Some playwrights utilize intriguing approaches to setting up the scene; for example, by making a narrator a direct participant of the events, the writer can convey more meaning. “The Glass Menagerie” is a play written by Tennessee Williams in 1944 (Williams, 1). Interestingly, the central character of this play, whose name is Tom, also serves as the narrator. He speaks with the viewers directly, explaining the course of the plot and some important details that the audience should pay attention to as the events unfold. This paper will analyze the two manifestations of Tom’s character and discuss the similarities and differences between the two.
In the play “The Glass Menagerie,” Tom lives with his mother and mentally fragile sister. He works at a shoe warehouse but despises his work and aspires to be a poet (Williams, 3). Evidently, the situation is burdensome for Tom, especially because his mother is obsessed with finding a suitor for her daughter. There is a conflict that is depicted in the way the narrator explains the events and Tom’s actions since he is evidently fond of his sister and mother.
However, in many cases, she shows a lack of empathy, and the audience sees Tom unable to control his emotions in several scenes when he talks to his family. Moreover, in one scene, the lights in the family’s home do not work because Tom decided not to pay the bill because he was saving money to run away from his relatives. The central scene of this play is Tom inviting his colleague from work to meet Laura. As the events unfold, the viewers see two manifestations of Tom’s character: he is both the person directly engaged in the events of the play and a narrator who tells the story.
Tom is a character whose duality is the focal point of this play because it shows the innate human flaw, or the inability to recollect the events with neutrality and in a way that is fully consistent with the actual occurrence. As a narrator, Tom’s character is distant, and he does not make any judgments about the actions of his sister and mother. In a way, he is shown as an intellectual in the scenes when he discusses the political and economic chaos or when he recollects the events in Spain. In contrast to this, as a character in the play, he never discusses any of these topics with his relatives. Instead, the viewer hears him express his emotions and opinions regarding his family members. In the opening monologue, Tom sets the scene for the events that will be portrayed later in the play.
Evidently, there is a difference between the memories and the truth, as people often recollect the events with some distortions. This is the main point that Tom as a narrator makes in his soliloquy in the opening scene of the play (“The Glass Menagerie: Opening Monologue” 00:01:20). In his brief monologue, he introduces the other characters, including his father, who only appears in the play as a portrait on the wall in the play. As a narrator, Tom is shown as a deep thinker who is worried about the social life of his state. In the opening scene, he is shown smoking a cigarette, and the actor performs his monologue looking away from the audience, which further empathizes that Tom as a narrator is distant from the events in the play and is concerned with other, more important things.
The difference between the two characters of Tom represents the difference in the objective portrayal of events and the distortions that one’s mind creates in the memories, which prompt to recall the events differently from the way they actually happened. This is vividly shown in contrast to Tom’s narrations, where he directly addresses the audience to explain the events and provide some important details to them, and in the childlike emotions, he shows during some intense scenes. Here, there is a staggering contrast between Tom, the narrator, who can look at the events more objectively and be detached from the emotional tension, and Tom, who is the participant of the discussed events.
Despite the many differences between Tom as a narrator and Tom as a participant in this play, these are the different sides of the same person. As a narrator, Tom is evidently older, and he had the opportunity to rethink these events and his relationship with his family, which is reflected in the character’s performance choices when he speaks more slowly and is more relaxed. Hence, he is less emotional and more focused on other topics, such as political and economic life.
The main similarity, which is shown through the actor’s performance, for example, in the scene when he discusses Laura’s future with his mother, is his affection for his family. In summary, this paper is a discussion of “The Glass Melangerie” and the duality of Tom’s character. In this play, he is both the narrator and the participant, which allows the viewer to see the many distinctions between the emotional and intellectual Tom.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. New Directions, 1999.
“The Glass Menagerie: Opening Monologue.” YouTube, uploaded by B H. 2014. Web.