Analysis of Play and Characters in The Glass Menagerie
The play takes place in the United States, during the late 1930’s, specifically in St.Louis, Missouri. This time period was commonly referred to as the great depression. The time period was given its name as a reflection of the tough conditions at the time as a result of the conspicuous consumption in the late 1920’s. The play occurs in a tenement, slum-like area, where the wingfields live together. The wingfield’s live here by virtue and economics.
Use of stage directions and their importance
Tennessee Williams employs stage directions to allow the reader to visualize what is occurring on stage. Visualization must occur if the reader is to understand the play. There are no narrative techniques, however there is a set. The stage directions also reveal physical and emotional aspects of characterization.
Style of the play
The main style of the play is plastic theatre. This is one of the few plays which actually merges the presentational, which is when Tom talks directly to the audience, and the representational, which is when Tom and the other characters interact with each other, not acknowledging the audience. Expressionism in the theatre produces a dreamlike state, It combines with plastic theatre to produce a greater truth using poetic language. The goal of plastic theatre is to attempt to find a closer approach and expression of things as they are.
The Screen Device
The purpose of the screen device is to give accent to certain values in each scene. This is emphasized through the legend upon the screen. This legend strengthens the effect of what is merely allusion in the writing, and cause the primary point to be made more simply and lightly. For example, in scene two, an image of blue roses appears on the screen while the characters are discussing this topic. This allows for a much more simple and efficient way of expressing the point, much more vividly than words ever could.
The purpose of the music is to contribute to the atmosphere and mood. In other words, It is to give emotional emphasis to suitable passages. For example, the glass menagerie music, is like distant circus music, it is light and delicate, and possibly even the saddest. The idea that the music contributes to the atmosphere and mood is exemplified as this music plays when the scene is focused on Laura, as it reflects her fragility and emotions.
The lighting in the glass menagerie is not realistic. It portrays a distortion of reality (“an angry orange light”). At times, shafts of light are focused on selected areas or actors, which sometimes contradicts with the characters in the center of the plot. For example, When Tom and his mother have an argument, the clearest light is placed on Laura, who has no role in the argument. The light on Laura is very distinct from the light on the other characters, having a clarity which resembles light used in early religious portraits of female saints or madonnas. Additionally, the lighting can be used to depict pathetic fallacy, and to show tension.
The play is written in one act, which is different from other plays such as Hamlet. Suspense is built through the presentational aspect of the play, which is when Tom speaks to the audience directly which may foreshadow future events. Additionally, the scenes in the play are filled with conflict which at times carries on from one scene to the next and this assists in producing suspense.
She is the head of the wingfield family. She is a very dominant and aggravating character. For example, after her and Tom make up, she immediately begins nagging him about putting milk in his coffee, even though her nagging was the reason they got into a fight in the first place. This shows that she does this almost subconsciously, and supports the idea of her being such a dominant character. She is determined to discipline her children and controls everything they do.
Amanda does not understand the idea that her children may have different viewpoints than her. While these traits may paint her in a negative light, it is important to realize that Amanda’s primary motivation is actually her children’s wellbeing. Amanda is perhaps the most realistic character, as she knows that nothing will become of Laura if they don’t do anything about it, so she is very concerned about her. However, Amanda character is almost paradoxical- she is a realist, as can be seen with her wanting to get her daughter married, but she is also somewhat of a dreamer.
She encompasses the theme of escape when when she keeps talking about the days of the aristocracy and how she had many gentleman callers. This is supported by when she says “I just married the wrong man” which shows her longing of the past. She also tells Laura that all she needs to develop is charm, and somehow misses the point that this is almost impossible, since she has a major physical disability.
Tom can be considered the antithesis of Amanda. He is a poet and a dreamer. He works in a factory to support his family and he brings home the main source of income for them. Tom wants to escape his reality and the wingfield apartment by going to the movies for the thrill of the adventure, watching a life that he wants to live. However, Amanda purposefully leaves the picture of his father to remind him of what not to become and to remind him of his obligation to the family. Through this it can be said that he embodies a theme of personal freedom vs responsibility.
