Thomas Lanier Williams III.
He gained his nickname at college. He is the author of more than 24 full-length plays, including ''The Glass Menagerie,'' ''A Streetcar Named Desire,'' ''Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'' - the latter two won Pulitzer Prizes - and ''The Night of the Iguana,'' had a profound effect on the American theater and on American playwrights and actors. He wrote with deep sympathy and expansive humor about outcasts in our society. Though his images were often violent, he was a poet of the human heart. 'The Glass Menagerie,'' his first success, was his ''memory play.'' Many of his other plays were his nightmares. Although seldom intentionally autobiographical, the plays were almost all intensely personal.
The Glass Menagerie
Plot and structure:
The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, and its action is drawn from the memories of the narrator, Tom Wingfield. Tom is a character in the play, which is set in St. Louis in 1937. He is an aspiring poet who toils in a shoe warehouse to support his mother, Amanda, and sister, Laura. Mr. Wingfield, Tom and Laura’s father, ran off years ago and, except for one postcard, has not been heard from since.
Amanda, originally from a genteel Southern family, regales her children frequently with tales of her idyllic youth and the scores of suitors who once pursued her. She is disappointed that Laura, who wears a brace on her leg and is painfully shy, does not attract any gentlemen callers. She enrolls Laura in a business college, hoping that she will make her own and the family’s fortune through a business career. Weeks later, however, Amanda discovers that Laura’s crippling shyness has led her to drop out of the class secretly and spend her days wandering the city alone. Amanda then decides that Laura’s last hope must lie in marriage and begins selling magazine subscriptions to earn the extra money she believes will help to attract suitors for Laura. Meanwhile, Tom, who loathes his warehouse job, finds escape in liquor, movies, and literature. During one of the frequent arguments between mother and son, Tom accidentally breaks several of the glass animal figurines= Laura’s most prized possessions.
Amanda and Tom discuss Laura’s prospects, and Amanda asks Tom to keep an eye out for potential suitors. Tom selects Jim O’Connor, a casual friend, and invites him to dinner. Amanda quizzes Tom about Jim and is delighted to learn that he is a driven young man with his mind set on career advancement. She prepares an elaborate dinner and insists that Laura wear a new dress. At the last minute, Laura learns the name of her caller; as it turns out, she had a devastating crush on Jim in high school. When Jim arrives, Laura answers the door, on Amanda’s orders, and then quickly disappears, leaving Tom and Jim alone. Tom confides to Jim that he has used the money for his family’s electric bill to join the merchant marine and plans to leave his job and family in search of adventure. Laura refuses to eat dinner with the others, feigning illness. Amanda, wearing an ostentatious dress from her glamorous youth, talks vivaciously with Jim throughout the meal.
As dinner is ending, the lights go out as a consequence of the unpaid electric bill. The characters light candles, and Amanda encourages Jim to entertain Laura in the living room while she and Tom clean up. Laura is at first paralyzed by Jim’s presence, but his warm and open behavior soon draws her out of her shell. She confesses that she knew and liked him in high school but was too shy to approach him. They continue talking, and Laura reminds him of the nickname he had given her: “Blue Roses,” an accidental corruption of pleurosis, an illness Laura had in high school. He reproaches her for her shyness and low self-esteem but praises her uniqueness. Laura then ventures to show him her favorite glass animal, a unicorn. Jim dances with her, but in the process, he accidentally knocks over the unicorn, breaking off its horn. Laura is forgiving, noting that now the unicorn is a normal horse. Jim then kisses her, but he quickly draws back and apologizes, explaining that he was carried away by the moment and that he actually has a serious girlfriend. Resigned, Laura offers him the broken unicorn as a souvenir.
Amanda enters the living room, full of good cheer. Jim hastily explains that he must leave because of an appointment with his fiancée. Amanda sees him off warmly but, after he is gone, turns on Tom, who had not known that Jim was engaged. Amanda accuses Tom of being an inattentive, selfish dreamer and then throws herself into comforting Laura. From the fire escape outside of their apartment, Tom watches the two women and explains that, not long after Jim’s visit, he gets fired from his job and leaves Amanda and Laura behind. Years later, though he travels far, he finds that he is unable to leave behind guilty memories of Laura.
Tom Wingfield: narrator, protagonist, double character- the play recollects his memories and he also plays within. Unlike the other characters, Tom sometimes addresses the audience directly-provides a explanation of what has been happening on stage. But at the same time, he demonstrates real emotions as he takes part in the play’s action. It is hard to decide whether he should be trusted.
