The Glass Menagerie: A Study
The Glass Menagerie is a beautiful expressionistic play by a popular American playwright named Tennessee Williams. This memory play has strong autobiographical overtones. It is a powerful psychological tragedy that brought national fame to the author. As best American play it won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award in 1945.
The Glass Menagerie is an American classic that tells a tragic family tale of love, bitterness, and abandonment. Set in St Louis of the 1930s, it is the poignant drama of a family's gradual disintegration. A frustrated mother persuades her rebellious son to secure a suitor for her shy and crippled daughter. But her romantic dreams are shattered by the intervention of harsh reality.
The story of the play is narrated by a central character named Tom. His narration is based on his recollection of his mother Amanda and his sister Laura. Amanda is a faded lady of middle age. She lives with her son named Tom and Daughter named Laura in an apartment of St. Louis. Amanda is a domineering mother. Tom is a cynical teenager. Laura is slightly older than he. She is a sick lady who lives in a fantasy world with a collection of glass animals. Amanda yearns for the comforts and admiration and lives upon her delusions of a romantic past. She is anxious especially about the future of her daughter Laura, a sick young woman. Tom works in a shoe warehouse to support the family. He uses spare time of his everyday life to write.
Amanda is obsessed with finding a suitor for Laura who spends much of her time polishing and arranging her collection of little glass animals. In order to help his mother’s search Tom invites an acquaintance named Jim for dinner. Amanda prepares a special dinner and converses coquettishly with Jim. Due to her shyness Laura is unable to join the others at dinner.
After dinner Jim and Laura are left alone. They talk to each other and dance with each other. Accidently Jim breaks off one of Laura’s glass unicorns. In the course of conversation Jim informs Laura that he is engaged to be married. Laura asks him to take the broken unicorn as a gift and he then leaves. When Amanda comes to know that Jim is to be married, she becomes very angry with Tom. She cruelly lashes out at him. Tom seems quite surprised by this. It seems that Jim had no romantic interest in Laura and that’s why he mentioned the fake story of his engagement. The play concludes with Tom saying that he left home soon afterward and never returned. He then bids farewell to his mother and sister and asks Laura to blow out the candles.
The characters and the story reflect Williams' own life. Williams resembles Tom and his mother Edwina resembles Amanda. Williams’ sister Rose provides the basis for Laura. Williams’ family lived in such an apartment as is pictured in The Glass Menagerie. The unhappy family life of the author finds its reflection in this play.
The Glass Menagerie is considered to be an expressionistic play because of the integration of rational, emotional, psychological, visual and cognitive domains. The conflict between rationality and emotions often set the tone of discourse among the characters. The language of the dialogic-conversation among the characters shapes their identities and unravels their approach to different circumstances and situations. The characterization, the nature of narration, the autobiographical elements and irony in soliloquies make the play very effective.