Tennessee William’s classic play, The Glass Menagerie, is a must read for anyone who is a fan of American literature, of drama, or of timeless pieces of art. Even though I’m not big into theatre (more specifically musicals), I still consider The Glass Menagerie to be one of my all time favorite novels. This is a book that has a lot of rereading ability due to it’s short length and relatable theme. I have never actually seen the real play or the movie, so the following review is strictly over my thoughts, opinions, and my analysis of the book and the people that inhabit it’s pages.
In the play’s introduction Tom Wingfield, the narrator, explains that the following play is memory, and that it is dimly lit, filled with sentiment, and is therefore non-realistic. This is interesting whenever you create the connection that Tom Wingfield is Tennessee Williams himself (Who’s birthname was Thomas). Tom feels stuck in life and desires adventure and a career as a poet which often sends him to the movies where he drinks to get away from his family who is holding him back. The two other central characters in The Glass Menagerie, Amanda and Laura Wingfield, represent Williams’ real life mother and sister, whom he based the characters off of. Amanda Wingfield is an older southern belle who always brags about her former beauty and how many gentlemen callers she had lined up to marry her in her youth, which is ironic because the man she chose decided to abandon his family, much like Tennessee’s father did to his mother. Laura Wingfield is Tom’s sister and she has low self esteem due to a physical deformity where one leg is shorter than the other leg. Laura lives in isolation and wants life to be easy and she dissolves into a fantasy world much like the rest of her family. Laura represents Tennessee’s real sister Rose, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia early in her life. Due to all the characters in this play being so heavily based on Tennessee and his family, what Tom, the narrator, means when he says this play is a “memory play” is that the play is actually based on semi autobiographical events of Tennessee William’s life. That is all fine and well, but what are my thoughts on the actual play itself?
The plot of The Glass Menagerie is unique compared to other novels, which may be a result of this play being written for the stage and being written based on events and people from Tennessee’s life. The characters are so lifelike and real in this play, you can feel and hear everything that is being said. You can’t help but sympathize with all three main characters of this play. We understand Tom, who is the primary source of income for his family by misfortune, because he feels he is the only one contributing but he doesn’t want to contribute at all, he desires to follow his dreams. We can sympathize with Amanda, for simply wanting the best out of her children’s lives which is shown through her constant pushing of gentlemen callers onto her daughter Laura, who dropped out of business school. Amanda only wants her daughter to have a future. We can also sympathize with Laura through her preference of solitude and simplicity. Laura wants life to be a cakewalk, but due to a deformity she couldn’t control, life seems more difficult than ever as she transitions into full adulthood. The ability to sympathize with all three main characters is what Tom means when he says the play is sentimental and therefore may be unrealistic, Tom loves his family despite the decision he makes at the end of the novel. The only member of the family we can not sympathize with is Tom’s father, a drunk who left Amanda and her children alone with no warning, he is simply absent from the play and nothing positive is spoken about him. These aspects are what makes Tennessee Williams such a brilliant writer and an original story teller.
Like I said, I highly recommend this book for reading, it’s short but it will stick with you and maybe even persuade you to read some other brilliant plays by Tennessee Williams. The man was one of a kind in his ability to tell a story and execute an ending at the right moment that always leaves you on the edge of your seat, dying to read more. There is not anything negative about the novel that I can point out, it’s just that good and it holds an influential grip on play writing and screenwriting for a reason.
Publication Date: 1944
Genres: Play, Fiction, Drama, Southern Gothic.
Word Count: Roughly 32,000 words in the most common published edition of the novel pictured above.
i. e. 9.6/10