Thursday, July 14, 2011

Explore the presentation of illusion and reality in ‘A streetcar named Desire’ and ‘The Glass Menagerie’

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Reality and illusion are two powerful fundamental concepts that have been explored by Tennessee Williams as a playwright in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie”. Reality is reference to the truth and actuality and an acceptance of it, which is juxtaposed by illusion, which comprises deception, imagination, fantasy and may be a distortion of the truth. T.S Elliot suggests that reality is much more than the sum of our physical sensation. Williams utilises several dramatic techniques to convey these paradoxical themes, which involve characterisation, language, and symbolism, which includes, light, music, objects, sound and setting. Through the adoption of such devices Williams as a playwright has effectively depicted the clash between reality and illusion.

The themes of reality and illusion reflect Williams’ personal life although “The Glass Menagerie” consists of greater autobiographical relevance that expresses the playwright’s childhood relationships with his sister Rose. The collection of glass animals is a good measure of symbolism among Williams’ possessions as he describes them as,

“… those little glass animals came to represent in my memory all the softest emotions that belong to the recollection of things past. They stood for all the small and tender things that relieve the austere pattern of life and make it endurable to the sensitive.”

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The character of Rose appears to be reflected in the characters of Laura and Blanche. In real life, Rose, like Laura, took a course at secretarial school but ended up in the park, museum or zoo as opposed to a classroom. In the play Laura is physically defected but in actuality the situation was increasingly severe as Rose displayed signs of psychological disturbance, which deteriorated into a pathological withdrawal from reality so harsh that it led to a lobotomy. Williams felt what this operation did to Rose was destroy her imagination at the attempt to surgically retain her normality. Like Tom, in “The Glass Menagerie”, Williams had to frequently listen to his mother who also expressed a longing for the south and her youth, portraying reality and illusion. The character of Blanche also reflects Williams’ pattern of life as he himself also endured psychological destruction and turned to alcohol and drugs as a result. Williams experienced sexual encounters as Blanche does to escape from the harshness of reality.

Bibsby suggests that most of Williams’ characters are guilty of blinding themselves from the stark realties of their situation, and of indulging, “the desire to live with comforting fictions, rather than confront brutal truths, a doomed and ultimately deadly strategy” (Bigsby 17 pg 5.)

Blanche, a faded southern belle, is a fundamental character in “A Streetcar Named Desire” who exemplifies a clear relationship between illusion and reality as she serves as the ultimate embodiment of illusion and withdraws herself from ugly reality as a survival mechanism. She chooses to live in a fantasy “make believe” world that consists of rich admirers, such as Shep Huntleigh, and deceit and as a result she is completely saturated into her illusionary world to such an extent that Williams portrays her as schizophrenic. Blanche is unable to distinguish between reality and illusion and acknowledge that they are distinctive concepts, this is portrayed by Williams’ dialogue between Mitch and Blanche when Mitch has acknowledged the truth regarding Blanche’s past,

Mitch You lied to me, Blanche.

Blanche Don’t say I lied to you.

Mitch Lies, lies, inside and out, all lies

Blanche Never inside I didn’t lie in my heart’ (asnd) pg101

Blanches’s cravings for alcohol are implied as we learn about her guilt and lament towards her husband’s suicide and her promiscuity that she camouflages with her class-conscious aristocratic attitude. She relies on alcohol to provide reassurance and comfort to escape against the harshness of reality,

“She catches her breath with a startling gesture. Suddenly she notices something in a half opened closet. She springs up and crosses to it, and removes a whisky bottle. She pours a half a tumbler of whisky and tosses it down. She carefully replaces the bottle and washes out the tumbler at the sink. Then she resumes her seat in front of the table.” (Pg6)

Williams presents Mitch as the only sign of hope for Blanche’s illusions and desires, as she longs for a sense of security that Mitch is able to provide, but the truth leads to Mitch’s rejection of Blanche as he regards her with contempt and refers to her as ‘not clean enough to bring in the house with my mother.’ (page ref)

Blanche’s illusionary world destroys any future success that she could have obtained with Mitch, as the deceit and failure were inextricably linked.

Blanche is aware that something has ended in her life which leads to her psychological deterioration and it can only be recovered through the deceitful fictional roles Williams presents her as desperately performing but finally these fail to offer her immunity from reality

Williams portray Blanche as longing to remain in her illusory and fantasy world. One way in which this is depicted is thorough her terrified response towards aging signs,

BLANCHE …I mean I haven’t informed him - of my real age!

