Appearance and Reality in Tennessee William’s The Glass

    Appearanceand Reality in Tennessee William’s TheGlass Menagerie A Term PaperSubmitted to the Council of the College of Languages at Salahaddin University-ErbilByBanazWirya AliEnglishDepartmentLiteratureSupervisedbyDr.Saman Salah Balaki Erbil,KURDISTANDec2017  Table of Content                       Abstract      The Glass Menagerie(1944) by Williams, is selected for this study and they represent the earlywork of his long career to show his “obsessive interest in human affairs”(“Production Notes” Menagerie 934). The main focus is on the escapist, Laura,as a protagonist of this play who can relate neither to their surroundings norto the times in which they find themselves obliged to live. This sentimentleads them to fill that avoid with distorted memories of the past, or longingfor and dreaming of a redemptive future. The protagonist, Laura, has done nomore connection with their past or future that they do with their present.                                                                                                                                                                Introduction                    Oneof the recurrent themes in Tennessee William’s plays is the theme of appearanceand reality. This theme has contributed immensely to William’s plots.

The themeof appearance and reality has often helped shape Tennessee William’s charactersfrom a sorrowful character (in their real world) to a character with gladsome(Cahn9)  ( in their illusionary world). Thecharacters that do seem like ,Lura, always keeps escaping from her real worldbecause it hurts her. On the other side, her Brother , Tom, too escapes fromhis melancholy reality.With regards The GlassMenagerie, one of William’s major work, “appearance and reality” is usedmerely for showing their real world. In addition, it allows an intensificationof the tension set up between appearance and reality, nature and nurture, whichare so significant in this play.” (Owens and Goodman 203) It can thus be saidthat appearance and reality here is used to get the characters closer to eachother because they are able to confront and question the situation. Appearance and realitydid not only occur in the play, it also appeared on the stage during theElizabethan age.

The significance of this theme is so talent fully used by theactor and playwright William Shakespeare that we may even ask ourselves if weare not acting or appearing different in the real world, like most of hischaracters do. Up until today we can still connect to this major theme and thecharacters in Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare often compared life to a stageand the stage to our life. This thought is beautifully described byShakespeare’s character Jacques from As You Like It;All theworld’s a stage,And all themen and women merely players:They havetheir exits and their entrances; And one manin his time plays many parts, His actsbeing seven ages. (As You Like It 2.7.

138-42)             It is Williams successful play performs for the first time inChicago in 1944.The setting of the story is in the Wingfield house inSt, Louis Missouri, United States. It is a memory play and  the time is past time and present.                   1-   Social and political background         The Glass ofMenagerie is produced in the south of America during the great Depression. Itis a powerful short story which is narrated by the character Tom Wingfield, whoreflects on his memories of family life and events leading to his departure fromthe Wingfield home.

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Tennessee Williams writers the story in the 1930s duringthe Great Depression. It deals with a southern family living in a city in St.Louis, Missouri.          The story reflectsthe values of the society and a family that belongs to the lower middle classin the late 1930s a time of struggle. And national conflicts.

It depicts thathow people feel lost their fortune and must walk hard to gain their fortune,but they cannot forget their golden and wealthy past. They are nostalgic fortheir past from the beginning of the play Williams shows a description of theWingfield apartment and its surroundings, Tennessee Williams shows how thearchitecture at the buildings resembles the life of the people that live theirpeople living in a mass of human beings without identity he shows them asisolated and their identity has been declined. Tom Wingfield utters at thebeginning of The Glass Menagerie:In Spain there was revolution. here there was only shouting andconfusion.

In Spain there was Guernica, here there were disturbance of labour,sometimes pretty violent, in otherwise peaceful cities such as, Chicago,Cleveland, saint louis…. This is social and political background.  1-   Expressionism  Gale says that, a memoryplay means it is mostly an Expressionistic play. Expressionism is a literarymovement arose in Europe in the late ninetieth and early twentieth centuriesand response bourgeois complacency and the increasing mechanization and urbanizationof society (p.