Tom is full of contradiction. He reads literature, writes poetry, and dreams of escape, adventure, and higher things. But we have no idea of Tom’s opinion on Lawrence, nor do we have any indication of what Tom’s poetry is about. All we learn is what he thinks about his mother, his sister, and his warehouse job—precisely the things from which he claims he wants to escape.
Even though he clearly cares for Amanda and Laura, he is frequently indifferent and even cruel toward them. His speech at the close of the play demonstrates his strong feelings for Laura. Critics have suggested that Tom’s confusing behavior indicates an attraction toward his sister and his shame over that attraction. This theory casts an interesting light on certain moments of the play—for example, when Amanda and Tom discuss Laura at the end of Scene Five. Tom’s insistence that Laura is hopelessly peculiar and cannot survive in the outside world, while Amanda (and later Jim) claims that Laura’s oddness is a positive thing, could have as much to do with his jealous desire to keep his sister to himself as with Laura’s own quirks.
Amanda Wingfield: Williams´ usual character type= faded-ošumelý, zvädnutý Southern belle-krásavica, from a prominent Southern family, has received a traditional upbringing, and has suffered a reversal of economic and social fortune at some point in her life, has difficulty to get used to her new social status, has genteel-jemný manners in very ungenteel surroundings/ this in Amanda´s case appears to be tragic, comic/.
Amanda is the play’s most extroverted and theatrical character. Amanda’s constantly nags-sekírovať Tom and refuses to see Laura for who she really is. Amanda reveals a willingness to sacrifice for her loved ones. She subjects herself to the humiliating drudgery-lopota of subscription sales in order to enhance-zlepšiť Laura’s marriage prospects, without ever uttering so much as a word of complaint. The safest conclusion to draw is that Amanda is not evil but is deeply flawed-vadná, chybná. In fact, her flaws are centrally responsible for the tragedy, comedy, and theatrical flair of her character. Like her children, Amanda withdraws from reality into fantasy. Unlike them, she is convinced that she is not doing so and. Amanda’s monologues to her children, on the phone, and to Jim all reflect quite clearly her moral and psychological failings, but they are also some of the most colorful and unforgettable words in the play.
Laura Wingfield: fragile, The physically and emotionally crippled Laura is the only character in the play who never does anything to hurt anyone else. Despite the weight of her own problems, she displays a pure compassion. Laura also has the fewest lines in the play, which contributes to her aura of selflessness. Yet she is the axis-os okolo ktorej sa všetko točí around which the plot turns. Amanda both uses the contrast between herself and Laura to emphasize the glamour of her own youth and to fuel her hope of re-creating that youth through Laura. Tom and Jim both see Laura as an exotic creature, completely and rather quaintly foreign to the rest of the world. She had crush on the high school hero, Jim. Williams based her on his own sister Rose-›”Blue Roses”.
Jim O’Connor - An old acquaintance of Tom and Laura; was a popular athlete in high school; is a shipping clerk at the shoe warehouse in which Tom works; devoted to goals of professional achievement and ideals of personal success.
Mr. Wingfield - Amanda’s husband and Laura and Tom’s father. Mr. Wingfield was a handsome man who worked for a telephone company. He abandoned his family years before the action of the play and never appears on stage. His picture, however, is prominently displayed in the Wingfields’ living room.
(time) Tom, from an indefinite point in the future, remembers the winter and spring of 1937
(place) • An apartment in St. Louis
Point of view: Tom both narrates and participates in the play. The older Tom remembers his youth and then becomes a younger Tom who participates in the action as scenes from his youth play out. The point of view of the older Tom is reflective, and he warns us that his memory distorts the past. The younger Tom is impulsive and angry. The action sometimes consists of events that Tom does not witness; at these points, the play goes beyond simply describing events from Tom’s own memory.
Style: The older Tom speaks in the past tense about his recollections, and the younger Tom takes part in a play that occurs in the present tense. The Glass Menagerie is a memory play—both its style and its content are shaped and inspired by memory. As Tom himself states clearly, the play’s lack of realism, its high drama, its overblown and too-perfect symbolism, and even its frequent use of music are all due to its origins in memory.
