Friday, December 16, 2011

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
New Directions (5th edition)
ISBN: 978-0811214049
Published June 17, 1999
Trade Paperback, 128 pages

If this hadn't been the selection for our book club I don't think I would have taken the opportunity to read it. But I'm glad I did. It's the first time I read a play considered a classic other than Shakespeare, of course. This play was first performed in Chicago on December 26, 1944. It consists only of four characters and delivers a powerful look at the desperate situation of Americans in the 1940s. The setting takes place in an apartment building in a seedy neighbourhood.

Amanda is a former Southern belle whose husband walked out on their family years ago. She has a son named Tom who works in a warehouse but hates it (he writes poetry and secretly dreams of becoming a published writer) and a daughter named Laura who is considered “crippled”, although it wasn't clear what exactly was wrong with her legs—she walked with a limp? Laura is also terribly shy and dropped out of business school after only a few days without telling her mother. She escapes into her own world, a collection of glass ornaments, which for me represented the fragility of their family and situation.

Amanda keenly wants her children to have success and happiness but she doesn't know how to help them. She is dominating and dramatic, a force in their lives with words that could alternately sting and soothe. She doesn't understand her son's unhappiness (he goes out every night, comes home late and it's clear he escapes in alcohol) and wants to find a suitor for her daughter. Finally, Jim, Tom's co-worker is invited to dinner and his brief visit puts into motion changes for everyone. The reality of their situation becomes more stark by the end of this short play.

If one reads this story as simply a story it may seem to the 21st century reader quite tame compared to the highly dysfunctional lives and situations of many modern families today. However, Tennessee Williams writes honestly (based on his own upbringing) at a time when such issues may not have been addressed openly or understood. There are many layers to this story that made it groundbreaking in the 40s and probably hated to be analyzed by high school students in English classes throughout North America. Who blames them; I wouldn't have liked reading this in my teens, either.

Yes, it is a sad tale because the ending doesn't promise anything. The characters embody the fears, frustrations and insecurities of the 20th century. There are issues of abandonment, hopelessness, and social restrictions, and of course many other things that literature buffs can enjoy scrutinizing. For me, I enjoyed the way Williams chose to portray a family's disintegration with a few scenes and some powerful dialogue.

Note: This book is rated C = clean read.
I will count this book toward the following challenges: Support Your Local Library Challenge

Reviewed by Laura

Disclosure: I borrowed this book from the library and was not told how to rate or review this product.

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  1. I became acquainted with this book, only it was done as a play at my high school during a lyceum. I've not forgotten it all these years. It was impressive. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. I actually read this in high school and had to write a paper on it. All I really remember about it is that I didn't get a good grade on the paper.


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