonant study reveals her desperate struggle with the forces of fate against her dysfunctional relationship that looms and grows among her adult children. (Gist)
Laura, Amanda, Tom, and Jim resort to various escape mechanisms to avoid reality. Laura, fearful of being denigrated as inferior by virtue of her innate inability to walk, is shy and detaches herself from the unfeeling modern world. Amanda tries every means to integrate her into society, but to no avail. She sends her to business school and invites a gentleman caller to dinner. She is both unable to cope with the contemporary world’s mechanization represented by the speed test in typing and unable to make new acquaintances or friends due to her immense inhibition with people. Her life is humdrum and uneventful, yet it is full of dreams and inundated with memories.
Whenever the outside world threatens Laura, she seeks solace and retreats to her glass animal world and old phonograph records. Amanda, her mother hints at the alternative of matrimony for fiasco in business careers and Laura “utters a startled, doubtful laugh. She reaches quickly for a piece of glass.” (Williams, ). The glass menagerie becomes her tactile consolation. The little glass ornaments represent Laura’s self and characterize her fragility and delicate beauty. In particular, the glass unicorn greatly symbolizes her. As the unicorn is different from all the other glass horses, it adds a unique quality and virtual “freakishness” to her very characteristics (Kapcsos).
Laura’s physical handicap differentiates her from others. She is just as easily broken as the glass unicorn is as unique. She instantly regresses, just as it appears that Laura finally overcomes her shyness and hypersensitivity with Jim, the gentleman caller. Jim accidentally bumps into the unicorn, as it falls and breaks. The unicorn no longer retains its unique quality. To comfort Laura, he kisses her and then shatters her hopes and dreams by telling her he is engaged. Both Laura and the glass menagerie break upon exposure to the outside world. Laura offers Jim her broken unicorn, symbolizing her broken heart that Jim will take with him. She is unable to cope with the truth and once again retreats to her fantasy world of glass figurines and Victrola records. Laura can only live a brief moment in reality.
Amanda obsesses over her past. The moment Tom or Laura worry her, she uses her Mississippi Delta childhood memories like a cooling balm. She flashes back to her days dancing at the governor’s ball in Jackson, Mississippi and recalls the gentlemen’s “chivalric nature” during her youth. (Ghiotto) She constantly reminds Tom and Laura about that “one Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain” when she receives seventeen gentlemen callers (Williams, 148). The reader is not confident that this actually occurs.
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