Monday, March 10, 2014

Throwback: Glass Menagerie

Dramatic plays reveal themselves to be illustrative examples of how humans interact, and express themselves through life.  They are plays that provide understanding and meaning behind the actions of humans and their reasoning.  It is plays, such as “The Glass Menagerie,” by Tennessee Williams that provides a powerful view into the human condition.  The play employees many straight-forward lessons on life and existence through the behaviors of the characters; however, it is through William’s strategic use of symbolism and imagination that those actions blossom the true meaning behind what it means to fail an escape from reality.

One of William’s employed strategies is within his lead character.  Tom Wingfield’s memoirs assist in the driving of the story.  It is a memory torn between truth and hazy truth.  This immediately marks him as an unreliable narrator, even as he addresses the audience to his thoughts.  However, forever undependable does his actions appear child-like, and a contradiction to the story.  One moment Tom is expressive in his potential to be free, another moment his thoughts are reality based.  An example of this divide becomes illustrated by Tom’s relationship toward his mother, Amanda, and his sister, Laura.  Tom loves them; however, there are moments in which his apathy toward them is severely evident.  As the narrator, Tom’s double-sided attitude symbolizes the theme behind the play (Barnet, Burto, & Cain, pp. 1247-1288).

According to "Jahsonic: Unreliable Narrator" (1996-2007), “An unreliable narrator is a character who may be giving an imperfect or incorrect account, either consciously or unconsciously. This can be due to that character's biases, ulterior motives, psychological instability, youth, or a limited or second-hand knowledge of the events. The author in these cases must give reader information the narrator does not intend she may deduce the truth. This process creates a tension that is a central force behind the power of first person narratives, and provide the only unbiased clues about the character of the narrator.”

An unreliable narrator like Tom becomes a literary convention to the story.  Tom’s difficulty in accepting reality, and his need to escape it, only isolates him from others.  Although other characters in the play suffer from this challenge, it is Tom who is employing this fully before the audience.  Drawing into his isolation does not stop Tom from interacting with the real world, as he is, among the other characters, one who functions in the real world via his job and communication with others.  Nevertheless, Williams provide a solid piece of symbolism in Tom’s dualistic, unreliable struggle, in the form of how Tom uses different forms of music and entertainment to escape his reality (Barnet, Burto, & Cain, pp. 1247-1288).
Tom drinks, which furthers his unreliability as he relay his memories to the audience.  He also uses movies and dancing to relieve himself of his mother’s frustrations.  Though he uses many areas of escapism to clear himself of reality, William’s clearly portrays symbolism and pieces of imagery in Tom’s affinity for fire escapes.  This is a clear presentation of symbolism, considering Tom seeks an escape from reality.  The fire escape relates itself to smoke; however, it is also an escape when the “fire” gets hot in reality.  It is also an item used to foreshadow upcoming events, and place another reality-based issue into Tom’s consciousness in the case of leaving his family.  Tom’s mother offers her strategically placed ideal on the fire escape by stating: “A fire-escape landing’s a poor excuse for a porch” (Barnet, Burto, & Cain, pp. 1263).  This means there is no comfort in escape.

Nevertheless, it is Tom’s use of alcohol that relates him to his father, as alcohol, and the fire escape both play symbols in his father’s connection to his son after he himself escaped his own troubles.  The fire escapes allures to Tom’s desires to escape reality, just as his father did.  It becomes tempting for Tom to remove himself from his incarcerate of home and work by simply fleeing through the fire escape (Barnet, Burto, & Cain, pp. 1247).
Imagination and Escape

As an unreliable narrator does the honorable proposition and success of Tom’s escape becomes troubling, this concept done effective by Williams use of opening Tom‘s imagination toward the audience.  This reveals the moral factors that trouble Tom and his need to escape, not his physical status.  Though it becomes clear that Tom holds indifference toward his family, he remains dedicated to them.  This unreliability reveals that if Tom were to escape, he guiltily would remove himself from his dedication to his family, causing them emotional turmoil.  Williams leave Tom’s potential escape to the imagination of the readers.  Through Tom’s unreliable, sensitive contemplations can one only guess if his actual escape would prove fruitful to his desires toward freedom.  He can escape; however, he cannot escape his love for his family as guilt would make him a fugitive, following him at every turn.  Williams illustrates this at the end of the play by revealing Tom’s imagination as, “The cities swept about me like dead leave, leaves that were brightly colored but torn away from the branches.  I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something.  It always came upon me unawares, taking me altogether by surprise.  Perhaps it was a familiar bit of music.  Perhaps it was only a piece of transparent glass--Perhaps I am walking along a street at night, in some strange city, before I have found companions” (Barnet, Burto, & Cain, pp. 1287-1288).  Eventually it appears that Tom’s only escape is via his imagination, which plays a powerful too in the meaning of William’s play.

Every reader of the play is troubled with their own unreliable thoughts as individuals seek acceptance and stability in their lives, teetering on the need to remove themselves from their comfortable reality.  It is imagination that tends to lock individuals in their realities, as other obligations assist in this prison.  William’s portrays this struggle of character effectively in Tom’s desires to be free, but yet stay loyal to his comforts.

Barnet, S., Burto, W., & Cain, W. E. (2011). Literature for composition: essays, stories,
poems, and plays (9th ed.). Boston: Longman.

Jahsonic: Unreliable Narrator. (1996-2007). Retrieved from 

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