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Expression in The Glass Menagerie Essay


William's use of Expression as an essential element of his drama.

Tennessee Williams is admired for the theatricality of his plays and for introducing literary, devices into the theatre, in particularly The Glass Menagerie. In this drama he uses devices such as lighting and sound techniques to enhance the effectiveness of his themes.

Throughout this play, the characters are tempted toward illusion when they find reality too painful. Although the illusions of some characters are more socially acceptable, even typical, than others, Williams suggests that the "American dream" is as illusory as more overt psychological. Even Jim O'Connor, the character an audience would likely describe as closest to "normal," in other words, does not distinguish between reality and fantasy. Play stated that each of the Wingfields "has a secret life and dream that inherently has little likelihood of actualization." Furthermore, in this play Williams suggests that the most specific arena of confinement, the family, is also the primary motivation for fantasy. Williams, at his best, tries to bring to notice to the reader an understanding that all the characters want freedom from family responsibilities, but it is all in the worthless as the characters either deny it or are obsessed by it.

This tendency to resist reality is most obvious in the female characters. Amanda Winfield, the mother of Tom and Laura, is an abandoned wife who longs for a stable family structure, that is, a stable means of support, for her daughter. Her husband, who had left the family years ago, remains present in the "chaos" of the Winfield apartment; his photograph, "the face of a very handsome young man, unavoidably smiling," dominates the living room Amanda suggests that Laura should not depend on a husband to support her (as difficult as this choice would have been during the 1930s), Amanda desires instead that Laura find a suitable husband, one who will not drink excessively, who will find excitement enough in a career and family.

Yet although she has kept her husband's photograph on her wall, Amanda sometimes seems to forget that she chose to marry a less-than-ideal man. She speaks frequently, almost obsessively, of the Sunday afternoon when she received "seventeen! Gentlemen callers! Why, sometimes there weren't chairs enough to accommodate them all." And each of these men was special: "Among my callers were some of the most prominent young planters on the Mississippi Delta planters and sons of planters! ... There was young Champ Laughlin who later became vice president of the Delta Planters Bank. Hadley Stevenson who was drowned in Moon Lake and left his widow one hundred and fifty thousand through Government bonds. Fitzhugh boy went North and made a fortune came to be known as the Wolf of Wall Street! He had the Midas touch." In continually reliving this Sunday afternoon, Amanda is able to retain a sense of her own popularity, a sense of success rather than of the failure that accompanies the marriage she did make. The unstated question is, of course, why she married the man "who fell in love with long distances" rather than one of these other successful, rather man in shining armour stereotype.

Simultaneously, however, because she lives more energetically in the past than in the present, she appears rather foolish when a gentleman caller does accompany Tom home for dinner. Although she does desire that Laura find a suitable husband, Amanda dresses and acts as if the gentleman is calling for her: "She wears a girlish frock of yellowed voile with a blue silk sash. She carries a bunch of jonquils the legend of her youth is nearly revived." This dress is not only "girlish," but is precisely the one "in which I led the cotillion" over twenty years earlier. But the intervening time has collapsed; Amanda's girlhood merges with her middle age.

Although Laura remembers liking only one boy rather than receiving seventeen gentlemen callers and although she knew this boy approximately five rather than twenty-five years ago, Laura's romantic life initially seems as decidedly over as Amanda's. Laura's fantasies are not simply a preference but a need; they incapacitate her. Laura's fantasies, that is, don't merely supplement reality but become reality. More specifically, her glass menagerie which gives the play its title resembles Laura in disturbingly accurate detail. Even the stage directions instruct us to interpret Laura as more similar to these delicate glass objects than to any of the other human characters: "A fragile, unearthly prettiness has come out in Laura: she is like a piece of translucent glass touched by light, given a momentary radiance, not actual, not lasting." Laura describes the unicorn with similar language: "he loves the light! You see how the light shines through him? To pursue outside reality and thus becomes instead its victim retreating into her own fantasy world." This glass collection constitutes Laura's community, for she indicates that she devotes most of her lime, and her emotional energy, to it. She personifies the animals, creating lives for them Thai reflect her own. When the unicorn's horn breaks, for example, Laura speculates that "The horn was removed to make him feel less freakish! Now he will feel more at home with the other horses."

By this point, Laura has revealed why she also feels "freakish." The brace on her leg "clumped so loud" according to her memory, drawing everyone's attention, she believes, to her disability. Yet the one time Tom uses the word "crippled" to describe Laura, Amanda criticises him for demanding that her fantasy take superiority over the family's reality. One could argue that when the unicorn's horn breaks, he becomes "crippled" rather than "less freakish." For it is this horn that grants him individuality. Laura, of course, longs to be more similar to others rather than so distinct from them.

In his willingness to be honest about Laura, Tom is perhaps the only character who can see Laura simultaneously as "peculiar" and as beautiful; a person so delicate that light can shine through her. Because he acknowledges that his life is frustratingly dull and confining, Tom fantasizes about the future. If he can leave the family, he believes, if he can imitate his father and simply follow his desires for long distance, he will have opportunity rather than responsibility. He will be able to write poetry rather than sell shoes. Tom does leave, of course, after he loses his job selling shoes because he was writing poetry. But though he does join the merchant marine abandons the family physically, he discovers that memory can haunt him. He can never leave them emotionally. The future becomes as oppressive as the past, for the "cities swept about me like dead leaves, leaves that were brightly colored but torn away from the branches." Rather than living merrily in the past as Amanda does, Tom is haunted. "I was pursued by something," he says. Try as he might to escape, "all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!"

Even Jim O'Connor, the most conventional of these characters, is nagged by his past. "His dreams and values, are realistic as they may be, sound shallower and more comical than Amandas. While he may not be as obsessed as any of the others, he has discovered that the present has not lived up to his hopes. In high school, he had been extremely popular and had been expected to succeed at whatever he attempted. Even if he makes somewhat more money, he nevertheless works in the same warehouse as Tom. Rather than surrender to disappointment, however, Jim continues to invest his hope in the future. Although he acknowledges that he had "hoped when I was going to high school that I would be further along at this time," he is currently studying public speaking because he believes it will suit him for "executive positions." It will give him "social poise," the one characteristic that will make him more successful, although the image he presents of himself in high school would indicate that he had been poised then. Like Tom, Jim continues to believe that the life he desires is possible. He lives with the illusion that if he simply tries harder, if he alters the details of his circumstances without altering their substance, then his search for excitement will be validated. Jim claims that "being in love has made a new man of me!" but he provides no evidence for this outside of rhetoric.

Although we don't discover what occurs to Jim in the future, the miseries of the play's conclusion indicates that disappointment is the inevitable outcome." Whether these characters attempt to achieve freedom through a family or detached from one, the play indicates that such freedom is the stuff of which dreams are made.

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