Symbolic illustration of Laura's hands holding a glass unicorn

The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams

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Significant Allusions

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Last Updated on July 10, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 653

Allusions to History: Since The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, Williams situates the play in the actual history of 1937. In his opening monologue, Tom alludes to many real-life events in order to create the atmosphere of this time period. These allusions also call attention to the world outside of the Wingfield apartment, and demonstrate how separated Tom, Laura, and Amanda are from reality. 

  • Daughters of the American Revolution, or D.A.R. as it is referred to in the play, was established in 1890 as a nonprofit organization of women descended from those involved in the movement for American independence. Amanda’s involvement with the organization portrays her as someone who believes in the grandeur of the past and who takes pride in her lineage. 
  • When Amanda questions where Tom goes at night, he sarcastically says that he has joined the Hogan Gang. This violent gang, which was based in St. Louis, sold liquor during Prohibition and committed horrendous crimes including armed robbery and murder. 
  • Tom’s monologues to the audience include references to various historical events which root the play in its 1937 setting. He mentions the bombing of Guernica, which took place on April 26, 1937 during the Spanish Civil War, and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s umbrella, which came to represent peace following the Munich agreement with Hitler in 1938. 

Allusions to Literature and Mythology: Williams also draws on literature to temporally situate the play and provide thematic insights. 

  • Amanda confiscates Tom’s “hideous book by that insane Mr. Lawrence.” She is alluding to the novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence, which divulges in explicit detail the sexual life of the protagonist, Constance Chatterley. Although published in 1928, the novel was banned in many countries and not widely read until the 1960s. 
  • Twice in the play, the legend projected on the screen reads “Où sont les neiges?” or “Where are the snows?” This French phrase is excerpted from the phrase “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” (“Where are the snows of yesteryear?”) in François Villon’s “Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis” (“Ballad of the Ladies of Times Past”). The poem discusses famous mythological women. 
  • In Greek mythology, King Midas could turn everything he touched into gold. As Amanda reminisces about her past in Blue Mountain, she describes one of her gentleman callers as having the “Midas touch” because he was able to successfully make a fortune on Wall Street. 

Allusions to the Bible: 

  • The screen projection preceding Tom’s announcement to Amanda that he has found a gentleman caller for Laura is “Annunciation.” This word alludes to Luke 1:27-38, in which the angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she will give birth to Jesus Christ. By equating Tom’s announcement with the Annunciation, Williams imparts how important this event is in the lives of the Wingfields. In the play, the annunciation is “celebrated with music” and the screen presents an image of a gentleman caller carrying a bouquet.

Allusions to the Arts: 

  • Tom alludes to Clark Gable, a famous American movie star of the 1930s and 40s who would have been at the peak of his career at the time the play is set. Tom expresses jealousy towards the characters in Gable’s movies because their lives are full of adventure and glamour; meanwhile, he feels trapped with his mother and sister, completely removed from the outside world. 
  • Pirates of Penzance is an 1879 operetta written by Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert. Its subtitle is “The Slave of Duty,” which recalls Tom’s feelings about his role as familial breadwinner. In high school, Jim sang “the baritone lead,” a pompous character who finds himself racked with guilt over a lie. In high school, Laura attended all three performances in which Jim performed. The two characters reminisce about their high school’s production of this operetta. 

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