Tennessee Williams’s Life Story
Tennessee Williams’ play, The Glass Menagerie, originated in the memory of Williams.Williams’ family embodied his father, Cornelius Williams, his mother, Edwina Dakin Williams, his sister, Rose Williams, and his younger brother, Dakin Williams.Cornelius was an alcoholic, always away from home; Tennessee and Cornelius did not have a strong relationship, “By the late 1920s, mother and father were in open warfare, and both were good combatants. He came home drunk and picked up a bill-perhaps for Tom’s clothing or schoolbooks-and he’d fly into rage.”(Spoto, 18). Edwina, on the other hand, revered “refinement and the good manners of Southern gentry.” (Barron’s Book Notes, 2). Tennessee adored Rose immensely and were close as they could be.The Glass Menagerie is based on a mother and her two children who live in a dream world away from society. Williams’ play is drawn heavily upon his family life and experiences; they are very much parallel to the events that occur in Williams’ life.
Tom is modeled after Tennessee, an ardent poet who works in a shoe factory; Williams was passionate about writing, “He[Cornelius] saw that Tom devoted to his writing as unnatural for a boy his age? worse, Tom did not have companions among boys of his own age, not did he participate in
sports.”(Leverich, 82). Tom tries to support his mother and sister by working in a shoe factory even though he dreams to become a poet. His mother disapproved of him writing as well as his father, “Despite Tom’s being published, Cornelius persisted in his belief that his son was wasting his time and should be thinking of a more practical way of making a living.”(Leverich, 82). Tennesse felt so doleful and devastatingly miserable that he did not know another way of escaping reality but to write, “At the typewriter he transformed the confusion, the bitterness, the longings into poems, and for a time he cracked out a diary in which he recorded little anecdotes about St. Louis street life.”(Spoto, 20). Williams’s character, in like manner, felt that same emptiness, “He[Tom] is a poet by nature and feels that his environment is destroying his creative abilities.”(Cliff Notes, 9).
Amanda Wingfield mirror images Williams’s mother, Edwina Dakin Williams. Both of these women live in the past; Amanda and Edwina were both southern belles who still dream of their gentlemen callers from the past. (Cliff Notes). Also, Amanda Wingfield is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution just like Williams’ mother was, “In 1905, Edwina was invited to join the Columbus Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and to her at the time, as it would be all her life, this was a singular honor.”(Leverich, 25). Amanda realizes that Laura does not have any interaction with the public and needs to procure some sort of skill so that she will be able to support herself in the future, so she enrolls Laura in a business school just as Edwina did for Rose, “Her mother, soon after, enrolled her at the Rubicam Business College, hoping she would learn to be a stenographer, but that did not turn out well either, but she
could sustain neither the pressure nor the group contact.”(Spoto, 20). But even with the persisting mothers, both Laura and Rose drop out of the class because
they are shy, ” ?and all the dates you were absent until they decided that you had dropped out of school.”(Williams, 40). Williams also portrayed Laura as being quiet and shy just like Rose. Rose lived in her own world, just like Laura. Rose became a model for Laura when Williams was writing this play. Laura would rather have collected tiny glass animals rather than correlating with other people. Rose and Laura are similar that their gentlemen caller has the same name, Jim O’Connor. Laura is so shy that when she finds out who the gentlemen caller is she repudiates to join dinner, “There was a Jim O’Connor we both knew in high school?if that is the one that Tom is bringing to dinner-you’ll have to excuse me, I won’t come to the table.”(Williams, 89). When Jim does come to eat dinner at the Wingfield’s house, he is the only character in the play that brings reality to them, “Since Laura lives in a world of illusion and dream, Jim, as the ordinary person, seems to Laura to be wonderful and exceptional. He is so different from her own world that he appears to be the knight in shining armor.”(Cliff Notes, 32).
Rose’s retreat into her own dream world caused her to become emotionally fragile just as Laura. She not only became emotionally fragile, but self-destructive as well; Rose blamed Cornelius of trying to get her in bed which might have added to her mental deterioration. Tennessee is encumbered by Rose’s illness; he wants to pursue his career of writing, but he feels responsible for his family. In the play, Tom feels the need to leave his mother and sister,
“Don’t think about us, a mother deserted, an unmarried sister who’s crippled and has no job! Don’t let anything interfere with your selfish pleasure! Just go?!”(Williams, 136). Amanda construes to Tom that she knows he wants to leave to supervene his dream of becoming a writer, but that he should at least be responsible enough to take care of his family until Laura is well taken care of in the future, “I mean that as soon as Laura has got somebody to take care of her, married, a home of her own, independent-why, then you’ll be free to go wherever you please, on land, on sea, whichever way the wind blows you! But until that time you’ve got to look out for your sister.”(Williams, 65). Amanda requisites Tom to bring home a gentlemen caller in order so that he can leave soon, and that she can be rest assured that her daughter will be well provided.
The apartment talked about in The Glass Menagerie is identical to the one that the Williams’ relocated to in St. Louis, “An ugly city apartment building of mustard-colored brick, since demolished, it became the ‘tenement’ of The Glass Menagerie?”(Leverich, 79). The apartment is cramped and dark, almost like a “jail cell”(Barron’s Book Notes). Laura and Tom do not like the dismal atmosphere of the apartment, “The new apartment had only two small windows, in the front and in the rear rooms, and a fire escape blocked the smoky light from a back alley.”(Spoto, 16). Tom uses the fire escape as a break from the real world, “As he climbs the few steps to the fire escape landing light steals up inside?At last he find the key, but just as he is about to insert it, it slips from his fingers. He strikes a match and crouches below the door.”(Williams, 55).
Williams’ play, The Glass Menagerie, is drawn heavily upon Williams’ family life and experiences; they are very much parallel to the events that occur in Williams’ life. Tennessee’s and Tom’s whole life revolved around their mother and sister. They were struggling with life’s cruel realities which they were not able to face and defeat, but instead, ran away from. Tom can not lose his memories of Laura. He needed to find his own identity and try to find a place for himself in the world.(Barron’s Book Notes). If he had stayed with his mother and sister, their illusions and dreams would have deceived him.
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Roberts, James L. Cliff Notes Williams’ Glass Menagerie & A Streetcar named Desire.
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Spoto, Donald. The Kindness of Strangers The Life of Tennessee Williams. Canada:
Little, Brown & Company, 1941.
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