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The Glass Menagerie is one of Tennessee Williams' most eminent works and no doubt qualifies as a classic of the modern theatre.

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Introduction

The Glass Menagerie is one of Tennessee Williams' most eminent works and no doubt qualifies as a classic of the modern theatre. Often referred to as a 'memory play', both the style and content of The Glass Menagerie are shaped and inspired by the memory of the play's narrator, Tom Wingfield. According to Tom, due to the play's origins in memory, 'it is sentimental, it is not realistic' and may be presented with unusual freedom from convention. Consequently, the play is subject to numerous peculiarities, such as dim lighting, frequent use of music and symbolism. Most fictional works are products of the imagination, which attempt to convince the audience of its realism, through realistic conflict, drama and setting. The Glass Menagerie, however, although drawn from memory, is not 'attempting to escape its responsibility of dealing with reality', but rather, is drawn from real experience and does not need to be constrained by the conventions of realism to convey truth. The Glass Menagerie is essentially reality presented in an unrealistic way, through memory. In order to evaluate the degree to which the play is realistic rather than memory or vice versa, and how the two interact in the ultimate aim of 'interpreting experience', we must examine the various realistic aspects of the play, such as the characters, the setting, and the situation presented to us, as well as the memory aspects, such as the lighting, music and symbolism. ...read more.

Middle

Each of the characters in the 'memory play' have a very realistic basis. Many of them having been inspired by Tennessee Williams' own life. In assessing the degree to which The Glass Menagerie is realistic, we must examine the degree of realism in the very situation portrayed in the play. The most realistic aspect of The Glass Menagerie is, without a doubt, the story told by the play. Although it may be altered frequently by the power of Tom's memory, the basis of the story is truth. From the beginning of the play we are assured of its validity, as Tom 'enters dressed as a merchant sailor'. Tom is wearing the attire of the Merchant Seamen, which we see, as the play draws to a close, is the profession which he was planning to take after he abandoned Amanda and Laura. We are further assured of the realistic basis of the play, as Tom tells us that he 'gives us truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion'. Tom affirms that the play is indeed truth, although this truth may be presented in a manner which is altered by his memory. Quite obviously, there is a great degree of realism in the basis and content of The Glass Menagerie, especially in the characters, the social and historical background as well as the events themselves. We must also assess the degree to which the play is memory. ...read more.

Conclusion

For example, Tom exists in the 'present' in the play while the events taking place occurred in the past. The focus of the play continuously alternates between the two. Our sense of time is clouded even further as Amanda constantly reminisces of the past. Clearly, time loses meaning in this 'memory play'. This implication of memory seems to draw away attention from the time and sequence of the events unfolding in the play, thereby increasing the focus on the events themselves. Ultimately, in order to evaluate the degree to which The Glass Menagerie is memory and the degree to which it is reality, we must determine how the two interact in the distinct aim of finding 'a more penetrating and vivid expression of things as they are'. It is impossible to dispute that the very core of the play is realism, in its characters, in the social and historical background and in the situation portrayed, while the presentation of the play is 'sentimental' and 'not realistic' through dim lighting, exaggerated symbolism, and other memory aspects. The play is quite obviously constructed, to a great degree, of both memory and reality. However, the various unrealistic features of memory in no way compromise the truth of the play, but simply work towards intensifying the focus on the important aspects of reality. Essentially, the main effect of memory in the play is to enhance the sense of reality surrounding its content. After all, The Glass Menagerie, as Tom says, is committed to giving its audience 'truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion' ...read more.

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