How does Williams' essay "The Catastrophe of Success " relates to The Glass Menagerie?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that Williams' essay can connect to the drama in that it highlights the hollowness that exists in external reality.  For Williams, success breeds with it a condition of entrapment in which one seemingly believes the external reality, as opposed to concentrating on "the real" element that underscores all of reality.  Williams' ending to the essay, almost Thoreauian or Emersonian in how it demands that individuals reject comfort or elements that conceals struggle, is what he uses to explain that there is a sense of "the real" that needs to be harnessed and understood by all people and specifically, the artist.  In the drama, Williams constructs characters who are in search of this element of "the real."  Jim O'Connor lacks this full understanding of "the real," constantly wavering between what he thinks he wants and what it is he wants.  He turns out to be a character that has to strip away his own constructs to find his own essence, as Williams suggests in his essay.  Amanda lives in this condition, as she is immersed in her past beauty, her past construction of power.  She lacks what Williams suggests is needed in understanding of what reality truly consists.  In this, she becomes disenchanted and fundamentally miserable, though she will never admit it.  Her family falls apart because of it.  Tom's thoughts of leaving and finding happiness is undercut by the notion that wherever he goes, unhappiness will follow.  Tom has capitulated and fallen victim to the idea that contentment and personal happiness can result through external change and nothing from within.  It is for this reason that Williams suggests that the artist must be in tune with a world that does not represent the trappings of success, of external reality, and rather recognize that which is real and constant, something that Tom never does. It might be that within all of these characters, Laura might be the best off in that she recognizes reality in the most authentic of manners at the play's conclusion. In the end, the condition that Williams brings out in his essay is the reality of many of the characters in the drama.

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