How does Tennessee Williams portray the three main characters in the first three scenes of The Glass Menagerie? In this essay will be looking at the way Tennessee Williams demonstrates the main character Amanda, Tom and Laura over the introductory scenes. I will look at the language he uses in the stage directions and I will also look at the characters language and movements. In addition, looking deeper into the characters and really understanding them will be important to gain a thorough perceptive of each person.
Originally I glanced at the production notes and came across the ‘The Characters’ page that provides initial ideas and thoughts towards the individuals. This short page informs us about Amanda and gives us the impression that she lives in the past and is a small, confused lady. It tells us “there is much to admire about Amanda, and as much to love and pity as there is to laugh at’. This tells us that there is a lot of emotion built around her and we also grasp that she can be quite foolish and cruel.
Laura is next to be described and this is the first time we are advised that Laura is ‘crippled’. We get an understanding of Laura’s characteristics from this brief collection of lines. She is portrayed to be very different from her mother, as she does live in reality. “Laura’s separation increases till she is like a piece of her own glass collection, too exquisitely fragile to move from the shelf” this gives evidence which makes us believe the shelf is symbolism for home.
The overall idea giving us the impression she is too weak of a person to leave home and her mother too.
Tom is the final one of the main three characters; this small overview empressing his characteristics reveals to us that he is not only Amanda’s son but also the narrator of the play. We come under the impression that Tom is a poet but there is some confusion as to why he is working in a warehouse. There is not a great deal here about Tom apart from a brief relation to the idea of escaping “but to escape he has to act without pity”. I will now continue by answering the question as thoroughly as possible. In order to give a full analysis I will approach this essay scene by scene making references to all the key parts.
This scene starts with a large passage of narrator’s comments (and an insight into Tom’s past). The first lines of actual speech from Tom are key to defining his character. “Here I am with tricks in my pocket I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusions that have the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” These lines seem to be very poetic. We know he wishes to pursue being a poet however he is living in the times of the great depression so he is forced to except work no matter what it consists of.
In Tom’s speech Tennessee Williams tells us a great deal. Tom’s comments about his past informs the reader of a “fifth character in the play who doesn’t appear except in this larger-than-life-size photograph”. This character that he speaks of is his father which lets us know that his father has deserted the family and ‘escaped’. The life-size picture also gives us the impression that Amanda is unable to let go of her ex-husband which strengthens our thoughts that she struggles to let go of the past. In the picture their father is also smiling, this plays on the idea that he will be smiling forever because he was able to escape.
Although what Tom is saying could be true, it is from his memory so there for it will be distorted the more it is told. At times we do see some signs of realism however Williams is saying “the scene is not real because it is in memory”.
At dinner, Amanda seems to be taking particular interest in the way that Tom is eating his food and after harassing for a length of time Tom could take no more and decided to leave the table for a smoke. This tells us a number of things about Amanda. It informs us firstly of what sort of lady Amanda is – a controlling, overbearing mother who is trying to control her son and make him behave in her way. Even when Tom does go for a cigarette Amanda tries to give him more of her advice. “You smoke too much” is another example of Amanda still trying to treat him like a child and also I got the impression she may be trying to do this in order to make him live his life as she would want, instead of in his own way.
“Resume to your seat, little sister – I want you to stay fresh and pretty – for gentleman callers!” which not only shows us that Amanda is adamant on Laura finding herself a man but she also calls her “sister” which gives us the impression Amanda sees herself as an equal instead of a mother which may explain why she doesn’t care about exploiting her daughter to men so easily. Parents usually try and protect their children.
In the following few lines Amanda prepares to tell as story to the family, stories are generally from the past. Tom seems reluctant to let her continue and shows impatience. Again Laura seems to be the calmest of the three and notifies Tom to let her continue “Yes. But let her tell it….She loves to tell it”. Amanda then continues with the story, which seems to be unbelievable and she seems to be in her own little world. “One Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain – your mother received – seventeen! -gentleman callers! Why, sometimes there weren’t chairs enough to accommodate them all” which seems to be a bit over the top. Also it seems like she is trying to impress her daughter, but this doesn’t seem to be what Laura is interested in. Also this doesn’t really seem like the correct way to introduce ones daughter into the world of men either.
In this scene notice Amanda dominating conversations, talking about the past and attention seeking. Another time that we see examples of all of these is when the gentleman callers do arrive. Amanda also concentrates on showing off her own qualities even if they are non-existent and she demonstrates this as she continues with the gentleman caller’s story.
“They knew how to entertain their gentleman callers. It wasn’t enough for a girl to be possessed of a pretty face and a graceful figure – although I wasn’t slighted in either respect. She also needed to have a nimble wit and a tongue to meet all occasions”
During the story it seemed as if Tom and Laura already had their questions lined up. The questions were short and snappy as if the pair had perfected them, like a formula, in order to get the story completed in minimum time. Throughout the tale Amanda’s language suggests another time or place primarily the past. During Amanda’s story we pick up the fact that all of her previous men had died in horrific circumstances such a drowning or being shot. This is ironic as usually all great love stories end in tragedy. The tragedy in this case is that out of all the men, she picked their father, but he left her.
“[TOM throws down his paper and jumps up with a groan.]” I think this act by Tom is a way of him showing how he disapproves of his sister being exposed to these gentleman callers by his mother, when mothers should be protecting their children. I additionally see this as a way of him presenting his annoyance towards his mother’s obsession with men.
Amanda asks Laura how many men she expects but Laura concentrates on reality and says “I don’t believe we’re going to receive any, Mother”. This comment shocks Amanda ad Laura uses ridiculous excuses and Amanda tries to laugh of the comments. She is obsessed with her daughter finding a man, but whenever the subject of men pops up it is clear Laura is uncomfortable and nervous. Laura then says exactly what she knows “Mother’s afraid I’m going to be an old maid” this is another technique by Tennessee Williams of portraying Laura’s characteristics. This shows Laura living in reality once more, but also reinforces our idea that she knows exactly what mother doesn’t want of her – to be am old maid.
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