STELLA Because of hard knock my vanity has given.

What I mean � he thinks I’m sort of � prim

and proper, you know! (she laughs out sharply.) I

want to deceive him enough to make him � want

me… asnd � pg 6

Thus Williams presents Blanche as contemplating a deceiving act regarding her age in order to attract Mitch.

Williams acknowledges the impossibility of recovering the past that is stained by cruelty and corruption, however the future is worse for Blanche.

Williams effectively presents the themes of reality and illusion through the character of Amanda who is an anachronism in St Louis, in “The Glass menagerie” and desperately clings to the ideal girlhood of Blue Mountain thus seen as having parallels with the character of Blanche. A misfortunate middle age in St Louis reveals that she is absorbed by her past and adds a sense of nostalgia to the play as she makes frequent references to her past throughout the play and he retreats into the comfortable, secure world of her youth,

“One Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain � your mother received � seventeen! � gentlemen callers! Why, sometimes there weren’t enough chairs to accommodate them all” (tgm pg 8)

Williams describes Amanda’s expectations, dreams and illusion of marrying a wealthy planter and living in a southern aristocratic society have been shattered and destroyed, but her reminiscences are a confusion of wish and reality as she is unwilling to change and obtains a distorted vision of her life.

Amanda’s language is excessive as she exaggerates her popularity and romanticises the past how she remembers it,

“…Well, in the south we had so many servants. Gone, gone, gone. All vestige of gracious living! Gone completely! I wasn’t prepared for what the future brought me. All of my gentleman callers were sons of planters and so of course I assumed and raise my family on a large piece of land with plenty of servants…” 64 tgm

However Williams there is an element of realism within her character, which portrays when she reveals concern for her children and longs for them to be successful and she wants Laura to train in new technology,

“No, I don’t have secrets. I’ll tell you what I wished for on the moon. Success and happiness for my precious children! I wish for that whenever there’s a moon and when there isn’t a moon, I wish for it too.” Pg 4 (tgm)

Williams conveys the fact that Amanda endeavours to make a compromise between illusion and reality because although she can never escape the reality of St.Loius she is the only person in the play who is both practical and determined, in her efforts to keep the Wingfield family together following her husband’s desertion. Williams presents Amanda as never totally escaping from the harsh present as she is trapped in a world of humiliation as she submits herself to the unpleasant task of selling magazines and work in a department store in order to maintain the household and pay for Laura’s abortive business college experience that she perceives and recognises as being valuable

“I put her in business college � a dismal failure! Frightened

her so it made her sick at the stomach. I took her over to the

young people’s league at the church. Another fiasco. She

spoke to nobody, nobody spoke to her. Now all she does is

fool with those pieces of glass and play with those worn out records.

What kind of life is that for a girl to lead? (pg 5 ) tgm

Williams portrays The Rubicam’s Business College as representing the everyday world, which Laura fails to enter.

Amanda feels she must make “plans and provision” (4) in preparation for a gentleman caller and constantly forces her son to work at a warehouse that he detests, she is the only person in the family who is capable of doing these things although it hurts her self-esteem and pride,

“…I know your ambitions don’t lie in the ware house, that like everyone in the whole world � you’ve had to make sacrifices, but �

There’s so many things in my heart that I can’t describe to

you!” ( tgm)

Ultimately Amanda does not retreat into her illusions, during a time of great stress, but is sustained in a world of cruel reality, comforting her daughter,

“[…Amanda’s gestures are slow and almost graceful, almost dancelike as she comforts her daughter. At the end of her speech she glances a moment at the father picture-then withdraws through the portieres…].”

[Pg 6.]

