Memory And Reality In Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie

4637 words - 19 pages

Memory and Reality in Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie

'Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is
not realistic'. To what degree is the play memory and to what degree
is it realistic?

"When a play employs unconventional techniques, it is not trying to
escape its responsibility of dealing with reality, or interpreting
experience, but is actually attempting to find a closer approach, a
more penetrating and vivid expression of things as they are"
(Tennessee Williams). The Glass Menagerie is one of Tennessee
Williams' most eminent works and no doubt qualifies as a classic of
the modern theater. Often referred to as a 'memory play', both the
style and content of The Glass Menagerie are shaped and inspired by
the memory of the play's narrator, Tom Wingfield. According to Tom,
due to the play's origins in memory, 'it is sentimental, it is not
realistic' and may be presented with unusual freedom from convention.
Consequently, the play is subject to numerous peculiarities, such as
dim lighting, frequent use of music and overblown, almost
'too-perfect' symbolism. Most fictional works are products of the
imagination, which attempt to convince the audience of its realism,
through realistic conflict, drama and setting. The Glass Menagerie,
however, although drawn from memory, is not 'attempting to escape its
responsibility of dealing with reality', but rather, is drawn from
real experience and does not need to be constrained by the conventions
of realism to convey truth. The Glass Menagerie is essentially reality
presented in an unrealistic way, through memory. In order to evaluate
the degree to which the play is realistic rather than memory or vice
versa, and how the two interact in the ultimate aim of 'interpreting
experience', we must examine the various realistic aspects of the
play, such as the characters, the setting, and the situation presented
to us, as well as the memory aspects, such as the lighting, music and
symbolism.

Despite being a 'memory play', the basis and content of The Glass
Menagerie is truth and reality as Williams' attempts to 'find a closer
approach, a more penetrating and vivid expression of things as they
are'. This basis of reality is evident in the play's setting, as The
Glass Menagerie is presented with great fidelity to the social and
historical realities of the time. This is demonstrated from the play's
beginning as Tom 'reverses time to that quaint period, the thirties',
and juxtaposes the turmoil in Spain to the uneasy peace in America, in
an allusion to the forthcoming war (World War II). There are other
allusions to the war throughout the play, such as in Tom's closing
speech as he claims the 'world is lit by lightning'. It is clear that
the historical realities of the time are effectively conveyed in the
play,...

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