The Fundamentals of the Play
When discussing one of the most famous plays like The Glass Menagerie written by Tennessee Williams, I would like to consider the fundamentals of the work. So, first of all, I would like to define the key themes.
Generally, one is to keep in mind that famous work discloses ten major themes, namely, illusion vs. reality, memory, freedom, quest, instinct vs. civilized behaviors, famous American Dream, a person’s survival in the machine age, fragility vs. strength, and a person’s need to be far away from his or her surrounding. The Glass Menagerie illusion vs. reality theme I would like to highlight in detail in this paper.
While speaking about the first theme, illusion vs. reality, I have to point out that the play explores a family that lives in the shadow of reality. The playwright Williams Tennessee alludes from his early life to write an explicit play focusing on the social lives of specific individuals. Amanda is a mother of two adult children Tom and Laura.
After her husband abandoned her, Amanda struggles to take care of the family. Unfortunately, besides suffering from mental instability, Laura is also crippled. Therefore, Tom has a job at the shoe warehouse to provide for the family. Consequently, the three members of the family become engrossed in illusions, an aspect, which separates them from the real world.
As the essay on illusion vs. reality in the story shows, the so-called illusions help the main characters escape an unpleasant reality. I suppose it is a loss of psychological space that makes the characters to realize that it is impossible to escape the realities of the real world. Dipa Janardanan believes that the author is able “to get to the marrow of universal truth – the human condition of an individual’s inability to escape a psychological loss of space no matter how much physical distance is attained” (24).
I have to admit that the playwright uses innovative production techniques to draw the reader’s’ attention to the contrast between illusion and reality. Moreover, the author showed us that the so-called survival mechanisms family decided to rely on were transformed into destructive power.
The Thesis Statement
One of the major themes of the play is considered to be the characters’ inability to meet reality, and the meaning of illusion for them. Taking into account the attitude of all characters towards the realities of life, one can conclude that the main characters require objectivity. No one is ready to accept reality because it is really painful. While considering such complex psychological situations, it becomes evident that the psychological loss of space seems to be one of the key problems the author highlights in his play.
Tennessee Williams and his Story
I would like to say a few words about the author of the play. Generally, there is a need to point out that the author’s father was adventurous and an alcoholic. His mother was a submissive but hysterical woman. Tennessee spent the first ten years of his life living with his grandparents.
His health deteriorated an aspect that did not only make him shy but also contributed to his social weakness (shy). Due to constant relocation and social/financial instability, Williams and his sister became close, however, after some time, Rose suffered from a mental breakdown, a development that equally traumatized Williams.
Similarly, Tennessee acquired poor social skills, and most of his peers referred to him as ‘Miss Nancy’ (Londre 20). Education-wise, he did not finish his first degree after failing his exams in the third year. However, after acquiring literacy skills from his grandfather’s library, the author embarked on writing plays. Most of his plays were a reflection of his early life.
He focused on themes such as sexual violence, social misfit, family, and financial constraints, among others. Tennessee wrote the play glass menagerie when the Second World War was about to end. Consequently, most spouses (men) had abandoned their families and ventured into the war, therefore, creating a social gap.
The Theme of Illusion vs Reality in The Glass Menagerie
Amanda Wingfield, who is one of the main characters of the play doesn’t live, but exists. Socially, Amanda’s husband abandoned her, leaving her with the financial and emotional burden to take care of the family. Amanda longs for financial and social success, but this element makes her adopt an illusionary life. Secondly, Amanda declines to accept the exit of her husband from the family; thus, acquiring a domineering and hysterical attitude, especially towards the children.
For instance, Amanda says, “Gone, gone, gone. All vestige of gracious living! Gone completely! I wasn’t prepared for what the future brought me” (Williams 694-696). This shows that Amanda has declined to let her past go and accept reality. So, this is an example of illusion. Unfortunately, Amanda can’t face the realities of life.
When analyzing the play, it becomes evident that in real life “Williamses were never as hard up as the fictional Wingfields and so, without denying the effect of the general socio-economic environment as an intensifying element, I tend to see Amanda’s insecurity as characteristic of the alcoholic’s family” (Debusscher 59).
While speaking about the second character – Laura, I have to point out that the girl lives in an illusionary world. According to Williams, Laura has “Little articles of [glass], they’re ornaments mostly! Most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest small animals in the world.
Mother calls them a glass menagerie!” (547). Therefore, Laura distances herself from the real world. According to Joven, Laura is “like a piece of her own glass collection, too exquisitely fragile” (57). Consequently, as the summary shows, Laura is using both her physical and mental disability to detach herself from realism.
The third character is Tom. He struggles to balance his family’s responsibility as the breadwinner, thus, trying to escape from reality. According to Williams, Tom says, “There is a trick that would come in handy for me—get me out of this two-by-four situation!” (680).
Although Tom is narrating a movie to Laura, his mind is struggling to devise ways in which he can run away from home and offload the responsibility burden that always awaits him. Furthermore, he visits bars and theatres to stay away from home. However, Tom’s actions are unreal because he is the only male figure in the family.
However, abandoning his family means running away from the real aspects of life thus, he is living in a fantasy. The movie is only an illusionary step that, in reality, it is hard to accomplish. For instance, he says, “I am more faithful than I intended to be!” (Williams 682). As The glass Menagerie conclusion evidences, this statement shows that Tom finds it unreal to abandon his sister and mother, therefore, his dream of pursuing adventure away from home is only illusionary.
Similarly, according to critics, Tom’s “nature is not remorseless and to escape from the trust he has to act without pity” (Broom 20). However, he finally deserts his family when he loses his job. Therefore, Tom lives with an illusion that if he stays alone, then he may have a comfortable life.
Conclusion: Reality vs. Illusion Theme
In brief, Williams’ play focuses on the lives of three family members, who lack social skills. Thus, they become caught between realism and fantasy.
Although Amanda’s husband left her with family responsibilities, she is reluctant to accept her situation. She lives in the American dream, whereby everybody should have a comfortable life. In addition, she reflects on her early life, whereby her family was wealthy.
Surprisingly, she confers her son with financial responsibility a step, which motivates him to dream of how to abandon his family. Finally, due to her physical disability, Laura detaches herself from other people and become engrossed with her glass menagerie. Therefore, all three characters have to come out of their cocoons to face the real world. Thus, in the conflict of illusion vs. reality in The Glass Menagerie, reality wins.
Bloom, Harold. Tennessee Williams’s (Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations): The Glass Menagerie. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2007. Print.
Debusscher, Gilbert. Tennessee Williams’s Dramatic Charade: Secrets and Lies in The Glass Menagerie, 2000. Web.
Janardanan, Dipa. Images of Loss in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Marsha Norman’s night, Mother, and Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, 2007. Web.
Joven, Nilda. “Illusion Verses Reality in The Glass Menagerie.” Diliman Review 1.1(1966): 52-60. Print.
Londre, Hardison. Tennessee Williams. New York: Frederick ungar publishers, 1979. Print Williams, Tennessee. The glass menagerie. New York: Random house, 1950. Print.