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The Glass Menagerie – Williams Autobiography Essay, Research Paper

Tennessee Williams entire life was about escape and so it is not surprising that he should choose to emphasize this theme in many of his major works. The Glass Menagerie is an autobiographical story about his life and the struggles that he faced with his family and himself. The play mirrors many aspects of his young life, and emphasizes the need for escape in order to survive. The three main characters who illustrate this need most clearly are Amanda, Laura and Tom.

Amanda Wingfield vividly depicts the likeness of Williams real mother, Edwina Dakin Williams. She was an overbearing, manipulative hysterical woman who thrived on the memories of a better time, much like Amanda Wingfield does. Edwina was the puritanical daughter of an Episcopal rector and grew up in a comfortable, luxurious, wealthy southern lifestyle. Her removal from this lifestyle had devastating effects on her and the upbringing of her children. They fell into poverty and as a result of their financial strain and recent move to St Louis, she became constantly ill. After ongoing issues with abuse and neglect from her husband, Edwina turned her back on him and placed her entire focus on her children. She was very overprotective of them because she saw them as very fragile. Williams seemed weak and different, and at age 5, he contracted diphtheria leaving him in an even worsened condition. His sister Rose, represented by the character Laura Wingfield, was also very sensitive and suffered from schizophrenia. In the play, Amanda sees similar weaknesses in her children and responds in a similar way. She utilizes an almost hysterical mechanism of denial in order to cope. Her method of escape is to fall deep into the past and reminisce about her glory days. She surrounds her reality with images of the days when she saw herself as the southern belle, and whenever she urges her family forward; she inevitably retreats to a time when her chief problem was to choose a beau over all the other beaus. In real life some of Edwina s fondest moments were spent with a young man named Paul Jameson, and although she was married and never became romantically involved with him, it is clearly suggested the he represents Amanda s gentleman caller… The one who got away. And I could have been Mrs. Duncan J. Fitzhugh, mind you! But I picked your father! (line 33, pg. 1295). In order to relive some of these fond memories again, Amanda sets up a caller for Laura as well. She is so wrapped up in the delusions of her girlhood conquests that she is unaware of the realities of the world around her. She does not see that Laura s life is not her own. However, when she discovers that her plan has failed, that Jim is actually engaged, she forgets all her silly lies and sees the humiliating position that she has put herself and Laura in. That s right, now that you ve had us make such fools of ourselves… All for what? To entertain some other girls fianc ! (line 320, pg. 1337). Finally she realizes that she is alone and sees the reality of the situation for what it is. She is, …a mother deserted, [with] an unmarried sister who s crippled and has no job! (line 320, pg. 1337).

Rose Williams was Williams most beloved sister and the character Laura Wingfield is modeled very closely after her. Their relationship growing up was very close and they had an almost psycho-spiritual kinship with each other. Rose had always been a very quiet, perceptive, delicate girl but her transition to St. Louis, where she was removed from security and thrown into a world of alarm and despair, caused her hideous inner turmoil and she was unable to cope with life. Laura Wingfield is unable to cope as well and instead she creates an elaborate world in which she can safely withdraw. Laura uses her victrola and collection of delicate glass ornaments to help maintain her fantasy world. Frightened of interacting with people and the outside world, she looks to her collection of glass animals as a place of secure acceptance. She self-induces sickness in her typing class and even as the gentleman caller awaits her in the living room in order to avoid or postpone reality. Laura s character is very significant to Williams and therefore is surrounded in symbolism to enhance this importance. The unicorn symbolizes Laura, who is a delicate translucent being, out of place in the contemporary world. The name Blue Roses also serves to show that she is very delicate and unique. This is Williams subtle tribute to his cherished sister Rose. Later in life, Rose becomes very ill, completely debilitated by her own anxiety and fears. She is diagnosed as a schizophrenic and her mother, who is by now at her wits end with the constant struggles that she is repeatedly faced with, allows a pre-frontal lobotomy to be preformed on Rose. She is sent to a sanitarium where she remains for most of her life. The glass menagerie illustrates her difference and her delicacy, as the other symbols do, but it is also a collection of rarities, and so it could be inferred that in fact the menagerie is a morbidly ironic representation of the sanitarium where Rose is ultimately force to live. A collection of lost souls, equally fragile and equally estranged from reality.

Tennessee William s real name was Thomas Lanier Williams, Tom for short. The character Tom is not meant to merely represent him… It is him. Growing up Williams was faced with many struggles and hardships. After moving to St. Louis he became ill, and the kids at school taunted him and called him Sissy because he was so weak and could not play baseball. At home, his own father would call him Miss Nancy . After getting poor grades at high school, his father pulled him out and suggested that he work with him, down at International Shoe. Williams called these bleak years, Living Death . To vent his frustrations with his unfulfilling work, Williams retreated to his room after work each night to write. Similarly, Tom chooses to escape the dreary world he lives in by writing poetry, and stealing away to the movies where he can live vicariously through the lives and adventures of other people. He dreams about joining the Merchant Marines and one-day becoming a published writer. Tom relies on self-denial to justify his concerns and feelings of insecurity. I m like my father. The bastard son of a bastard! (line 128, pg. 1321). By making himself believe that he is a righteous male, he convinces himself that his own needs supersede those of his family. Tom> I paid my dues [to the Union of Merchant Seamen] this month, instead of the light bill. (line 124, pg. 1321) Jim > How about your mother? (line 127, pg. 1321) Tom> Mother is not yet acquainted with my plans! (line 130, pg. 1321). Claiming to be an artist of emotions, he projects to the audience a facade of control and masculinity, yet his biggest dreams flash before his eyes on a screen in a darkened room, and in that little apartment, he faces only dimness. Eventually, Tom leaves, but his going away is not the escape that he craved for so long. The guilt of abandoning his sister Laura is overwhelming and he realizes too late that leaving is not an escape at all but really just a path towards an even more powerful desperation. The shoe factory job, the poetry writing, the cramped living quarters and the very close relationship with his sister, are all echoes of William s own experiences. These autobiographical touches perhaps explain his own identification with the character s need for escape.

Williams uses the theme of escape throughout The Glass Menagerie to demonstrate the hopelessness and futility of each character s dreams, while emphasizing the importance of creating an environment where each can dwell safely, and in doing so, survive against adversity. Amanda, Laura and Tom use various escape mechanisms to avoid reality and their actions parallel those of Williams real mother and sister, Edwina and Rose, as well as his own.

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