Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
According to Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie is a “memory play.” It is narrated from the perspective of the character Tom Wingfield. What Williams calls “personal lyricism” is employed in the play not so much to challenge the accountability of Tom’s narrative as to display, from a character’s point of view, the impact that illusion has on individuals. The play, for example, portrays a large group of characters whose obsession with the past complicates their connection to the present. Illusory worlds are created by these characters, either to cherish the not-so-accurate memory of an idealized past or to protect an already-tattered emotional integrity. It is typical of Williams, a self-proclaimed romantic dramatist, to create characters who prefer dwelling in a fantasy world. Yet, the playwright, aware of the inevitability of the conflict between illusion and reality, also leaves the audience with no doubt about his cynical and bitter attitude in dramatizing the sometimes self-deceptive but always debilitating nature of his characters’ illusory world. Flashbacks are used effectively to underscore the struggle that characters must undergo when they do not know how to disentangle themselves from the past.
The main plot of The Glass Menagerie centers on what happens to the Wingfield family on one unforgettable evening. A childhood illness has left Laura Wingfield crippled; one of her legs is slightly shorter than the...
(The entire section is 488 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Wingfield apartment. St. Louis, Missouri, home of the narrator, Tom Wingfield, and his mother and sister. Along with its outside fire-escape landing, this apartment is the setting for the entire play. It is too small for the Wingfields’ needs—Laura sleeps on a sofa bed in the living room—and its contents are worn and aging. The contrast between the dingy apartment and the world in which Tom’s mother, Amanda, alludes to having grown up in is striking. During the play’s first scene, Amanda relates a well-worn story of her youth in Blue Mountain in rural Mississippi. Her story contains a significant allusion to the front porch on which she received gentleman callers—some seventeen young men by her account. Williams contrasts the porch in Blue Mountain with the apartment’s fire-escape landing, on which the family watches the moon rise over a delicatessen.
Alleyways. According to Williams’s opening stage directions, the play’s audiences should see alleyways running on either side of the apartment building and its rear wall before they see the apartment rooms in which the action will take place. The alleys are described as “murky canyons of tangled clotheslines, garbage cans, and the sinister latticework of neighboring fire escapes.” This is significant, as the alleys remain visible throughout the play. Williams uses them to generate a constant visual comment on the action within the apartment. The alleys strike a strong contrast to the idyllic life Amanda describes from her youth and are in conflict with Tom’s vision of a life of high adventure.
*Famous-Barr Department Store
*Famous-Barr Department Store. St. Louis’s leading department store at the time in which the play is set, in whose lingerie department Amanda works. Williams uses the store to emphasize Amanda’s frustration over the way her life has turned out. In the opening scene when she talks about her suitors, she blames her poor choice as the cause of her public humiliation of having to sell bras at Famous-Barr.
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bigsby, C. W. E. A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama. 3 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982-1985.
Devlin, Albert J., ed. Conversations with Tennessee Williams. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986.
Donahue, Francis. The Dramatic World of Tennessee Williams. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1964. A discussion of Williams’ plays, with a focus on The Glass Menagerie.
Leavitt, Richard F., ed. The World of Tennessee Williams. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1978. A competent...
(The entire section is 176 words.)