memory dream and family relations general introduction scenes i ii l.
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Memory, Dream and Family Relations General Introduction & Scenes I-II. The Glass Menagerie. Outline. Tennessee Williams, Historical and Social Background Starting Questions Act I . The Glass Menagerie : Themes, .

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Tennessee Williams, Historical and Social Background

Starting Questions

Act I

the glass menagerie themes
The Glass Menagerie: Themes,
  • Plot: Tom recollects the family past, when the mother tries to get a gentleman caller to visit his sister, Laura (crippled and withdrawn). (See p. 1440)
  • A Memory Play, uses a lot of screen devices to suggest the working of Tom’s mind.
  • Issues:
    • Self-Deception, Illusion, Dream vs. Reality;
    • Agricultural and Aristocratic Old South vs. Industrial Society
    • Women’s Position in a Modern City
the glass menagerie background and setting
The Glass Menagerie: Background and Setting
  • Setting:
    • Present: a cramped apartment in a lower-class part of St. Louis in the year 1937, the time of Depression.
    • Amanda’s Past: The Old South Plantation (where belles are courted by beaux and served by “darkies”)
tennessee williams 1914 83
Tennessee Williams(1914-83)
  • His Plays: Expressionist in style (e.g. A Streetcar Named Desire ) –use of symbols and symbolic setting
  • Common Themes: the degradation of the Old South, modern life in an industrial city, sympathy for and criticism of the Southern tradition.
  • Similarities between GM and Williams’s Life
    • Williams' father, a traveling salesman, was transferred to the home office in St. Louis
    • Williams also work in a shoe factory before going to a university and starting to write
    • Mother -- lives in the old glory of Southern belle
    • Sister – suffers from mental problems
  • Differences:
    • The father does not leave them behind.
    • William takes care of his sister off and on;
    • There are two brothers; the family situation is not that bad.
general questions
General Questions
  • “Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.” ~ e. e. cummings – Whose small hands? Of women? Of fate?
  • Women’s Positions: The long traditions
    • Courting the ladies
    • “Angel in the House” vs. Men on the road

Are no longer prevalent today. How are we to understand and sympathize with women who are constrained in such traditions?

  • To what extent is our dream a motivating force, but not a means of self-deception or constraint on the others?
scenes 1 2 the winfield family

Scenes 1-2: The Winfield Family

Dream and Frustration in St. Louis

characters contrast between amanda and laura jim and the rest
Characters: Contrast between Amanda and Laura, Jim and the Rest
  • The List of Characters = the playwright’s interpretation of the characters. Are there any common points among (some of) them?
  • How are Amanda and Laura set in contrast with each other?
amanda lives actively in the past
Amanda –Lives “Actively” in the Past
  • Description of Amanda filled with paradoxes (e.g. not paranoiac, but in paranoia)
  • Her Manners & Gestures:
    • the way she is dressed (scene 2 p. 1445),
    • the elegiac voice, or martyr look she takes on (1445)
    • Talkative (her talk about food -- 'Honey, don't push with your fingers ... And chew -- chew!'”)
    • Active: “No, sister, no, sister - you be the lady this time and I'll be the darky” (1443)
amanda vs laura

Lives in the past of being pursued by a lot of gentlemen (e.g. pp. 1443-44)

 Laura 1) clerical work; 2) her insistence that there must be a flood of gentlemen callers to visit her daughter


Delicate and fragile (e.g Scene 2.

Does not share the mother’s dream of having “gentlemen callers” (Not expecting gentlemen callers.)

 Both Live in their “glass menageries.”

 sympathetic to both her mother and her brother. (pp. 1443, 44, cried for her brother.)

Amanda vs. Laura
laura s first fiasco
Laura’s “first fiasco”
  • What do you think about Laura’s responses? And the mother’s response?
  • Would you chicken out like Laura? (p. 1446)
  • Would you escape to the zoo, the movies, jewel-box with tropical flowers, roaming around all day? (1446-1447)
  • Do you agree that, without a business career, women can only be dependent, as a spinster or as a wife? (1447) And that a spinster has to “[eat] the crust of humility all their life”?
amanda vs husband and tom

Her views that the husband has charms and that her daughter should get married


Her criticism of Tom and insistence on Southern aristocratic manners

Father: He is gallantly smiling, ineluctably smiling, as if to say 'I will be smiling forever'. (1441)

Falls in loe with long distances; skip the light fantastic [dance] out of town (ref)

Tom: A self-conscious artist dressed as “a merchant sailor”

Both fall in love with distance.

Cannot stand his mother, but tolerates her. (1443)

Amanda vs. Husband and Tom
symbolic setting
Symbolic Setting
  • Setting– suggests the difficulties of the general situation.
    • A “this largest and fundamentally enslaved section of American society to avoid fluidity and differentiation and to exist and function as one interfused mass of automatism.” (1440) an impoverished and stagnant area in an industrialized modern city.
    • Tom “In Spain there was Guernica [Nazi German bombing]. Here there were disturbances of labour, sometimes pretty violent, in otherwise peaceful cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Saint Louis. . . “(1441)
  • the fire-escape & dark alleys – family as a constraint, but no way out.
memory play
Memory Play
  • Memory – How does the play present the stage as if it were part of Tom’s memory? (e.g. the use of lighting, the transparent wall, etc.)
  • signs of Tom’s being an author;
    • e.g. where he directs the music and lighting p. 1443:“Tom motions for music and a spot of light on AMANDA. Her eyes lift, her face glows, her voice becomes rich and elegiac,”
    • on p. 1448, “Tom motions to the fiddle in the wings.”
  • Screen device: stage directions giving “images” and “legends”
    • e.g. "Où sont les Neiges d'antan" (scene i)
    • "Blue Roses" (胸膜炎 scene ii--1447), and “Image: Screen" (1448)).
  • “Ou sont les neiges . . .” is the title of a poem in praise of beautiful women by the fifteenth-century French poet François Villon (the poem)
Williams’ own explanation is that "The legend or image upon the screen will strengthen the effect of what is merely allusion [sic] in the writing and allow the primary point to be made more simply and lightly than if the entire responsibility were on the spoken lines" (New Directions edition, 1949, p. x). Do you agree? Later in the Acting version he dropped this device, depending more on the actors’ performances and the audience’s imagination. Which choice do you like better?