Thomas Lanier Williams was born in 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi and experienced a difficult childhood. His father was a travelling salesman and heavy drinker and his mother had hysterical attacks. His younger sister Rose was emotionally and mentally unstable, which had a great influence on his life and work.
In 1918 the family moved to St. Louis but Williams could not easily adapt himself to the life in these new surroundings and he was an outcast at school.
For a short period he attended the University of Missouri but he quit and worked in the same company as his father for some years. Finally, he graduated from the University of Iowa in 1938. In the same year he changed his name to Tennessee in honour of his Southern accent and his father's home state.
He moved to New Orleans and started a new life. In the same year he won a prize for "American Blues" a collection of one-act plays. "Battle of Angels" (later rewritten as "Orpheus Descending") failed miserably. "The Glass Menagerie", produced in Chicago, was a great success and turned out to be a smash hit also on Broadway. For this play, for "A Streetcar Named Desire" and for "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" he won Pulitzer Prizes and New York Critic's Circle Awards.
In 1947 he bought a house in Key West where he escaped to for relaxation and writing. Williams also met Frank Merlo, they fell in love and he became his romantic partner until Merlo's death in 1961. He had a good influence on Williams, who suffered from depression and lived in fear that he, like his sister Rose, would go insane.
In 1950 he wrote "The Rose Tattoo" and in 1961 "Night of the Iguana". The sixties brought hard times for the author. He got addicted to drugs and Merlo's death had sent him into a deep depression.
Williams died in a drug-related incident in 1983.
Williams gave an incredible vision of life in the South and a lot of powerful portraits of human condition. He was deeply interested in "poetic realism" and everyday objects got highly symbolic meanings. The playwright often wrote about extremes of human brutality and sexual behaviour, like madness, rape, incest, as well as violent and fantastic deaths, which seemed to him part of the human condition.
Homosexuality was not discussed openly at that time, but the themes of desire and isolation in his works show the influence of having grown up gay in our world.
He is widely considered the greatest Southern playwright and one of the greatest in the history of American drama. He wrote twenty-five full-length plays, five screenplays, over seventy one-act plays, hundreds of short stories, two novels, poetry and a memoir. Five of his plays were also made into movies.
Tom, from an indefinite point in the future, remembers the year 1937 in the Wingfield family's apartment.
He supports his mother Amanda and his disabled sister Laura with the money he earns because his father left years ago.
Amanda, who attracted a lot of men in her youth, is very disappointed that there haven't been any "gentlemen callers" for Laura. She only wants to be at home and to play with her collection of glass animals, her glass menagerie. Finally Amanda decides that her daughter's future lies in marriage and she tells her son to bring a nice man for Laura home.
For Tom the whole situation becomes more and more unbearable and he "escapes" every night to the movies or into alcohol. Finding a husband for Laura is a chance for him to live his own life without his mother and his sister. That's why Tom has already used the money for his family's electric bill to be able to leave his job and family in search of adventure.
So he takes Jim O'Connor, on whom Laura had a crush in high school, home for dinner. He used to call her "Blue Roses", an accidental corruption of the word for Laura's medical condition, pleurosis.
She becomes very nervous but after eating Jim chats with Laura and finally he kisses her. After that, he tells her that he is engaged.
Amanda accuses Tom of playing a trick on them. After that he goes out and from the fire escape he tells the audience that not long after this evening, he was fired from his job and left Amanda and Laura. Years later he cannot stop feeling guilty for leaving his sister.
LESEPROBE S. 85: now i want to read the end of the play to you (closing speech)
"The Glass Menagerie" was written in 1944 and is based on reworked material from one of William's short stories "Portrait of a Girl in Glass" and his screen play "The Gentleman Caller". The author had a lot of doubts but the critics loved the show and wrote enthusiastic reviews. In 1945 the play opened on Broadway with a similar success as in Chicago.
