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Glass Menagerie
(Tennessee Williams)

Tennesee Williams first hit, ?Glass Menagerie? was produced on Broadway in 1945. Set in St. Louis during the depression, the play is a tragic tale of a family?s disfunction and lost dreams. The play also presented some attempts at symbolism away from the realistic drama and musical comedies which so occupied the American stage at the time. As Williams noted, he hoped that his play would propel ?A new plastic theatre the exhausted theatre of realistic conventions.?
Glass Menagerie is a memory play, so the characters and the images are meant to be distorted by their place in Tom?s mind, as opposed to how they really are. Tom is the narrator of the story, his prejudices and take on events are how the audience approaches the story. It is Tom?s story that we see, and Tom?s interpretation of events as they were.
The story of Glass Menagerie, like much of Williams? work, is intensely autobiographical. Brought up in St. Louis, Missouri from Southern parents, Williams draws upon his own dysfunctional family in the creation of his characters Tom, Laura, and Amanda Wingfield. The action of the play shows the characters who have been transplanted from Tennessee to St. Louis by the man of the family, a traveling salesman who kept on traveling and left them behind. Amanda, the matriarch of the family, is a southern belle who remembers her previous admirers and gentleman callers and is trapped in the past and bitter about the present and the future. She dominates her two children and pushes them through their lives. Tom has to support his family and is trapped by that support from achieving his goal of leaving St. Louis and becoming a writer. Laura, like Williams? own mentally ill sister, is a shy, gawkish girl who doesn?t fit in and has been lying to her mother about where she has been going during the day.
The love between the brother and sister is palpable and Tom will do anything for his sister, but also feels their bond of love as a chain around his neck, again keeping him from achieving his goals.
Amanda constantly wishes for a gentleman caller for Laura, who has been handicapped by a childhood illness and has trouble with her leg which is one of the causes of her intense shyness and keeps her from having any friends or romantic interests outside of the family. Tom escapes to the movies in order to leave his family responsibilities behind. Finally Amanda convinces Tom to bring home one of his colleagues from the factory who works with him. When he does bring back Jim O?Connor, Amanda?s hopes for Laura appear to be finally possible. However, though Jim does draw Laura out of her shell and gives her a kiss, he also reveals that he is engaged to be married. Laura is left devastated and Amanda pushes Tom one step too far. After the argument, Tom leaves his family for good, to be haunted by the memory of his sister Laura forever.

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