Tone: Tragic; sarcastic; bleak
The difficulty of accepting reality: Each member of the Wingfield family withdraws into a private world of illusion where he or she finds the comfort and is unable to overcome this world. Reality has by far the weakest grasp-dosah on Laura. The private world in which she lives is populated by glass animals—objects that, like Laura’s inner life, are incredibly fanciful and dangerously delicate. Unlike his sister, Tom is capable of functioning in the real world/ he holds down a job, talks to strangers/. But, in the end, he has no motivation to pursue-ísť si za professional success, romantic relationships, or even ordinary friendships, and he prefers to retreat into the fantasies provided by literature and movies and the stupor-omámenie provided by drunkenness. Amanda longs for social and financial success. She cannot accept that she is or should be anything other than the pampered-rozmaznaný belle, that Laura is peculiar-špecifická, that Tom is not a budding businessman, and that she herself might be in some ways responsible for the sorrows and flaws of her children. Amanda’s retreat into illusion is a wistful-roztúžený distortion-skreslenie of reality. Even Jim, who represents the “world of reality,” is banking his future on public speaking and the television and radio industries
The impossibility of true escape: Tom views his life with his family and at the warehouse as a kind of coffin The promise of escape, represented by Tom’s missing father, the Merchant Marine Service, and the fire escape outside the apartment, haunts Tom from the beginning of the play, and in the end, he does choose to free himself from the confinement of his life.
Tom is locked into his life not by exterior factors but by emotional ones—by his loyalty to and possibly even love for Laura and Amanda. Escape for Tom means the suppression and denial of these emotions in himself, and it means doing great harm to his mother and sister. One cannot say for certain that leaving home even means true escape for Tom. Tom’s escape leads him not to freedom but to the life of a fugitive- utečenec.
The unrelenting power of memory: Tom is not the only character haunted by his memories. Amanda too lives in constant pursuit of her bygone youth. For these characters, memory is a crippling force that prevents them from finding happiness in the present or the offerings of the future.
Abandonment: The Glass Menagerie is structured around a series of abandonments. Mr. Wingfield’s desertion of his family determines their life situation; Jim’s desertion of Laura is the center of the play’s dramatic action; Tom’s abandonment of his family gives him the distance that allows him to shape their story into a narrative. Each of these acts of desertion proves devastating for those left behind. Mr. Wingfield, Jim and also Tom leave because of the technological progress- Mr. Wingfield works for the telephone company, leaves his family because he “fell in love with [the] long distances” that the telephone brings into people’s consciousness; Jim, who puts his faith in the future of radio and television, would tie himself to the static world of Laura; Tom´s departure is essential to the pursuit of “adventure,”he longs for. Only Amanda and Laura, who are devoted to archaic values and old memories, will be repeatedly abandoned.
Music: Music is used both to emphasize themes and to enhance the drama. Sometimes the music is extra-diegetic—coming from outside the play, not from within it—and though the audience can hear it the characters cannot/ “The Glass Menagerie,” by the composer Paul Bowles, plays when Laura’s character or her glass collection comes to the forefront of the action/. Other times, the music comes from inside the diegetic space of the play—that is, it is a part of the action, and the characters can hear it/ the music Laura plays on her record player/ . Both the extra-diegetic and the diegetic music often provide commentary on what is going on in the play.
Symbolism, allusions, myth:
Laura’s glass menagerie, the glass unicorn, “Blue Roses”: they all represent Laura in some way. Laura is as rare and peculiar as a blue rose or a unicorn-lonesome as she is, and she is as delicate as a glass figurine.
Laura’s glass menagerie- old-fashioned. Glass is transparent, but, when light is shined upon it correctly, it refracts an entire rainbow of colors. Similarly, Laura, though quiet and bland around strangers, is a source of strange, multifaceted delight to those who choose to look at her in the right light.
the glass unicorn: Scene Seven. When Jim dances with and then kisses Laura, the unicorn’s horn breaks off, and it becomes just another horse. Eventually, Laura gives Jim the unicorn as a “souvenir.” Without its horn, the unicorn is more appropriate for him than for her, and the broken figurine represents all that he has taken from her and destroyed in her.
The fire escape: represents exactly what its name implies: an escape from the fires of frustration and dysfunction that rage in the Wingfield household. Laura slips-pokĺznuť on the fire escape in Scene Four, highlighting her inability to escape from her situation. Tom, on the other hand, frequently steps out onto the landing to smoke.
Genre: Play, tragedy, family drama
My own interpretation:
major conflict • In their own ways, each of the Wingfields struggles against the hopelessness that threatens their lives. Tom’s fear of working in a dead-end job for decades drives him to work hard creating poetry, which he finds more fulfilling. Amanda’s disappointment at the fading of her glory motivates her attempts to make her daughter, Laura, more popular and social. Laura’s extreme fear of seeing Jim O’Connor reveals her underlying concern about her physical appearance and about her inability to integrate herself successfully into society.
rising action • After Laura admits to leaving a business course that would have allowed her to get a job, her mother, Amanda, decides that Laura must get married; Tom tells Amanda that he is going to bring Jim O’Connor to dinner; Amanda prepares extensively, hoping that Jim will become Laura’s suitor.