253).           Expressionisticplays do not deal with the extend reality but sheds light on the inner realityof the characters, they show life as felt rather than seen. From the firstsentence of the production notes declares that “it is a memory play”(Yeganeh, p.

401) which shows inner world of the character.  Tom, in 1945, as thenarrator tells the audiences his memory life about Wingfield’s complex problemabout years ago. The time moves from the past (1930) to the present (1945) orvice versa.        The narrator of theplay is Tom Wingfield. Tennessee Williams sheds light on his personal life andhis difficulties during his time through The Glass of Menagerie. And it can besaid that Tom is a reflection of Williams who tells a story about himself andhis family too. Many critics’ regards The Glass of Menagerie as a biographicalplay in which Williams attempted to show (how felt) his own life. The charactersof the play prove that it is a biographical play about Williams’s life, inwhich Amanda represents his mother, Laura represents his sister, and Tomrepresents himself.

All the members of the family prove that they escape fromtheir reality into an illusionary world. This paper shows the escapism of Laura and Tom from theirreality.  2-   The Glass Menagerie             Tennessee Williams’s first successfulplay, The Glass Menagerie (1945), opens with Tom, the narrator of the play,entering as a merchant sailor who has escaped the frustrations in his job andstrains of his home. As a narrator, he has all the rights of turning back timeto tell his own past life and people’s suffering during that crucial period inthe history of the world in general, and America in particular and he describesas:Tom: … To begin with,  I turn back time.I reverse it to that quaint period,The thirties, when the huge middleclass of America was matriculatingin a school for the blind.

Theireyes had failed them, and or theyhadfailed their eyes, and so they werehaving their fingers pressedforciblydown on the fiery Braille alphabetofa dissolvingeconomy.In Spain there was Revolution.Here there was only shouting andConfusion.In Spain there was Guernica.

Here there was disturbance ofLabour, sometimes pretty violentIn otherwise peaceful cities suchas Chicago, Cleveland, Saint Louis….This is the social background of theplay (Yeganah F.2009.p.406).

                                                                                         As a result “such a time of profound social and politicalupheaval in the bourgeois world”(2) many lives will be shattered under itsheavy strains and many families will crumble down – especially those of littleincome. The Wingfields, therefore, is one among the millions.   The Wingfield familyundergoes a very terrible experience, which makes them enmeshed on a piece ofcanvas in the social context they live in. They are stuffed very tightly in anovercrowded apartment that they will never have a chance for change or releasefrom this sordid environment unless the base of the society undergoes a radicalchange. TheWingfield apartment is in the rearofthe building, one of those vasthive– like conglomeration of cellularliving-unitsthat flower as wartygrowthin overcrowded urban centres oflowermiddle-class population and aresymptomaticof the impulse of thislargestand fundamentally enslavedsectionof American society to avoidfluidityand differentiation and toexistand function as one interfusedmassof automatism.( Scene One, p.1 )  Thisis the time and locality in which the members of this distressed family, amongmany other families live. Thus, they “are trapped in their worlds, worldswhich they neither understand nor accept ….

(3).Each one of the Winfield familytries to escape from this sordid reality and searches for relief and solace insomething else that alleviates his/her pains. Their escape from therestrictions of time and its demands forms the pivot around which the action ofThe Glass Menagerie revolves (4).They escape but time chases them. It is onlythrough this act of loss and compensation the personality of Laura and Tomcharacter is revealed.

       The title The GlassMenagerie, is symbolic. Cudden defined Symbolism, that originally comes fromGreek verb ‘Symballein’,it is an object, animate or inanimate which stands forsomething else.(1946,p.671) unquestionably refers to Laura even though itssymbolism can be extended to the other characters, including Amanda and Tom,and even Jim. It symbolically refers to the fragility of Laura’s nature. But asmentioned already, there is also a strain of fragility in the representationeven of Amanda, who usually comes across as a shrill and imposing character. Inthe scene where Tom curses her in a hurtful manner, her vulnerability, plight,and helplessness bring out her own fragility. Tom’s suffocation suffered at theWingfield apartment and his remorse following his flight in the end of the playare some of the moments where the title bears significance on his vulnerableand fragile character.