Tom wants do what Malvolio The Magician can, which is nail a man into a coffin and take him out without moving a nail. Tom, likewise, wants to leave the family, but he knows that the nails will be affected, which represent his family. Eventually, Tom does leave the family however he remains mentally and emotionally trapped and haunted by the memory of his sister.
This idea is supported by when he says “Oh Laura. Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!” Tom is the narrator of the play, and the effect this produces is that he presents the play as a memory and then steps back into time to become one of the characters. This gives an indication that the story may not be fully realistic and perhaps superficial, because as we know, memory is just a reconstruction of the past, and is often deemed unreliable.
Laura is an extremely shy girl with a physical disability. This disability makes her incapable of dealing with real world. The plot of the play revolves around her. Laura is a foil to her brother Tom, because while Tom desires an escape from the wingfield household, Laura embraces the small wingfield apartment because it is the only place where she feels comfortable. She retreats to the apartment in order to stay away from the outside world.
However, Laura’s escape occurs in another way. She escapes into her world of glass animals. Laura is very symbolic of a glass menagerie, particular the unicorn. The unicorn represents Laura because it is very different from the other animals, just as Laura is different from everyone else. The unicorn is also the most delicate and fragile of the animals, the same way Laura is very fragile and unique. Her insecurity with the outside world is examined when she says’I don’t know, Mother. All I know is I couldn’t sit at the table if it was him!’
Jim is described as a normal, ordinary man. In high-school it seemed that he was destined for greatness, however now he holds a job not much better than Tom’s, working with him in the factory. He is the gentleman caller that Tom brings home for Laura, and through this we can say he represents the outside world.
The father: While this character does not make an actual appearance in the play, there is a portrait of him in the apartment. Amanda keeps this portrait up for two reasons. One reason is to remind herself of the betrayal the family has gone through, and to remind Tom of his obligation to the family and what not to become.
Plot and its importance
There is no linear plot regression in the play. The first four scenes are not continuous and do not relate to each other. The actual plot of the play mainly revolves around the fragile character of Laura and the idea of finding her a gentleman caller.
Mood of the play
The mood of the play is mainly nostalgic, which is described as a longing for the past. However, the mood does occasionally shift to a more – mood, as the result of comic relief. The music and lighting additionally contribute to producing the nostalgic mood.
Themes and Motifs
Obligation vs Freedom
This theme can be seen through Tom’s situation. He is the main source of income for supporting his family, thus he has a lot of responsibility. However he is also a dreamer and longs for adventure and freedom to escape the outside world. Additionally, the portrait of the father which Amanda keeps up in the house is a reminder of the obligation Tom has towards his family, which is magnified as the father betrays the family.
The theme of escape can be seen in all three wingfield’s. Amanda desires an escape back to the times of the aristocracy, where she was wealthy and had many servants, and when she had seventeen gentlemen callers. The theme of escape can be seen in Tom as he longs for an escape away from his reality and to escape to the life he truly desires to live. He somewhat accomplishes this by going to the movies every night, and then eventually fully accomplishes it when he leaves the family and joins the navy. Laura also depicts the theme of escape, however her escape is not to the outside world like Tom. She finds comfort in the wingfield apartment because here she feels safe and secure, and it is here that she escapes into her world of glass ornaments. She escapes into her world of glass ornaments to get away from the troubles, awkwardness, and nervousness that she often experiences as soon as she steps into the outside world.