climax • Each character’s struggle comes to a climax at different points. Tom’s decision not to pay the electric bill and to use the money instead to leave his family in search of adventure reveals his initial, decisive break from his family struggles. When Jim breaks the horn from Laura’s glass unicorn and announces that he is engaged, the possibility that he will help her overcome her self-doubt and shyness is also destroyed. When Amanda discovers that Jim is engaged, she loses her hope that Laura will attain the popularity and social standing that Amanda herself has lost.
falling action • Laura gives Jim the broken unicorn as a souvenir; Jim leaves the house to pick up his girlfriend; Amanda accuses Tom of not having revealed that Jim was engaged. Addressing the audience, Tom explains that not long after that incident he left his family but was never able to emotionally leave Laura behind—in his later travels, he frequently felt a connection to her.
foreshadowing • Tom’s departure is foreshadowed by his frequent retreats to the fire escape and the image of a sailing vessel on the screen; the music from the Paradise Dance Hall across the street foreshadows Laura and Jim’s dancing; Jim’s breaking of the unicorn foreshadows his breaking of her heart.
The Glass Menagerie is partly autobiographical (Williams’s given name was Thomas, and he, like Tom, spent part of his youth in St. Louis with an unstable mother and sister, his father absent much of the time)
Important Quotations Explained
1. But the wonderfullest trick of all was the coffin trick. We nailed him into a coffin and he got out of the coffin without removing one nail. . . . There is a trick that would come in handy for me—get me out of this two-by-four situation! . . . You know it don’t take much intelligence to get yourself into a nailed-up coffin, Laura. But who in hell ever got himself out of one without removing one nail?
At the beginning of Scene Four, Tom, returning home from the movies, tells Laura about a magic show in which the magician performs the coffin trick. Tom, who dreams of adventure and literary greatness but is tied down to a mindless job and a demanding family, sees the coffin as a symbol of his own life situation. He has been contemplating an escape from his private coffin since the beginning of the play, and at the end, he finally goes through with it, walking out on his family after he is fired from his job. But the magician gets out of the coffin without disturbing one nail, but Tom’s departure is certain to have a major impact on the lives of Amanda and Laura. At the beginning of Scene One, Tom admits that he is “the opposite of a stage magician.” The illusion of escape that the magician promotes is, in the end, out of Tom’s reach.
3. LAURA: 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?
JIM: It sure does shine!
LAURA: I shouldn’t be partial, but he is my favorite one.
JIM: What kind of a thing is this one supposed to be?
LAURA: Haven’t you noticed the single horn on his forehead?
JIM: A unicorn, huh? —aren’t they extinct in the modern world?
LAURA: I know!
JIM: Poor little fellow, he must feel sort of lonesome.
Scene Seven, Laura has overcome her shyness in his presence and introduces him to the collection of glass animals that is her most prized possession. By this point in the play, we are well aware that the glass menagerie is a symbol for Laura herself- delicate but glowing under the right circumstances.
The glass unicorn, symbolizes her even more specifically. The unicorn is different from ordinary horses, just as Laura is different from other people. In fact, the unicorn is so unusual a creature that Jim at first has trouble recognizing it. Unicorns are “extinct in the modern world,” and similarly, Laura is ill-adapted for survival in the world in which she lives. The loneliness that Jim identifies in the lone unicorn is the same loneliness to which Laura has resigned herself and from which Jim has the potential to save her.
4. JIM: Aw, aw, aw. Is it broken?
LAURA: Now it is just like all the other horses.
JIM: It’s lost its—
LAURA: Horn! It doesn’t matter. . . . [smiling] I’ll just imagine he had an operation. The horn was removed to make him feel less—freakish!
Scene Seven. After persuading Laura to dance with him, Jim accidentally breaks the horn off of the figurine. Apparently, Jim fails to take the warning about the delicacy of the glass objects seriously enough. The accident with the unicorn foreshadows his mishandling of Laura, as he soon breaks her heart by announcing that he is engaged.
Laura is optimistic about the change of the unicorn, claiming that he should be happy to feel like less of a misfit, just as she herself is temporarily happy because Jim’s interest in her makes her feel like less of an outcast. Laura, perhaps knowingly, predicts her own fate when she implies that no matter how careful Jim might be, her hopes will end up shattered.
5. 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 end of Scene Seven. Tom speaks as the narrator, from some point in time years after the action of the play. He describes how he leaves Amanda and Laura after being fired from his job just as his father did years ago. This escape= adventure is what Tom dreams of aloud in Scene Four. It is unclear whether he has found adventure or not. What is clear is that his escape is an imperfect, incomplete one. Memories of Laura chase him wherever he goes, and those memories prove as confining as the Wingfield apartment.
“I am more faithful than I intended to be!” he feels guilt associated with his inability to leave Laura fully behind.