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creating a fantasy: A look at the use of irony in The Glass Menagerie

Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is a play founded on illusion. Williams uses the devices of illusion and metaphor to illustrate truth, which he at times reveals by means of the use of irony. In the production notes that preface the play, Williams writes that “expressionism and all other unconventional techniques” in a play “should be attempting to locate a closer method, a a lot more penetrating and vivid expression of factors as they are” and that “truth, life, or reality is an organic thing which the poetic imagination can represent or suggest.”

The part of Tom, the poet, is as a fabricator or conveyor of illusions: Tom functions as the play’s narrator and “as an undisguised convention of the play” (Sc. 1). He states in his introductory monologue: “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have issues up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He offers you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion” (Sc. 1). His statement removes any doubt that he is the play’s major illusionist, controlling the memories of his family members like puppets on strings for the audience to witness.

Critic Joven indicates that the isolation of the Wingfields and their “untenability” with the contemporary planet necessitates their removal into one thing much more illusory: “The Wingfields can not co-exist with the real globe around them due to the fact to reside as they want is to deny the existence of [the outside] globe.” In addition, she points out that the entire family members has fallen victim to worlds of their personal creating: “Amanda’s dreams deny the passage of time. Laura’s life denies the outside globe completely” (54).

Tom, as the messenger of memory (“This scene is memory and is therefore nonrealistic”), and the conveyor of poetic device, is accused by his frustrated mother of precisely what he has already admitted to (Sc. 1). Amanda, after her efforts to uncover a match for Laura have been frustrated, blames Tom: “You live in a dream you manufacture illusions!” (Sc. 7).

Amanda’s accusation is both fitting and ironic. The reader of the play has already been informed that such is Tom’s function, but his mother fails to see the truth behind the illusions—perhaps simply because she is within the play and consequently element of the past and Tom’s memory. Joven notes that “[i]t is Tom the poet who associates Laura with bits of colored glass and with familiar phrases of music. It is the poet’s mind which perceives the ironic contrast in between the hopes of Amanda and Laura and the harsh reality of Paradise Dance Hall” (60).

In a similar manner, Amanda’s accusation is ironic she misses the point completely. She is, on 1 hand, a sensible woman, a planner of occasions, and it might not be inside her scope to comprehend the underlying truths that Tom attempts to project. But on the other hand, the irony lies partly in the reality that she manufactures her personal illusions, and accuses Tom of anything she is guilty of as nicely. Presley supports this concept, noting: “Ironically what the playwright reveals is a cast of characters caught up in illusions of their own producing. All of them…have constructed their lives on insubstantial premises of deception” (34). Their deception is an intentional self-deception produced from necessity and self-preservation.

But what is the truth that Tom intends to convey? The answer could be multi-faceted. 1 aspect might be social commentary. Williams indicates in the notes to Scene 1 the harsh conditions in which the family lives. Their constructing is, he describes, “one of these vast hive-like conglomerations of cellular living-units that flower as warty growths in overcrowded urban centers of decrease middle-class population and are symptomatic of the impulse of this largest and fundamentally enslaved section of American society.” The term “enslavement” can be fittingly applied to the Wingfields. The illusion they develop is an try at escape from the quite environment in which they are trapped. Laura is much more a bird in a cage than anyone else in the play: in addition to her atmosphere, she is each physically disabled and emotionally stunted.

The play’s tragic characters indicate an additional possible truth. At the play’s finish, Tom’s narrative is wrapping up and the reader comes to understand the guilt he carries with him. The colored glass he sees in shop windows in his travels reminds him of Laura. He exclaims, “Oh, Laura, Laura, I attempted to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!” Bigsby’s interpretation indicates the narrative itself as a catalyst to the tragic events, and possibly, even, Tom’s guilt:

For Williams, narrative itself is the origin of painful ironies. It implies causality, the unraveling of a time which can only be destructive of character and connection. […] Therefore he and his characters attempt to cease time. They react, in a sense, against plot. In a way the narrative of their lives does not produce meaning the which means ascribed to those lives by history and myth generates the narrative. And as a result they want to freeze the previous and inhabit it, or they spin their personal autonomous fictions and submit themselves to a logic dictated by symbol and metaphor (95).

Tom’s guilt over leaving his sister has resulted in his “freezing” the past and weaving a narrative “dictated by symbol and metaphor” their lives are without meaning except by whatever truth is ascribed to them by the reader, the audience.

Observed in this light, Amanda’s accusation to Tom is all the much more tragic. It holds each far more truth and irony than she will ever comprehend. Soon after all, she is only a figment of Tom’s imagination, and much more Tom, even, than she is herself. The exact same is accurate of Laura—like the other characters in the play they are all facets of Tom: his imagination, his memory, his poetic interpretations and illusory, ironic narrative weaving.

Performs Cited

Bigsby, C. W. E. “Celebration of a Particular Courage.” Modern day Crucial Interpretations: Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea Property Publishers, 1988. 89-99.

Joven, Nilda G. “Illusion Versus Reality in The Glass Menagerie.” Readings on The Glass Menagerie. Ed. Bruno Leone, et al. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1998. 52-60.

Presley, Delma Eugene. The Glass Menagerie: An American Memory. Woodbridge, CT: Twayne Publishers, 1990.
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