Hope vs Hopelessness
This theme can be seen with Amanda Wingfield. After Laura expresses her discomfort about marriage to her, she still has hope of a stable future for her daughter and tells her that all she needs to develop is charm. However, At the end of the play when Amanda suspects Tom of knowing that Jim was already in a relationship, she attacks him for allowing them to make “such fools of ourselves”. After this, Jim eventually leaves them. As he leaves, she says “you left your mother, and unmarried crippled sister”. This is significant because she refers to her daughter as crippled, even though she always got angry whenever someone uses that word. With her saying this, it illustrates how realistic Amanda is being, and it shows the hopelessness for marriage and a future for her daughter.
The theme of alienation is clearly established through Laura. She is physically alienated from the outside world, and prefers to spend most of her time in the tiny apartment in her room, playing with her glass animals, away from everyone else. Laura is also emotionally alienated, as no one quite really understands her and her feelings. She embodies an extremely unique persona and her mother fails in realizing this, as she keeps putting her into the outside world against her own will. She enrolls her in a business school, then arranges for a gentleman caller to come visit their home.
Amanda is slowly destroying Laura’s fragile personality as she keeps on putting her in situations which make her vulnerable and which allow for the manifestation of her insecurities and flaws. While the aim of these efforts is to make Laura normal person, they produce the complete opposite effect. They cause Laura to be more uncomfortable and awkward, leading her to desire the cozy apartment even more, which further fuels her alienation from society. The importance of the past on the present and the future: This theme can be explored with regard to the fifth character of the play, Mr.Wingfield.
What occured in the past is that Mr.Wingfield betrayed the family and left the household. The importance of this on the present is that this action lead to Tom carrying much more heavier responsibilities now. This action caused for Tom’s full obligation to his family because he is now their main source of income. This obligation and responsibility limits Tom from being the person who he wants to be and from living the life he wants to live. Tom’s situation also illustrates the importance of the past on the future. The fact that now Tom has many responsibilities and is pressured to support the family and pay the bills is very important. It may lead to frustration and anger, which might influence his decision of departing from the family in the future so he can pursue his dreams and feel the sense of freedom which he craves so frequently.
The theme of entrapment is another theme which can be applied to all three main characters of the play. Amanda is a character who desires an escape back to the days of the aristocracy when she was wealthy, however the reality is that she is entrapped by her poverty. Tom also insinuates this theme as he feels the entrapment by the Wingfield apartment. He feels this way is a result of the obligation which he has towards his family. Laura, the antithesis of Tom, is a character who sees refuge in what her other family members feel entrapment from, which is the apartment.
Style including distinguishing features of the play
Williams utilizes dramatic irony several times in his play the glass menagerie. For example, when the lights go off, the audience knows that it is because Tom did not pay the electricity bill because he used the money to register for the navy, however his family does not know this. Another example of dramatic irony is when amanda and tom are having an argument about how Laura is very awkward when it comes to socialization. When Tom asks his mother what he should do, his mother tells him to overcome selfishness, because he only cares about himself. This is highly ironic because the audience can see the hypocrisy of Amanda here. In actuality, she is the one who only cares about herself and wants everyone to follow her ideals. This can be expressed through her dominance in the household, her impulsiveness, and her aggravating nature.
An example of foreshadowing in the play occurs in the beginning, when the character of Tom appears wearing a Peacoat, and this foreshadows him leaving the family and joining the navy. Another example of foreshadowing is when Jim accidently breaks the unicorn glass animal, and since the unicorn is very symbolic in its fragileness to Laura, this foreshadows that Jim will hurt Laura emotionally. Eventually this does occur.
- The Fire Escape: The fire escape symbolizes entrapment or serves as a method of escape. Tom uses it to escape his harsh reality and go to the movies where he can watch the life he desires to live. When Laura trips over the fire escape it is very meaningful because this reflects her discomfort and nervousness about stepping out into the outside world.
- The portrait of the father: Amanda keeps this in the apartment because it symbolizes a character who she does not want her son Tom to become. His portrait also symbolizes the responsibility that Tom now assumes.
