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The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams

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What themes are introduced by the opening stage directions in The Glass Menagerie?

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It is clear that the stage directions as the play opens present us with the way in which society oppresses humans and acts as a conformist power, making it very hard to hold onto dreams and to break free from its grasp. Note the way that Williams introduces the overall scene:

The Wingfield apparment is in the rear of the building, one of those vast hive-like conglomerations of cellular living-units that flower at warty growths in overcrowded urban centres of lower middle-class population and are symptomatic of the impulse of this largest and fundamentally enslaved section of American society to avoid fluidity and differentiation and to exist and function as one inerfused mass of automatism.

The setting is shown to deliberately inhibit individuality, preventing "fluidity and differentation," and to promote conformism in the "enslaved" people that live in this section of American society. In addition, let us add to this description the author's comment on the fire escape, whose name has a "touch of accidental poetic truth" in the way that all of the buildings like the one that the Wingfield's live in burn "with the slow and implacable fires of human desperation." It is clear, therefore, that issues such as individuality, dreams and the struggles that humans face to try and achieve them and the barriers that try and prevent them from bucking the trend and escaping the enforced conformity of this world are going to be big themes as the play opens and we are presented with a desperate world with desperate characters inhabiting it.

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What themes and ideas are introduced for the opening stage directions of The Glass Menagerie?

A reversal of Realism, Expressionism is employed in Tennesse Williams's play, especially in the character of Amanda Wingfield, who retreats into her illusions where she has lived vitally in contrast to her present existence.

After his description of the characters and setting, Tennessee Williams describes the scene as "memory and ...nonrealistic." Memory calls for "a dim and poetic interior," Williams continues. The building in which the Wingfields dwell is a tenement where there is a narrow alley, from which exits and entrances are made; there are also clotheslines between the buildings, and a "sinister latticework" of fire escapes. Clearly, it is a trapped life that the Wingfield's live with the father's portrait looming over them as a reminder of his abandonment. Thus, the themes of loneliness, the merging of the present and the past, and the illusionary quality of life are all present on stage. And, as Tom emerges, dressed as a merchant sailor, the thematic abandonment of another male member from the family is added. Further, Williams writes,

The narrator is an undisguised covention of the play. He takes whatever license with dramatic convention as is convenient for his purposes.

With Tom as both the narrator and a character in the play, there is the Expressionistic concept of the merging of memory with the present. 

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