Book Review: The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

The Glass Menagerie is a play by Tennessee Williams, an American playwright. It tells the story of an ordinary family in St. Louis during the Great Depression and how to escape the harsh reality and the painful memories that always haunt them. At the time of the story, the father of the family is long gone, but a photograph of him hangs in the center of the stage background. The mother Amanda was preoccupied with the memories of her girlhood visits. The son Tom loved writing and was a worker in a shoe factory. His sister Laura, who was born disabled, is crouched at home and likes to play with her glass animals. Mother asked Tom to find someone to marry for his sister, Tom took his colleague Jim home for dinner. Jim is warm and cheerful, and his visit awakens Laura’s pent-up enthusiasm and temporarily takes her out of the glass world. However, The sudden news that Jim is engaged forces Laura back into her closed world. Amanda blamed her son for this and eventually drove him away in anger.

Amanda, Tom and Laura in The Glass Menagerie are representatives of a struggling Southern culture. Amanda came from a southern plantation owner’s family and was deeply immersed in southern mythology and culture. In the blooming years of her youth, she had many choices, but she fell in love with her husband the poet because he had a charming smile. Abandoned by her husband shortly after their marriage, Amanda spent her struggling life reminiscing about her ladylike days. In the industrial cities of the time, Amanda could find no place of her own. As a victim of a lost era, all she could do was frantically cling to it. Although Amanda knew that the south of the past had gone forever, she could not get rid of her attachment to the southern culture. She instilled her southern lady values into her daughter over and over again, stubbornly clinging to her beliefs regardless of the progress of time and the development of society.

Amanda’s son Tom and daughter Laura have been living under the shadow of her mother’s declining southern plantation culture, entangled in the contradiction between reality and ideal, until their characters become distorted. Tom’s menial labor was the main source of family income, and in southern culture, such work that was supposed to be done by slaves was not respectable. Nicknamed Shakespeare, Tom has inherited his father’s poetic temperament, a restless heart constantly called from afar, and the only way to cope with a boring shoe factory job, a stressful living environment, and his mother’s nagging is to spend night after night at the cinema. Tom knew that he was responsible for his family, but his dream of being a poet was incompatible with the reality, and his desire to break free and realize himself was so strong. Laura’s plainness and slight deformity of the leg were not a problem, but in a southern culture where women were supposed to please and cling to men by their looks, her disability was a major drawback. It was her mother Amanda’s implicit message to her daughter that led to Laura’s extreme low self-esteem and psychological disorder. The pure and fragile Laura is unable to communicate with people normally, has a pathological fear of the outside world, and is unable to survive on her own. She can only find comfort in a group of delicate and fragile glass animals she has collected. But her spiritual home, The Glass Menagerie, may disappear at any time.

The evil of slavery eventually led to the Civil War, and the defeat of the war was a fatal blow to the proud and confident southerners. Guilt, failure, poverty, and moral depravity became shadows of southern moral consciousness. Southerners consoled themselves by reminiscing and imagining the good old days. Hence the magical southern myth was born, an important part of the southern cultural tradition. The south, with cotton as the main product, enjoyed a stable and prosperous economy, and the people in the south were happy and harmonious. Even black slaves in plantations continued to breed under the protection of white people. There are even some southerners who believe that the mythical south is the real south. Yet conscience-conscious southerners were deep in their hearts torn between love and hate, memories and dreams, pride and fear, clinging and doubt for the sins of their forefathers, slavery, and lynchings.

-Coreen C.

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