This play is a bit autobiographical. The characters all have some basis in the real-life family of Williams. His mother is the hopeful and demanding Amanda, Rose is the shy Laura (her nickname "Blue Roses" refers to her) and his father is the and absent Mr. Wingfield. Like Tom, Williams (whose real name was also Thomas) worked in a shoe warehouse in St. Louis and there actually was a terrible evening with the only gentleman caller who ever came for Rose.
Tennessee Williams wanted to change some conventions of the naturalistic theatre. So he uses music, screen projections and light effects to create a haunting and dream-like atmosphere for his "memory play". Like in Miller's "Death of a Salesman" the ways of using the stage to show the interior life and memories are explored. Here, Tom moves, as the narrator, in and out of the action of the play.
"The Glass Menagerie" is a tragedy and a family drama. Tom Wingfield is the narrator and protagonist. The older Tom remembers his youth, the younger Tom is part in the action. He remembers the winter and spring of 1937 from an indefinite point in the future. Sometimes there are also events which Tom didn't witness. At these points the play goes further than simply describing Tom's youth.
The play is written in a tragic, sarcastic and bleak tone.
Amanda Wingfield was the darling of her small town in the South who had a lot of gentlemen callers. Now, she is an abandoned wife and single mother living in a seedy apartment. She dreams of her youth and of her daughter's future not wanting to recognise realities of the present. She loves her children but her demands make life difficult for Laura and unbearable for Tom.
She doesn't accept that Laura is peculiar and that Tom is not a businessman.
She is the type of the faded Southern belle. For these women it was very difficult to cope with their new status in society and with the modern world.
Laura Wingfield is physically and emotionally crippled. She is shy and unable to face the world outside of their apartment which makes her dependent on Tom and Amanda. She spends all her time on her "glass menagerie". Her presence is almost ghostly and her nickname "Blue Roses" suggests her unique beauty and her isolation, because there are no blue roses in nature.
Although she has the fewest lines in the ply she is the axis around the plot turns.
Tom Wingfield is an aspiring poet who hates his real job. Tom loves his mother and sister, but he feels trapped at home. They are dependent on his wages and he feels as if he cannot have a life of his own. Although he does not behave kindly or lovingly toward Laura during the play, he demonstrated his strong feelings for her in the end.
Jim O'Connor is the long-awaited gentleman caller who is outgoing and enthusiastic. By kissing Laura he raises her hopes. Tom describes him as a person who lives in reality.
The theme of memory is very important in this play. The style and the content of the play are shaped and inspired by memory. To Williams' mind, a play drawn from memory is a product of real experience and so it need not be realistic in order to seem real.
For Amanda, memory is a kind of escape. For Tom it is the thing he cannot escape from. To them, memory is a force that prevents them from finding happiness in the present or in the future.
For the members of the Wingfield family it is difficult to accept the reality and each of them lives in their private world of illusion.
Escape is also highly essential for the play. Williams describes the apartment like a place not unlike a jail cell. A place one wants to escape from.
The fire escape, where Tom loves to stand is the boarder between the illusion inside the apartment and the reality. For Tom it is the way into his life, for Laura it is the way into her world and Amanda sees the fire escape as an opportunity for gentleman callers to enter their lives.
Mr. Wingfield is referred to often throughout the story and he is a symbol of escape. Tom escapes reality in many different ways, for example by going to the movies or his drinking. In the end, he leaves, but it is not the escape that he longed for because he feels guilty. Maybe the author wanted to send a message that running away is not the way to solve life's problems. The only escape in life is solving your problems, not avoiding them. Tom's escape doesn't lead him to freedom.
The glass menagerie represents Laura's own private world where she can hide and where she is safe. Like the figurines, she is delicate, fanciful and somehow old-fashioned.
One of the most unique stylistic features of the play are the use of words and images on a screen, where things relevant to the action are projected. Sometimes it refers to something from a character's past or fantasy.
Music is also often used to emphasise themes. Sometimes it is coming from outside the play, and though the audience can hear it, the characters cannot. There is a special piece called "the Glass Menagerie" which is played when Laura acts on the stage.
I liked the play very much and I can really recommend it.
This was my book report and if you have some question, you can ask me now.