In Modern Domestic Tragedies, Death Is Often Shown Off Stage or Concealed. Although There Is No Visible Death in “the Glass Menagerie”, How Far Can You Argue That Death Is Still Presented as a Central Aspect of This Tragedy? Assignment

In Modern Domestic Tragedies, Death Is Often Shown Off Stage or Concealed. Although There Is No Visible Death in “the Glass Menagerie”, How Far Can You Argue That Death Is Still Presented as a Central Aspect of This Tragedy? Assignment Words: 1977

It can be argued ‘death’ is still presented as a central aspect of the tragedy albeit in metaphorical terms referring to William’s use of expressionism. He moves away from the literal representation of death to express a more subjective outlook on Tom’s state of mind. It is as if Williams is commenting that truth is in the mind and not in the eye, therefore there is no need for a visible death but it can have a firm presence.

However, the idea of ‘death’ being central is only to an extent, as the concept of a hopeful, ‘living’ life and the ‘Romantic’ symbol of yearning for emotional and artistic fulfilment plays a significant role within the play. Life and death run in parallel epitomising there is a struggle, an internal conflict within the Wingfield household on whether death or life is superior as the characters are subjected to a living death, with the pressure of the literal and figurative metaphor of the four walls mounting upon them.

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Tom reflects on an occasion where he went to observe Malvolio the Magician, in which he described the “wonderfullest trick” where “we nailed him into a coffin . . . he got out without removing one nail. There is a trick that would come in handy for me ??? get me out of this two-by-four situation! ” (Scene 4) Here, Tom dwells on such fantastical ideals of escape yet he realises his escape would not be as seamless as a magician’s as “who in hell ever got himself out of one without removing one nails? . The coffin symbolises the notion of Tom’s figurative death by emotional and spiritual suffocation as he experiences confinement from the strain of his stultifying life and the burden of responsibility. From this, the audience realise he defies the traditional conventions of Aristotle’s principle of a tragic hero who is “renowned and of superior attainments “. Tom is merely an anti-hero, struggling to cope with the dreariness of his life.

The visual imagery of escape runs in parallel with the powerful metaphor of a moral death, the death of Tom’s responsibility as a provider. Due to Tom’s moment of anagnorosis as he acknowledges he is unable to escape without the disturbance of a nail; the nail symbolising the sense of responsibility that binds Tom to Laura and Amanda which he sees as stifling to his life and not part of him as a person as he feels he is perhaps not the ideal provider for his family.

This scene evokes pathos amongst the audience as they observe the battle between life and death within Tom’s mind as he is divided by his responsibility, the cause of his ‘death’ and Romantic yearnings for fulfilling his artistic aspirations, his escape from death and into ‘life’. His behaviour stems from his harmatia of being unable to bear responsibilities, highlights a common human frailty and projects a ‘light’ of pathos upon him, which furthermore heightens the tragedy.

There is no way of fulfilling both ‘life’ and ‘death’ as there is only one evitable outcome; he has to choose to either escape his predicament and live his aspirations or succumb to the inevitable fate of death. Yet whilst Tom ponders on escaping his predicament, he highlights his inability to escape the psychological loss of space within the coffin, his mind no matter how much physical distance is attained, “for time is the longest distance between two places”. (Scene 7)

In spite of this, life, presented, as a covenant of hope is just as important as religious hope is reiterative. The stage directions signify the distinctive “soft, becoming” light, which shines on Laura as used in religious portraits of madonnas or female saints. This religious allusion serves to give false hope as life is not going anywhere for her, indeed her physical and emotional frailty tokens an early demise, if not a death wish on her part. The play elevates death as a “law that ineluctably ends all earthly life yet ushers in the eternity of the Christian life “.

Indeed this is so, as the Glass Menagerie embraces it with the references to resurrection, baptism, paradise, souls, Christian martyrs and Catholic practises. The visual death imagery of Tom rising and shining suggests he perhaps views death as “lucky” (Scene 3) to escape from the wrath of life and responsibilities. There are aural references to resurrection in the “deep-voiced bell in a church” (Scene 4) and Tom’s advance up the stairs echoes Jesus’s resurrection corresponding to the dance music: “the world is waiting for the sunrise! . This conjures up the imagery of Tom being brought back to life by his yearning for emotional and artistic fulfilment and how he is perhaps awaiting his own ‘resurrection’ as such. Visually, the screen project the line ‘Ou sont les neiges’ in scene one which is derived from a poem, ‘The Ballad of Dead Ladies’, by the medieval French poet Francois Villon. ‘Where are the snows of yesteryear? ‘ in which Villons’ use of snow symbolises worldly life’s evanescence as well as tarnished purity and lost innocence.

Ironically, Amanda and Laura’s association with celebrated historical figures such as Joan of Arc emphasises the thought perhaps, these characters were never ‘living’ in the first place. The connection with such acclaimed women in history instantly elevates them into a status of martyrdom and veneration, implying their death will conceal the failings of their life and transform it into a beautiful illusion. Tom’s closing soliloquy attempts to exorcise the ghosts of the past, which illustrate how he has fulfilled a metaphorical death with respect to his role as the family provider.