      The overarching significance of The GlassMenagerie, however, is Laura’s alienation from the world owing to her’peculiarity’. When Tom agrees to invite Jim over for dinner, he warns Amandathat he has not told Jim about Laura. When Amanda gets excited about Jim’svisit, Tom cautions Amanda and asks her not to get her hopes up owing toLaura’s unconventional position in society. But Amanda is abhorred even by themention of the words ‘crippled’ and ‘peculiar’ to refer to her daughter:AMANDA: …He’ll Jim know about Laura when he gets here. When he sees howlovely and sweet and pretty she is, he’ll thank his lucky stars he was asked todinner TOM: Mother, you mustn’t expect too much of Laura.

AMANDA: What doyou mean?TOM: Laura seems all those things to you and me because she’s oursand we love her. We don’t even notice she’s crippled any more. AMANDA: Don’t say crippled!You know that I never allow that word to be used! … TOM: Laura is very different from other girls. AMANDA: I think the difference is all to her advantage. TOM: Not quite all – in the eyes of others – strangers – she’sterribly shy and lives in a world of her own and those things make her seem alittle peculiar to people outside the house. AMANDA: Don’t say peculiar. TOM: Face the facts. She is.

… AMANDA: In what way is she peculiar – may I ask? TOM gently: She lives in aworld of her own – a world of glass ornaments, Mother… (Williams 2009, 42?43)     3-   Appearance and Reality            The aboveconversation also points to another central theme of the play: the conflictbetween illusion and reality. Invariably, all the characters are enmeshed in anillusion which would be categorically dismantled. In the first line of theconversation quoted above, it can be seen how Amanda dreams of bright futurefor her daughter with Jim.

Just as she revels in that bubble, her momentaryhappiness is swiftly undermined when Tom reminds her of Laura’s ‘different’ and’peculiar’ nature. He points out how Laura is divorced from the reality of theworld and lives in ‘a world of her own – a world of glass ornaments’. But, atthis particular point at least, Laura’s illusory world is not exposed yet; itwould, of course, be done deftly by Jim when he breaks the news of hisengagement. Here, in this moment of the conversation between Tom and Amanda, itis, however, Amanda’s own dreams that are receive the blow.                  From the above conversation, it can also beseen how the play captures the disillusionment of Amanda through anexpressionist mode. She literally recoils, shudders, and is abhorred,anguished, and horrified at the use of the words ‘crippled’ and ‘peculiar’. Inthis play, disillusionment is a process, and an inevitable and cyclical one atthat.

The play constantly constructs hopes and dreams and then dismantles them.The inevitability of destruction and disillusionment are already encompassed inthe word ‘glass’ used in the title. So, the audience and the readers know thatthe logical culmination of hope, ambition, and dreams would inevitably end upin disillusionment.     Coming to the moment of disappointmentof Laura, it can be seen how the author carefully constructs and relays thescene. By now, it is quite established that Laura is ensconced within her ownworld of glass menagerie. It must also be mentioned that for all of Amanda’sparanoia about her daughter being isolated from the world, Laura herself isvery comfortable to be alienated from the conventional way of life.

Even thoughshe perches on in an illusory world, she is secure in being different andpeculiar; it is rather Amanda who fears her daughter’s withdrawal from theworld.          When constantly toldby the others, especially her mother, to come out of her space of isolation,Laura adamantly nestles herself in the glass menagerie world. But, for thefirst time, perhaps in her entire life, she decides to break free from theisolated space and shed her cloak of self-consciousness when she meets Jim ather home.