- The Unicorn glass menagerie: The unicorn menagerie is very symbolic of Laura. The unicorn is the most delicate and fragile of all the other animals, and this is the same for Laura, as she is the most fragile character. This is Laura’s favourite animal because she embraces and identifies with its uniqueness.
- Comic Relief: An example of comic relief is in Tom’s monologue at the end of scene 3. Him and his mother are arguing about her not giving him any privacy, as she criticises his choice of books. At the end of the monologue he calls his mother “a babbling old witch”. While the main mood of the play is nostalgic, examples of comic relief such as this help to lighten the mood.
- The Music: The purpose of the music is to contribute to the atmosphere and mood. In other words, It is to give emotional emphasis to suitable passages. For example, the glass menagerie music, is like distant circus music, it is light and delicate, and possibly even the saddest. The idea that the music contributes to the atmosphere and mood is exemplified as this music plays when the scene is focused on Laura, as it reflects her fragility and emotions.
- The lighting: The lighting in the glass menagerie is not realistic. It portrays a distortion of reality (“an angry orange light”). At times, shafts of light are focused on selected areas or actors, which sometimes contradicts with the characters in the center of the plot. For example, When Tom and his mother have an argument, the clearest light is placed on Laura, who has no role in the argument. The light on Laura is very distinct from the light on the other characters, having a clarity which resembles light used in early religious portraits of female saints or madonnas. Additionally, the lighting can be used to depict pathetic fallacy, and to show tension.
Visualization of the performance
Williams produces one of the few plays in which representational and presentational drama are merged together. He also employs several unconventional techniques of plastic theatre, which aim to produce a much more realistic depiction of reality for the audience.
“Tom enters, dressed as a merchant sailor, and strolls across to the fire escape. There he stops and lights a cigarette. He addresses the audience”(stage directions). This quote is important as it shows Williams employing the art of presentational drama in his play, which in this case leads to foreshadowing that Tom will leave the family in the future.
“Oh! I felt so weak I could barely keep on my feet! I had to sit down while they got me a glass of water! Fifty dollars’ tuition, all of our plans – my hopes and ambitions for you – just gone up the spout, just gone up the spout like that.”This shows how Amanda is a very selfish character who desires her children to develop into the person she wants them to be. She limits their own personal character development, and it is no surprise that her plans for them eventually do not work out, as one of children even abandons the family.
“Look If got no single thing… Yesterday you took away my books” This is significant as it reveals the sense of entrapment that Tom feels as a result of Amanda’s heavy restrictions on his life and her dominant character which has significant effects on his life and happiness.
“But why—why, Tom—are you always so restless? Where do you go to, nights?” “I—go to the movies.” “Why do you go to the movies so much, Tom?”“I go to the movies because—I like adventure. Adventure is something I don’t have much of at work, so I go to the movies.” This dialogue between Tom and Amanda depicts how Tom embodies the theme of escape in the sense that he longs for adventure so he can escape the reality of his dreadful life. He is a dreamer, and hopes to live the life that he watches in the movies one day. Additionally, the fact that he leaves to the movies every night could be an indication of his final permanent departure at the end of the play.
“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 anymore.”“Don’t say crippled! You know I never allow that word to be used!” While Amanda is the most realistic character in the play, there is some question regarding this idea. For example, this shows how Amanda is failing to realize her daughter’s reality and also represents her delusional character at times.
“Laura, Laura, were you in love with that boy?”“I don’t know, Mother. All I know is I couldn’t sit at the table if it was him!” This reveals insight into Laura’s characterization as well as her feelings for Jim. It reveals the discomfort that Laura often feels as soon as she interacts with the outside world. However, this could possibly be more than her usual feelings of awkwardness, it may insinuate genuine feeling for Jim.
“Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder and I turn around to look into her eyes… Oh Laura. Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!” This establishes the idea of how even though Tom has left his family permanently, he is still haunted by the memory of his sister. He feels as if he has done the same thing as his father and betrayed his family, which may cause feelings of guilt to remain with him forever.
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