Memory Play “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams
How it works
Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is told in a very interesting and complex way than most stories or playwrights. The story is told as a “memory play” through the main character, Tom. Through Tom, Williams manages to tell his story with the use of very symbolic and exaggerated moments throughout the play. These moments help emphasize the play’s theme more than a realistically told story would.
In the beginning of scene II when Amanda finds out that Laura had dropped out of school, Williams makes sure to describe her feelings of disappointment and distress through her exaggerated her actions. Before even coming into the apartment, Williams describes that she “purses her lips, opens her eyes very wide, rolls them upward, and shakes her head. Then she slowly lets herself in the door” (Williams). Then she goes into the apartment and sags herself against the door and stares at Laura with a “martyred look”. When Laura addresses her mother’s presence and asks about her meeting, Amanda “slowly opens her purse and removes a dainty white handkerchief which she shakes out delicately and delicately touches to her lips and nostrils” (Williams).. In his critical interpretation, C. W. E Bigsby calls her actions a “theatrical gesture” and says that she is “an actress, self dramatizing, self conscious” (Literature). Tom even remarks on this dramatization when Amanda goes on to slowly remove her hat and gloves and describes it as a “a bit of acting”. The self awareness of this phrase insures that Tom is indeed exaggerating these descriptions on purpose to emphasize that the play is a memory and memories are not always realistic. This scene is symbolic because it is just one of the many examples of how high of a standard she holds her children up to and these expectations will be a major problem for her and Tom in the future.
How it works
In scene III, Amanda and Tom get into an argument. Amanda accuses him of going out drinking and smoking instead of going to the movies or work like he says he does. Tom in return, expresses that he does not appreciate her accusations and that he is not happy at his warehouse job, but he still works to support his family. In the beginning of the argument, Laura is described as worried and panicked. Her figure has a “clear pool of light…throughout this scene” (Williams). This description shows that Laura is painted in a light from Tom’s memory. Throughout the scene, there is more light imagery such as “he upstage area is lit with a turgid smoky red glow” and “[t]heir gesticulating shadows are cast on the ceiling by the fiery glow” (Williams).
The “fire” and “glow” imagery expresses Tom’s emotions throughout the scene and it brings them to life. Towards the end of the argument, Tom starts to get impatient and rude towards Amanda, and tries to intimidate her by “crouching toward her, overtowering her tiny figure. She backs away, gasping” (Williams). The way that Tom recalls towering over his mother is very dramatic in itself but the fact that Amanda physically gasps at his approach makes it more exaggerated; it is almost like he is a monster or villian. The final part of the scene where Tom struggles to put his coat on to leave is very over exaggerated but conveys the very emotions that Tom was feeling, “With an outraged groan he tears the coat of again, splitting the shoulder of it, and hurls it across the room. It strikes against the shelf of Laura’s glass collection, there is a tinkle of shattering glass. LAURA cries out as if wounded” (Williams). Laura’s actual outcry is also dramatic in which scene seems like it is playing in slow motion.
In scene VI, Amanda urges Tom to invite Jim over to have dinner with them so he can unknowingly meet Amanda. Whilst getting ready, Laura is again related to light in Tom’s memory, “The arrangement Of LAURA’s hair is changed; it is softer and more becoming. A fragile, unearthly prettiness has come out in LAURA: she is like a piece of translucent glass touched by light, given a momentary radiance, not actual, not lasting” (Williams). The way Laura’s hair is described is almost angelic and she appears to be fragile because of her being related to translucent glass.Tom seems to use light imagery with his sister very often because of how much he loves and admires her. Tom is aware that this image of her, however, is not temporary nor is it actually realistic. This line shows more self awareness on Tom’s part because he knows that he is just recalling a memory and may not be remembering it the way it actually happened. Laura is not only romanticized in this scene, but the setting is also, “LAURA moves slowly to the long mirror and stares solemnly at herself. A wind blows the white curtains inward in a slow, graceful motion and with a faint, sorrowful sighing” (Williams).
The white symbolizes the elegance and innocence that Tom sees in Laura and the sorrowful sighing symbolizes Laura’s insecurities in herself because of her pleurosis. Soon after getting ready, Laura finds out that the Jim who she was in love with from high school is coming over to dinner, Laura makes it very obvious that she does not want this to be the case, “She utters a low moan and turns off the lamp – sits stiffly on the edge of the sofa, knotting her fingers together”. When they let the two gentlemen in, Laura immediately runs out of the room like a “frightened deer” (Williams). This line greatly portrays how sensitive Laura is and inferior to her emotions, but still manages to keep her innocence because deer symbolizes innocence. She is so distraught that she seems sick due to Jim’s company, “The back door is pushed weakly open and LAURA comes in. She is obviously quite faint, her lips trembling, her eyes wide and staring. She moves unsteadily toward the table” (Williams). This line is so dramatic in juxtaposition to the almost normal and mundane situation.
Amanda on the other hand, is also dramatized in this scene when she meets Jim for the first time and is described as a young southern belle, “TOM is distinctly shocked at her appearance. Even JIM blinks a little. He is making his first contact with girlish Southern vivacity and in spite of the night-school course in public speaking is somewhat thrown off the beam by the unexpected outlay of social charm” (Williams). Amanda brings out her southern manners in order to impress Jim because she is so old fashioned and has a tendency to reminisce her past self. This line extends that reminiscence even further and brings it to life but in a way that is completely unrealistic and out of place. Bigsby also describes that her actions are “rendered grotesque between performer and role” (Literature). This “performer and role” dynamic results in her inability to let go of the past and accept what her children want, not what she thinks they wants. Her old fashioned ways and her inability to listen to her children results in Tom leaving, just like his father did.
Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is told in a very interesting and complex way, yet it works very well with the characters. The story being told as a “memory play” through the main character, Tom makes the story more intriguing and visually beautiful. Through Tom, Williams manages to tell his story with the use of very symbolic, yet exaggerated moments throughout the play. These moments help bring more attention to the play’s theme a lot more than a realistically told story would. Williams does that by telling the story through Tom’s point of view.