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The Glass Menagerie
Transcript of The Glass Menagerie
Born Thomas Lainer Williams in Columbus, Mississippi in 1911
Lived with his grandparents, sister (Rose) and mother while his father travelled for a telephone company
Father took a job and moved the family to St. Louis, away from the grandparents
The change was very traumatic, especially for Rose, who began to slip into a make-believe world.
In 1937, Williams’ parents were convinced to allow doctors to perform an operation on Rose’s brain to correct her erratic behavior. After the surgery, she was forever a childlike woman.
Williams began writing in high school.
He won his first prize at sixteen years old for an essay entitled “Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?”
He went to the University of Missouri as a journalism major, though his passion was writing poetry.
Because his grades were poor, his father pulled him out of school and sent him to work at a shoe company.
Williams was miserable at the shoe company, quit and went to stay with his grandparents, now living in Tennessee.
It was during this four months of recuperation, that Tom changed his name to Tennessee and decided to become a writer.
The Glass Menagerie
March 26, 1911 – February 25, 1983
He began to travel with a friend around the country and ended up in California and then New Orleans.
He entered a playwriting contest, won and moved to New York. Shortly thereafter, he began writing screenplays for MGM Studios, though he despised it.
He submitted a screenplay called “The Gentleman Caller.” It was rejected by MGM, yet became one of the most beloved American plays, “The Glass Menagerie.”
Williams’ disliked the fame and attention. He fled to Mexico and continued to write.
In Mexico, he wrote his next most famous American Drama, “A Streetcar Named Desire” which won him the Pulitzer Prize and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award.
Williams continued to turn out plays for the next thirty years.
In later years, he had various health problems, including difficulties with alcohol and addiction.
On the night of February 24, 1983, he choked on a plastic bottle cap and died, alone, at the Hotel Elysee in New York City.
Set between World War I and World War II in St. Louis, Missouri.
After World War I came the “Roaring Twenties,” a decade of unrestrained behavior on the part of both people and government, which brought about the stock market crash of 1929 and sent the nation into The Great Depression.
Formerly well-to-do families found themselves poor, and the poor seemed to get even poorer.
The story of the Wingfield family is a close-up look at how people dealt in various ways with their impoverished circumstances.
Being a "memory play," The Glass Menagerie can be presented with unusual freedom of convention. Because of its considerable delicate or tenuous material, atmospheric touches and subtleties of direction play a particularly important part. Expressionism and all other unconventional techniques in drama have only one valid aim, and that is a closer approach to truth. When a play employs unconventional techniques, it is not, or certainly shouldn't be, trying to escape its responsibility of dealing with reality, or interpreting experience, but is actually or should be attempting to find a closer approach, a more penetrating and vivid expression of things as they are. The straight realistic play with its genuine Frigidaire and authentic ice-cubes, its characters who speak exactly as its audience speaks, corresponds to the academic landscape and has the same virtue of a photographic likeness. Everyone should know nowadays the unimportance of the photographic in art: that truth, life, or reality is an organic thing which the poetic imagination can represent or suggest, in essence,
only through transformation,
through changing into other forms than those which were merely present in appearance.
Tennessee Williams, preface to The Glass Menagerie
the audience experiences the past as remembered by a narrator, complete with music from the period remembered, and images representing the characters' thoughts, fears, emotions, and recollections projected on a screen in the background.
In a memory play
The plastic theatre
To express his universal truths Williams created what he termed plastic theater, a distinctive new style of drama. He insisted that setting, properties, music, sound, and visual effects—all the elements of staging—must combine to reflect and enhance the action, theme, characters, and language.
Alice Griffin: 1995
Another extra-literary accent in this play is provided by the use of music. A single recurring tune, “The Glass Menagerie,” is used to give emotional emphasis to suitable passages. This tune is like circus music, not when you are on the grounds or in the immediate vicinity of the parade, but when you are at some distance and very likely thinking of something else. It seems under those circumstances to continue almost interminably and it weaves in and out of your preoccupied consciousness; then it is the lightest, most delicate music in the world and perhaps the saddest. It expresses the surface vivacity of life with the underlying strain of immutable and inexpressible sorrow. When you look at a piece of delicately spun glass you think of two things: how beautiful it is and how easily it can be broken. Both of those ideas should be woven into the recurring tune, which dips in and out of the play as if it were carried on a wind that changes. It serves as a thread of connection and allusion between the narrator with his separate point in time and space and the subject of his story. Between each episode it returns as reference to the emotion, nostalgia, which is the first condition of the play. It is primarily Laura’s music and therefore comes out most clearly when the play focuses upon her and the lovely fragility of glass which is her image.
Tennessee Williams from a preface to The Glass Menagerie
The lighting in the play is not realistic. In keeping with the atmosphere of memory, the stage is dim. Shafts of light are focused on selected areas or actors, sometimes in contradistinction to what is the apparent center. For instance, in the quarrel scene between Tom and Amanda, in which Laura has no active part, the clearest pool of light is on her figure. This is also true of the supper scene, when her silent figure on the sofa should remain the visual center. The light upon Laura should be distinct from the others, having a peculiar pristine clarity such as light used in early religious portraits of female saints or madonnas. A certain correspondence to light in religious paintings, such as El Greco’s, where the figures are radiant in atmosphere that is relatively dusky, could be effectively used throughout the play. (It will also permit a more effective use of the screen.) A free, imaginative use of light can be of enormous value in giving a mobile, plastic quality to plays of a more or less static nature.
Tennessee Williams from a preface to The Glass Menagerie
the mother. A little woman of great but confused vitality clinging frantically to another time and place. Her characterization must be carefully created, not copied from type. She is not paranoiac, but her life is paranoia. There is much to admire in Amanda, and as much to love and pity as there is to laugh at. Certainly she has endurance and a kind of heroism, and though her foolishness makes her unwittingly cruel at times, there is tenderness in her slight person.
Amanda, having failed to establish contact with reality, continues to live vitally in her illusions, but Laura’s situation is even graver. A childhood illness has left her crippled, one leg slightly shorter than the other, and held in a brace. . . . Stemming from this, Laura’s separation increases till she is like a piece of her own glass collection, to exquisitely fragile to move from the shelf.
The narrator of the play. A poet with a job in a warehouse. His nature is not remorseless, but to escape from a trap he has to act without pity.
The gentleman caller. A nice, ordinary, young man.
Reality vs. Memory
Tradition vs. Progression
Conformity vs. Individualism
Following your dreams
Tom - Laura - Amanda