By Carson Sawyer
Families fight. This horrifying paradox has persisted throughout the ages, telling of a truth no one wants to hear. However, when you find yourself in the middle of your own family’s brawl or in another family’s inner turmoil, this truth is unable to be repressed. In these moments, it’s hard to remember the Dom Toretto family meme that recognizes the importance and strength of family. It’s hard to remember the love that these individuals clearly shared for each other just moments ago. In The Glass Menagerie, these battles of the give and take of domestic life are fought. There are no swords nor sorcery to spice up the story with some action and give a reprieve from the presented facsimile of reality. Instead, the famous American playwright known as Tennesee Williams focuses simply on the family, creating a raw and heartbreaking masterpiece.
The story starts with Tom Wingfield, the narrator of the play. However, he isn’t just any narrator; he is also a character. Throughout, he is the struggling son forced to bear the responsibility of supporting the family. Often fighting with him, we have Amanda Wingfield: An energetic mother who is blissfully unaware of her retrospective tendencies. Of course, these are obvious to her children, but like her daughter, Laura, says to her brother, “Let her tell [her stories].” Unlike her mother and brother, Laura is the one character that is not stuck in the past or dreaming of more. Instead, she shows off a rather modest being by playing with glass animals. This state of living may not seem like much, but Laura is perfectly content. When she isn’t playing with her glass ornaments, Laura often braves her mother’s overbearing tendencies, but she gets easily rattled when it comes to matters of love and anything having to do with people outside of the Wingfield family. Speaking of which, there is one more member of the family: the father. However, Mr. Wingfield’s only presence is in the form of his picture in the hallway. The real one is long gone.
This family crushed under the American Dream is exactly what starts the story. The Wingfields live in an apartment that is only reachable by fire escape, and although there are many fires and an escape on the mind, Tom and Amanda still connect to this dream. Tom dreams of becoming a writer, and Amanda dreams of her children–especially Laura–achieving some success in life. At one point, Amanda even shouts, “Success and happiness for my precious children! I wish for that whenever there’s a moon, and when there isn’t a moon, I wish for it, too.” Unfortunately, Tom and Amanda’s conflicting dreams only aggravate the fighting between them, and the more they fight, the more Laura is affected. Laura is an innocent bystander in their conflicts, and she is often left in vulnerable states. After one fight, Laura is so devastated that she “clings weakly to the mantel with her face averted.” However, this chilling picture of an innocent girl having to face the brutalities of the household hadn’t come out of thin air. In fact, most of the characters hadn’t. Instead, they came out of Tennessee Williams’s memories. Like one of the opening lines states, “I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” That truth is none other than the truth of Williams and his family, disguised in the form of the Wingfield characters.
Tennessee Williams grew up in a modest apartment in St. Louis for part of his childhood. Back then, he was known as Tom—the same as the narrator of the play. With a closer look, Tennessee’s sister, Rose, is also a major influence on the story, as she is the model for Laura. Tom loved Rose, and their relationship was quite close; however, it was troubled. According to Clay Morton in “Not Like All the Other Horses: Neurodiversity and the Case of Rose Williams,” Rose demonstrated erratic behavior, showed symptoms of paranoia, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her violent and chilling outbursts included screaming, accusing her father of high crime, and shouting out death threats. Eventually, she was moved from a sanitarium to a mental hospital, but her condition worsened. Edwina Williams, the mother, finally decided to have a lobotomy performed on Rose, and her husband had no objection due to his daughter’s earlier accusations and threats. Rose Williams would never be the same again.
However, in the story, Rose Williams’ earlier form is shown through the fragile Laura Wingfield, a terribly shy girl who is crippled in one leg. This precious character allows Tennessee Williams to go back into his past, and Tom shows us fragments of his reality–essentially, taking us into the past back with him–as he sorts through his troubled and unresolved feelings that he has for his beloved sister. And then, he must once again go through the crushing decision of whether to stay with Laura by tossing his dreams aside or to abandon her to pursue his own life–all in order to finally achieve closure.
Despite Tom Wingfield’s stated intentions, there is no pleasant disguise to mask the truth of this family’s pain. However, the Wingfield family’s love inadvertently beckons us to remember our love for our own families, and that is the beauty that lies in this play.