He is constantly haunted by Laura’s visage, as he desires for “anything that will blow your candles out! ” (Scene 7) yet the audience understand he is confined by the strain of repeating his past, trapped only by the guilt of his ‘escape’. However, is Tom suggesting Laura dies or he dies? As the hope and life of the candle remains lit and exposed to the harsh blows of life, both characters truly have no chance of living a content life. Tom, tortured perhaps may feel Laura’s death may ease her suffering and his, yet if Tom were to die; he could physically and mentally escape from the guilt.

The cathartic effect of the closing soliloquy gives the impression this therapeutic process of reflection has in fact put Laura’s soul to rest. The significance of removing light, thus submerging Laura into darkness and a metaphoric, bleak death suggests a life without hope, a fate worse than death itself. In contrast, the action of simply blowing out candles, suggests death is perhaps a seamless escape from a problematic situation, dissimilar to Tom’s escape from his “two-by-four” (Scene 4) situation, which he could not achieve seamlessly without an impact.

Therefore, there is the sense of admiration for the characters as they struggle to continue with their lives. The association of Tom’s role with a living death is essential to understanding he is committing psychic suicide the longer he stay as he is giving up all “I dream of doing and being”. As the realisation his identity and dreams are unimportant to his family, as his mother refers to him as a “selfish dreamer” he declares, “Every time you come in yelling that God damn ‘Rise and Shine’! . . . “How lucky dead people are! “. Scene 3) Tom has twisted the perceived idea of leaving the nest into an exorcism of family ties, placing emphasis of disassociation with his past. This is in fact ironical, as he has achieved no such exorcism as he is reliving the memories of his family. The play is a metaphor of life and death within itself as it emanates rebirth and reviving life through the thought that Tom has undermined himself. He escapes one prison only to fall into another; his guilty conscience of past memories is the cause for the torture of endlessly repeating his story.

Even as he begins his narration, there is a tone of grief, almost as if there had already been a death in the play. However, this can be deemed as a therapeutic process from which he learns to lay the past at rest and as if when he successfully goes through the ritual of this process, Tom will be able to move on, interpreting Laura’s final gesture of blowing out the candles as a release. Furthermore, from an omniscient point of view, in which Tom is narrating the series of events whilst a character himself, he presents himself as morally dead commenting on the setting, where there is an “interfused mass of automatism”.

Tom paints a picture of a ‘Valley of Death’, “burning with the . . . fires of human desperation” (Scene 1) which evokes hellish imagery of entrapment, social and metaphysical. The predicament of which becomes a symbol itself, murderous to Tom’s creative imagination again corresponding with the thought that his situation, a soul destroying urban environment deadens him as he is confined and repressed, unable to fulfil his artistic aspirations and “creative labour”. He is reduced to “for sixty-five dollars a month . . . give up all that I dream of doing and being ever! Scene 3) Tom refers to the people of America as living but their souls are dead as they lead a zombie-like existence consoling themselves with the false existence of “hot swing music and liquor, dance halls, bars and movies and sex” (Scene 5) and struggling with the consequences of the Great Depression. Yet these consolations subsist in the world as “deceptive rainbows” signifying the excitement and adventure, these materialistic fixations are, merely superficial, not promising. As an antidote to the pseudo escapism of he cinema, the fire escape, smoking and drinking, Tom refers to true adventure which is found in war, amongst the battlefields or on the dangerous seas as he refers to bombardments of Guernica in 1937 which acts as a stimulus to what would happen in Western Europe in 1938. Tom believes this ‘true adventure’ as a real escape from the coffin of his life. Tennessee’s father’s middle name was in fact, Coffin and this reality perhaps reflects Tom may perceive his father to be the cause of Tom being trapped in this coffin, maybe even sacrificing Tom for his own escape, highlighting the common human frailty of selfishness.

At the beginning of the play, Tom presents himself as a member of the Merchant Marine where an image of a “sailing vessel with Jolly Roger” is projected onto the screen. The vessel immediately suggests an image of a pirate ship flying the traditional skull and crossbones flag, furthermore the reference to the devil in French conflicts with the imagery of Tom’s respectable job suggesting Tom’s role as a merchant sailor mocks his fantasy of adventure on the oceans of the world, which augurs his own demise into darkness at the sea.

The Glass Menagerie functions as an elegy to death, following the journey of the tragic hero’s descent into darkness, be it figurative as opposed to literal, which reinforces this is a work of expressionism, therefore realism has no part in the play. Death is a covert driving force upon the characters yet it makes its presence known to the audience expressing the idea, death can immerse one’s life as they progress, as each and everyone of us are trapped in a ‘coffin’ of death, with no escape.

BIBLIOGRAPHY The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams, Methuen Student Edition Tennessee Williams ‘The Glass Menagerie’ (Modern Critical Interpretations), Harold Bloom, 2007 edition The Glass Menagerie: a collection of critical essays- R. B. Parker, 1983 Adonais, an elegy on the death of John Keats, Percy Shelley 1927 The American Civil War, www. us-civilwar. com/ Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews Issue: Volume 23, Number 2 / April-June 2010 Pages: 76 ??? 85- Robert Cardello

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In Modern Domestic Tragedies, Death Is Often Shown Off Stage or Concealed. Although There Is No Visible Death in "the Glass Menagerie", How Far Can You Argue That Death Is Still Presented as a Central Aspect of This Tragedy? Assignment. (2019, Apr 30). Retrieved May 19, 2022, from