Discuss the mood created by the set and Tom's speech in the first scene of The Glass Menagerie.

Expert Answers
cneukam1379 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With any play, the opening stage directions and details from the playwright to the director of the play set the mood. Williams writes that the fire escape where Tom delivers his opening speech is "a structure whose name is a touch of accidental poetic truth, for all of these huge buildings are always burning with the slow and implacable fires of human desperation." The idea of desperation is shown to the audience, as well, through the grim interior of the apartment shown on stage and the transparent divisions throughout the apartment. The lighting is also supposed to be low and dim, even when the play is in full swing.  

Tom's speech also indicates that grimness. He repeats what Williams describes in the opening about how this play is memory: "it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic." The bluntness with which he describes this play reveals the melancholy and perhaps acceptance of that melancholy. He talks about revolution and violence around the world and in the United States, indicating that the same feelings of unrest are taking place in these memories. And Tom ends his speech with the picture of his father that hangs over the mantle—that picture is another reminder of sadness because his father is the "fifth character in the play who doesn't appear" in the play; he left the family yet his picture hangs to taunt them instead.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that a mood of melancholy forlornness presents itself in the first scene of Williams' work.  His introductory speech in the first scene helps to establish this sense of "longing" or "waiting" that envelops so much of the drama.  Tom is able to bring out his own role in this process and one gets the impression that there is little in way of happiness in Tom's state of being in the world, especially in the idea of "long delayed" which helps to bring to light the idea that happiness is deferred to these characters.  The fact that Tom speaks to us and exists after the action has taken place along with his speaking in melancholic tones helps to develop the idea that the concept of "being happy" is something where there exists challenge for this family.  When taking this into account of the "mass automatism" that envelops the Wingfields and their neighborhood, one can sense that the notion of happiness is something even more challenging on a social level.  Such an idea helps to enhance Williams' idea that happiness is something difficult to obtain and elusive in the modern setting.  The mood becomes decidedly melancholy from this point onwards in the drama.

Read the study guide:
The Glass Menagerie

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question