Jim is very perceptive; he notices and understands how Laura hasalways retreated away from the world of reality. He, then, tries to lead herout of her cocoon slowly. As they talk, at Jim’s behest, Laura sheds herinhibitions for the first time since the opening of the play. She, then, evendances with Jim.        The dance is also a dramatic instrument thatcaptures the rhythmic movement of Laura from alienation to liberation. But justas the dance movements intensify and Laura frees herself more liberally byfollowing the lead of Jim, the climax is interrupted by the breaking of theunicorn glass menagerie. Dramatically, Williams has masterfully tuned thetransformation of Laura and just as the movement of Laura’s self reaches acrescendo, it is dramatically followed instantly by a steep nadir.

         The unicorn glassmenagerie directly symbolizes Laura. Amongst her collection of glass menagerie,the unicorn is her favourite. When she first shows it to Jim, she says: ‘Oh, becareful – if you breathe, it breaks!’; that is how fragile she is (Williams2009, 74). She further says to Jim: ‘Go on, I trust you with him! She placesthe piece in his palm. There now – you’re holding him gently! Hold him overthe light, he loves the light! You see how the light shines through him?’Through these lines, in writing the manual to handle the unicorn, Laura isessentially providing Jim with a manual to actually handle her.When she asksJim to hold the unicorn in the light and enjoy its beauty, she is asking to beunderstood on her own terms. She suggests that if only people take the troubleto look at her like that, then they could see her luminous and radiant selfrather than the stereotypical view thrust on her self as shy and retreating innature.        Furthermore, Lauraalso remarks how the unicorn stays in the shelf with the other horses that donot have horns.

So, the unicorn stands distinctly (and differently) among them,but still they ‘seem to get along nicely together’ (75). However, when the hornof the unicorn is broken accidentally by Jim, then Laura too is symbolicallymade to lose her distinctiveness. With the broken horn, the unicorn is ‘justlike all the other horses’.

She tells Jim: ‘It’s no tragedy, Freckles. Glassbreaks so easily. No matter how careful you are’. When Jim apologizes, she saysbravely and humorously: I’ll just imagine he had an operation.

The horn wasremoved to make him feel less – freakish! … Now he will feel more at home withthe other horses, the ones that don’t have horns…’ Even though she reassures,it can be seen how she is visibly shocked and irreparably broken, just as thehorn of unicorn is irreplaceably disjointed.  Conclusion       Tennessee Williams hadstated that the purpose of his writing was to create ‘imaginary worlds intowhich, he,can retreat from the real world because…he has never made any kind ofadjustment to the real world’ (Bigsby 2004, p.33).

As Bigsby remarks, thisobservation could be applied to Williams’s own characters—as they inevitablyshould be since he had meticulously crafted his characters based on himself andthose that he encountered in his life. Each of these characters—from Laura,Tom, Amanda through to others like Blanche—is struggling to cope with the realworld and in their failure to do so, they create, retreat, and escape intotheir world of illusion. But even if that illusion is shattered, theircraftsmanship in the creation of their respective worlds unravels the artist inthem, be it literally like Tom who is also a poet in the play or metaphoricallylike Blanche, who strives to aesthetically construct her world.

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Hirsch, Foster. APortrait of the Artist: The Plays of Tennessee Williams. NY: Kennikat Press,1979.Cuddon,J. A., Rafey Habib, Matthew Birchwood, Vedrana Velickovic, Martin                Dines, and Shanyn Fiske. ThePenguin dictionary of literary terms and         literarytheory.

London: Penguin , 2014.   Hooper, Michael S.D. SexualPolitics in the Work of Tennessee Williams: Desire over Protest. UK: CUP, 2012. King, Thomas L. ‘Irony andDistance in “The Glass Menagerie”‘.

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2 (1970): 23?30. Heintzelman, Greta and Alycia Smith-Howard. Critical Companion toTennessee Williams.NY: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Saddik, Annettee J. Tennessee Williams and the Theatre of Excess:The Strange, The Crazed, The Queer.

UK: CUP, 2015. Wakefield, Thaddeus. TheFamily in Twentieth-Century American Drama.

NY: Peter Lang, 2004.Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. London: Penguin, 2009.———.

‘TennesseeWilliams: The Art of Theatre No. 5’, interviewed by DotsonRader, The Paris Review:                 


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