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The Glass Menagerie Paperback – June 17, 1999
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“The revolutionary newness of The Glass Menagerie . . . was in its poetic lift, but an underlying hard dramatic structure was what earned the play its right to sing poetically.”
- Arthur Miller
“With the advent of The Glass Menagerie . . . Tennessee Williams emerged as a poet-playwright and a unique new force in theatre throughout the world.”
- Lyle Leverich in Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams
About the Author
Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) is the acclaimed author of many books of letters, short stories, poems, essays, and a large collection of plays, including The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Camino Real, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Orpheus Descending, The Night of the Iguana, and The Rose Tattoo.
Robert Bray is an author, editor, and Tennessee Williams scholar.
Top customer reviews
I first saw this play produced in Atlanta, in the ‘70’s, and fragments of it have rolled around in my brain ever since. First and foremost there was the character of Amanda Wingfield, firmly stuck in the past, recalling her “glory days” as Bruce Springsteen would phrase it, in his famous song about two people in their ‘20’s, recalling how their life had peaked out in high school. For Amanda Wingfield, her “glory days” were from her teenage years also, in the Mississippi Delta, when she had 17 gentlemen callers seeking her hand… and probably a bit more. She tells her daughter, Laura, that a “girl had to be a conversationalist” back then. All those possibilities, the 17, and always the hint of so many more, yet she makes a “poor choice” who would abandon her and the family, and send a post card from Mexico that said simply: “Hello, Good-bye.”
Tennessee Williams sets this play in America’s heartland, St. Louis. It is the late 1930’s, with news flashes involving the war in Spain, and Chamberlain. The Wingfield family is lower middle class, living in a tattered apartment, in a building with fire escapes, subsisting off the $65 a month son Tom, who works in a shoe store warehouse, brings home every month. Williams play is straightforward, and so easily understood, and packs so much pathos and heart-break into two hours of viewing, or reading, which chronicles the poverty of human existence. Reading the play after some four decades helped me recall some of the tragic circumstances of the other two members in the Wingfield family.
There is daughter Laura, a “cripple,” and even back then the mother admonishes Tom not to use that word. She has a physical challenge; that is all. But it dominates her life, and she has not been able to overcome it. Now, many years after high school, she still recalls how much noise her brace made, and knew everyone was looking at her. She is painfully, painfully shy, cannot stay in steno school because she threw up on the floor, and pretends to continue to go, but visits the parks instead. Her sole solace in life is her small collection of glass animals, including a unicorn, which mom dubs with the name of the play.
I had completely forgotten – or perhaps never realized the equal pathos in the life of son Tom. Stuck in a dead-end warehouse job, living with a mother and sister who are each in their very different worlds. The “breadwinner,” of sorts. He “escapes” from his humdrum life via the movies and alcohol, and endures the nagging of his mother. But he has his own plans… for a little real adventure in life, instead of living vicariously through the movies. “Chamberlain” haunts the au courant reader, with the realization that World War II is so near, and so now, on reflection, one must wonder how many bored warehouse clerks, from America’s heartland, found their adventure wading into the surf at Iwo Jima or Normandy? The climatic part of the play, which is what I will leave for the reader, is when Tom brings home a “gentleman caller” for Laura. As one might suspect, Williams remains true to his theme of pathos.
The author makes very effective use of a shadow screen on stage, and the New Directions version helped recall it after those four decades. When there was a flashback in the play, behind the screen, there were the shadows that captured the essence of the flashback. And when needed, certain words would be flashed on the screen. As is so often the case, the foreword and afterword provide limited value to the reader, and I think should be simply skipped. As for the play itself, it merits 5-stars, plus, and a re-read, a few years down the line.
It’s most interesting to me that Williams appeals to the masses, young or old, across all generations. I remember this play having been one of the few I enjoyed reading in high school; I still enjoyed it just as much, all these years later, right along with my daughters. It is a true classic that has stood the test of time some 70+ years after it was written!