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Memory and Reality in Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie

Powerful Essays
Memory and Reality in Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie

'Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is

not realistic'. To what degree is the play memory and to what degree

is it realistic?

"When a play employs unconventional techniques, it is not trying to

escape its responsibility of dealing with reality, or interpreting

experience, but is actually attempting to find a closer approach, a

more penetrating and vivid expression of things as they are"

(Tennessee Williams). The Glass Menagerie is one of Tennessee

Williams' most eminent works and no doubt qualifies as a classic of

the modern theater. 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 overblown, almost

'too-perfect' 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 pl...

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...hings 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'.
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