Essay about The Glass Menagerie

Submitted By emilypaak
Words: 5311
Pages: 22

Recent scholarly criticism has remained convinced that The Glass Menagerie is

“Tennessee Williams’s most autobiographical play, accurate to the imaginative reality of his

experience even when it departs from facts in detail” (Parker 3) and that “No one who has

reviewed even the bare details of his biography can overlook the obvious similarities between

the record of his early life and the events described in The Glass Menagerie” (Presley 86); the

playwright’s official biographer also contends that “Tennessee Williams had still to prove that

this was not a writer’s single autobiographical (emphasis mine) success” (Leverich 585). It is

futile to dispute the resemblance between biographical facts and dramatic fiction in this play and

yet it is worth pointing out that a number of features of the play are not attested in reality and,

conversely, that well-established aspects of Williams’s early adulthood are not reflected in the

play. Mrs. Edwina Williams, the playwright’s mother, pointed out the many differences between

the Williamses and the Wingfields (149-150, 174-175), and Cornelius Williams, the father, is

recorded as having failed to discern any similarity between Amanda and Edwina and having

resented the accusation of abandoning a family from which, on the contrary, he felt he had been

psychologically excluded and ultimately physically exiled (Leverich 567); moreover, literary

models other than the members of the Williams family—D.H. Laurence’s characters in Sons and

Lovers or Hart Crane, as man and poet—can be discerned as in filigree through the texture of the

Wingfield saga (Debusscher 167-188). Therefore, without disregarding the personal,

documentary nature of the material but giving equal weight to the omissions, the discrepancies,

and the additions—the dramatic strategies—I suggest that The Glass Menagerie be termed

“autofictional,” i.e. the result of a conflation of real life and fantasy, the poetic (re)arrangement

of fact within fiction, the imaginative fictionalization of autobiography.

In crossing that space between life and letters, two characters, Mr. Wingfield and

Tom, have been reassembled in such a way as to keep from view a constituent trait of their

personality and conduct—alcoholism for one, homosexuality for the other—which nevertheless

conditions in fundamental ways the course of the action and their modes of behaviour as well as

those of the other characters. Williams seems to have had a problematic relationship with his

father, who called him a sissy and terrorized the boy and his sister, Rose. As long as he travelled

extensively as a shoe salesman and appeared only temporarily at irregular intervals in the

southern rectories of Reverend Dakin where Mrs. Edwina lived with her two children, his

influence within the family may have been limited. But with his promotion to an administrative

and sedentary job and with the subsequent move of the family to Saint Louis, his thundering

presence and drinking bouts became a cause of alarm for his wife and children. Leverich reports

(192-193) the incident in which Cornelius got involved in a quarrel with another of the

company’s salesmen who bit off a piece of Cornelius’s ear, making an already precarious

situation with Rose much worse and putting an end to any prospect of advancement and

promotion at the International Shoe Company: Cornelius was not just a hard drinker, as he liked

to think of himself, but in truth, clinically alcoholic. He was resorting to what were open secrets

within the family: the familiar, but what he thought to be clever, deceptions, such as hiding a

bottle behind the bathtub or in other dark corners. He was on an irreversible course towards self- destruction. No one knew why. It would be too facile to say, well, with a wife like that . . .

Edwina in her defense contended that it