The Glass Menagerie first opened on March 31, 1945. It was the first big success of Tennessee Williams’ career. It is in many ways about the life of Tennessee Williams himself, as well as a play of fiction that he wrote. He says in the beginning, “I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion” (1147). The characters Tom, Laura, and Amanda are very much like Williams, his sister Rose, and his mother Edwina. We can see this very clearly when we look at the dialogue, and the relations between the action in the play and the actions in Tennessee Williams’ life.
The first character that we will look at is Tom, the narrator. It can be interpreted that Tom is a likeness of Tennessee Williams. There are many similarities between his life and Tom’s life. Some of them are about his own actions, and some of them are about the actions in the life of his family. First we will look at Tennessee Williams life, and how it is much the same as the life of the character Tom in The Glass Menagerie. He is the narrator, “an undisguised invention of the play. He takes whatever license with dramatic convention as is convenient to his purposes” (1147).
I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it. The other characters are my mother, Amanda, my sister, Laura” (1147). Because Tom is the narrator, and the narrator is the one who tells the story, we can decide already that he stands for Tennessee Williams, who wrote the play and tells the story through Tom. Also for the same reason, Amanda is Williams’ mother Edwina Williams and Laura is his sister, Rose Williams. Tennessee Williams dropped out of school when his father asked him to. He went to work in a shoe factory, but he hated it. In the play, Tom says, “Listen! You think I’m crazy about the warehouse!
You think I’m in love with the Continental Shoemakers? You think I want to spend fifty-five years down there in that – Celotex interior! With – fluorescent – tubes! Look! I’d rather somebody picked up a crowbar and battered out my brains – than go back mornings! ” (1156) . Both Williams and Tom blamed their families for the horrible jobs that they were in. Also Williams had a habit of going into his room after the job to write poetry and plays. Tom is a poet. “[Jim} knew of my secret practice of retiring to a cabinet of the washroom to work on poems when business was slack in the warehouse.
He called me Shakespeare” (1168). Both Tom and Williams wanted to go away from their real life into their art. Tennessee Williams also had a great depression, like Tom. He managed his depression by writing poetry and plays that we just talked about. He left home to live in New Orleans when he was 28. Tom is a little bit younger than this when the play is in action. But he is also deeply depressed by the life around him at home and at work. And like Williams, he leaves home in the end because it is so sad for him there. “His nature is not remorseless, but to escape from a trap he has to act without pity” (1146).
The father in The Glass Menagerie “was a telephone man who fell in love with distances; he gave up the job with the telephone company and skipped the light fantastic of this town. ” (1147). Tennessee Williams’ father was a traveling salesman. He was also not often home and the children were brought up mostly by the mother, like in the play. We will look at this later in relation to the character Amanda, who represents Edwina. While he was growing up, Tennessee Williams and his family moved to some “tenements” in industrial St. Louis. The front door of their house was opening up to look at some kind of an alley.
In the play Tom tells where his family lives. He says, “the apartment faces an alley and is entered by a fire-escape, a structure whose name is a bit of accidental truth, for all of these huge buildings are always burning with the slow and implacable fires of human desperation” (1146). Also, Tennessee Williams eventually spent some time at Washington University in St. Louis, though he ended up going to the University of Iowa because he liked it better. In The Glass Menagerie, Tom’s mother Amanda says to him, “a night-school course in accounting at Washington-U!
Just think what a wonderful thing that would be for you son” (1162). We can see here how Tennessee Williams thought about that school and that he did not want to remain in St. Louis to go to school. The last thing is that Tennessee Williams and his sister were very close. She followed him around like a ghost through his life and his art, because she was not really there with him. But he loved her very much, like Tom in The Glass Menagerie loves his sister Amanda. Tom says to his mother, “Laura seems all those things to you and me because she’s ours and we love her.
We don’t even notice she’s crippled anymore” (1166). It is also true that the Character Laura in the play The Glass Menagerie is very much like Williams’ sister Rose. She went insane in 1938 after he graduated from U. Iowa, and had a “frontal lobotomy. ” Laura in the play seems very strange sometimes. Tom says this about her. “Laura is very different from other girls. … In the eyes of others – strangers – she’s terribly shy and lives in a world of her own and those things maker her seem a little peculiar to people outside the house” (1166). Rose was almost all of her life in the sanitariums.
Edwina tried to find Rose a mate by sending her to Business College, but her first assignment failed and she did not continue with it. In the play Amanda says to Laura, “No dear, you go in the front room and study your typewriter chart. Or practice your shorthand a little. Stay fresh and pretty! – Its almost time for our gentlemen callers to start arriving … Mother’s afraid I’m going to be an old maid” (1150). Amanda had also sent Laura to some kind of a school for secretaries. But also in the play it fails and Laura does not get a job to support herself or to meet some men who can take care of her.
After this in real life and in the play there was one “gentleman caller” for Rose/Laura, who never returned. “Resume your seat, little sister – I want you to stay fresh and pretty – for gentlemen callers! I’m not expecting any gentlemen callers” (1148). “We are going to have one … What? … A gentleman caller! ” (1164). “Do you realize that he’s the first young man we’ve introduced to your sister? It’s terrible, dreadful, disgraceful that poor little sister has never received a single gentleman caller! ” (1164). Both in the play and also for the real Rose Williams, many hopes were pinned on this young man who in the play is called Jim.
Another fact is that Jim in the play calls Laura “Blue Roses”. This is also a sign that Laura is Rose. In one scene they even have the same name, where Jim calls her this. At the beginning of The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams says this about Laura. “A childhood illness has left her crippled … exquisitely fragile” (1146). Rose was more mentally “crippled” and not with a bad leg like Laura. But they are both crippled and “fragile” girls who are left alone in the world and abandoned by their fathers, their “gentlemen callers,” and their brothers in the end. Williams says this of Amanda, Tom’s mother.
A little woman of great but confused vitality clinging frantically to another time and place … certainly she has endurance and a kind of heroism, and though her foolishness makes her unwittingly cruel at times, there is great tenderness in her slight person” (1146). It is a very similar description of what Edwina Williams was like. She had many horrible experiences with Tennessee Williams’ father that made her sad and difficult to handle for him. But also Williams loved his mother very much. His mother raised Williams almost entirely. She was overprotective of him.
In the first exchange at dinner table Amanda says to Tom “…So chew your food and give your salivary glands a chance to function! … You’re not excused from the table … You smoke too much. ” (1148). There are many instances where it is shown that, like in real life, the mother and son have a difficult time with each other. Tom is very impatient of his mother. But later he says about her as a “narrator” does, “now that we cannot hear the mothers speech, her silliness is gone and she has dignity and tragic beauty” (1188). This shows that in the end Williams had a great love for his mother.
It is visible when you look closely at the lines in the play that Tennessee Williams was writing about himself and his family when he wrote The Glass Menagerie. In the end Tom cries, “Oh Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, and I speak to the nearest stranger – anything that can blow your candles out! … For nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura – and so good-bye…” (1188). Tennessee Williams’ entire life’s work was, in many ways, recognition to his sister Rose.
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