Glass Menagerie 3 Essay, Research Paper
CHARACTER S ILLUSIONS
THE GLASS MENAGERIE
Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie is about the struggle with the hardships reality throws at the characters. In this American memory play, produced in 1945, Amanda Wingfield hides from life and lives hers through separate illusions. Amanda resides in an apartment in St. Louis with her two children, Laura and Tom, the narrator. The play circulates around the Wingfields and Jim who is a gentleman caller. In an aside Tom forewarns the readers that the characters, setting, props, and effects are not meant to be real. The purposes of these things are rather to serve as metaphors and symbols of reality. As the setting is an illusion, Amanda also depends heavily on the use of illusions. This is very significant to the play because Williams portrayal of the Wingfields and how they perceive reality shows how out of touch they are. Amanda survives on account of her illusions, which protect her from the painful facts of life, allowing her to escape the frenzy of life itself.
Amanda lives mainly in the past and her memory recalls experiences she cherished while living as a young southern belle. The reader is not aware if these reminiscences are genuine or if they are what she would have liked to live. She sticks to this delusional past because she is unwilling to face the reality of the present. Amanda constantly reminds Tom, Laura and the reader, references to gentlemen callers and jonquils (Nelson 89). Despite its noticeable falsehood, Amanda comes to believe all she dreams. She wants to live out these unrealistic dreams through the life of her daughter Laura. Amanda dresses Laura as she dressed herself in the past as a southern belle, which ties her up into her illusions even more, bringing her farther away from reality. Amanda s horribly outdated clothing and mannerisms also underscore her as a foolish old woman impossibly attempting to relive a wasted life.
Most of Amanda s illusions are derived from her situation with Laura. These illusions keep her from realizing that Laura and her condition are helpless (Nelson 90). When Amanda s business school plan for Laura falls through, she begins preparing her for a gentleman caller, and potential husband. Everything Amanda does and tries for Laura fails, she pushes her family too far! Amanda feels that Laura needs to be rescued to save her future. Though Laura has no interest in a gentleman caller, but Amanda has Tom find one anyway (Falk 77). Tom finds his sister a friend from his job, named Jim O Connor, to come over for dinner. Amanda s practicality gives her dignity and as she cares for Laura we realize that she too needs to be cared for. Before Laura has even met Jim, Amanda feels that he will be the one to sweep her away. As Laura is getting ready to meet Jim, Amanda tells her you couldn t be satisfied with just sitting at home, and yet whenever I try to arrange something for you, you seem to resist it. when in fact Laura chooses to remain at home and feels very insecure while outside the St. Louis apartment (MLM 425). Reality strikes, of course, and this ends in disaster as she finds out that Jim is getting married to someone else.
Amanda wants the best for her children, but she spends so much time worrying about it that she fails to realize what is actually the best for them. She instigates every action in the play. In a way she too has her own fragile menagerie, which is composed of two children, one of whom manages to escape. Amanda is shrewish, nagging and vulgar in her attempts to cope with the bleak reality of her environment (Nelson 90). She forces her ideas and opinions on her children, placing them in bad situations. Amanda will not acknowledge that her daughter is crippled. She refers to her handicap as a little defect- hardly noticeable (MLM 408). Amanda is too preoccupied with escaping reality that she does not comprehend anything in her life. Without illusion, Amanda would realize the hopelessness of Laura s condition. Due to fantasy, she keeps her hopes alive for that always expected something to rescue Laura from a life of dependency. Amanda wants her Tom to be successful and make money. So he is sent off to work everyday because his job is necessary for the family s economic survival, at least until Laura is gone and married (Falk 72). As a result of Amanda s acts, she pushes Tom too hard and he ends up leaving. Amanda badgers him throughout the play until he angrily descended the steps of this fire escape for the last time (MLM 446).
Amanda is not only deceiving her children and Jim, but she is deceiving herself. When Jim arrives, Amanda is dressed in the same girlish gown she wore as a southern belle . She tries to be the girl that she supposedly once was, reminiscing about her childish, giddy days of entertaining the gentlemen. She clings to only one world and that is of her youth, which has long since vanished. Her illusions continue to draw her farther and farther from reality. Amanda keeps a portrait of her husband above the mantle in their apartment. She holds on to this illusion that he was a good husband, when in fact, he will never return and was clearly not a good husband or father, for he had deserted his family. Illusions help her deal with the painful facts of life, but when she becomes disillusioned the pain returns and the process begins once more. The fates of Amanda s children are mostly due to Amanda s attributes. Her constant living in the past hinders them psychologically and also inhibits their pursuits for self- realization. Amanda lives in this fantasy world, causing her children to also have a hard time escaping from this illusory world.
The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams is a play about how all four characters are out of the realm of reality, especially Amanda. She uses numerous escape tools to bypass actuality. Amanda can only attempt to survive life through illusions. These illusions protect them from painful facts of life and allow them to escape life itself. Eventually she falls back into her distinct realm in an attempt to change her true presence. The Glass Menagerie is an extremely practical play. The way Williams represents the Wingfield family and their perception of reality shows how out of touch they really are from life (Falk 77). His story reflects much of civilization as it is portrayed today. They are unable to withstand the cruel and harsh necessities by which life drives us along. The character of Amanda is mysteriously held back with the gloomy haze of desire, urge, and originality, rejecting individual growth and accomplishment, in what might be presumed a wasted life.
October 13, 2000
ENG 121 N
Clifford, John & Schilb, John. Making Literature Matter. Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. Mass: Bedford/St. Martin s, 1945.
Falk, Signi. Tennessee Williams. New York: Twayne Publishers Inc, 1961
Nelson, Benjamin. The Play is Memory. The Twentieth Century Interpretations of the Glass Menagerie. Ed. Thomas Colchie. New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc, 1983. 87-96.