The setting and the clothing have important representations on a metaphorical level and highlight the concepts of illusion and reality. Amanda illustrates this to a large extent as she attempts to transform the environment in preparation for the gentleman caller to disguise the original appearance of the apartment, thus this highlights the distinction between appearance and reality as Amanda continues to create her illusions,

“ Thank heavens I’ve got that new sofa! I’m also making payments on a floor lamp I’ll have sent out! And put the chintz covers on, they’ll brighten things up! Of course I’d hoped to have these walls re papered…” 4

Amanda’s clothes are also significant to the notion of illusion and reality as she presents herself as outdated relic of her time of youth,

“I’ve resurrected from my old trunk! Styles haven’t changed so terrible mush after all…[she parts the portieres] Now just look at your mother! [She wears a girlish frock of yellowed voile with a blue silk slash. She carries a bunch of jonquils-the legend of her youth is nearly revived. Now she speaks feverishly]” 5

The jonquils and her yellow courting dress symbolise Amanda’s past as they are associated with the south and represent her vivacity and her life in the past and her part of her illusion.

Nevertheless Williams does convey the characters of Amanda and Blanche as displaying traditional, southern values but they themselves are faded belles of the south and their attitudes appear to be a superficial facades that evocatively provide reassurance to preserve reality.

BLANCHE I guess I do have � old fashioned ideals!

(She rolls her eyes knowing that he cannot see her face…)

Pg 7

Williams presents Laura in “The Glass Menagerie” as being the pathetic figure of the play and her strangeness and vulnerability are further presented as the accelerating factors of her separation from the real world. Laura exemplifies a withdrawal of reality and retreats to the corner of the stage as she huddles amidst the inanimate glass menagerie that indicates her movement away from real life when having to confront reality and the harshness of the situation. One occasion that can be recalled of Laura surrendering to her glass menagerie is when Tom and Amanda are arguing and the circumstances become too harsh for her to tolerate,

“LAURA [shrilly] My glass! � menagerie …[she covers her face and turns away.] 4

Laura’s glass menagerie is frozen and time is suspended, as it will continue to be suspended for Laura. Laura stands as a paradigm of the culture of which she is a part. The world of modernity that included the dance hall and the typewriter are out of her experience. Laura’s glass menagerie symbolises her own private world set apart from reality. The little glass animals suggest the beauty in fragility that must be protected from the harshness of reality. This is a dominant symbol in the play. Laura resembles the characteristics of her glass animals as Williams portrays them as being cold and lifeless in a sterile world.

Vulnerably, Laura chooses the world of a myth, symbolised by a glass unicorn. It is a security broken easily as the unicorns glass horn. Similarly the unicorn is also a mythological animal presented by Williams and does not exist in the real world because it is unique. When the horn is broken Laura is not too upset as Jim, the gentleman caller shelters her and her calmness symbolises her attempt to pit aside her fantasy world for reality,

“[They suddenly bump into the table an the glass piece on it falls to the floor. Jim stops the dance.]…

JIM You’ll never forgive me. I bet that was your favourite piece of glass.

LAURA I don’t have favourites much. It’s no tragedy, Freckles. Glass breaks so easily. No matter how careful you are. The traffic jars the shelves and the things fall off them.

JIM Still I’m awfully sorry that I was the cause.

LAURA I’ll just imagine he had an operation. The horn was removed to make him feel less-freakish!

However when she finds out that Jim is engaged, she gives him the unicorn as a souvenir, which symbolises her retreat into her own fragile world. Since the unicorn is no longer “special” it does not hold the special place among the animals as it previously did.

Williams presents Laura’s glass menagerie as corresponding to the remoteness of the fairground as they can be seen as performing circus animals providing a sense of escapism into a make believe world that is antithetical to reality. The glass menagerie represents Laura’s private illusionary world, set apart from reality where she can be safe and secure as she sees her surrender to the glass menagerie as a form of protection from the cruel outside world.

Williams presents the events that happen to the glass menagerie as affecting Laura’s emotional state greatly. Laura withdraws to the company of the glass menagerie when the outside world becomes too threatening. One incident when this is demonstrated is when Amanda advises Laura to practise typing but instead she plays with her glass.

“…She is washing and polishing her collection of glass. Amanda appears on the fire escape steps. At the sound of her ascent, Laura catches her breath, thrusts the bowl of ornaments away and seats herself stiffly before the diagram of the typewriter keyboard as…” pg 11 tgm……..

Blue Roses are identified with Laura, because like Laura they cannot live in the real world. The colour blue symbolises an unearthly quality for the playwright and provide a connection with his sister’s name, Rose. Overall Williams presents Amanda, Laura and Blanche as resisting the continuity of time. They remain static in their perspective on life as they long to maintain their youth, beauty and dreams.

Tom is the disillusioned narrator in “The Glass Menagerie” comprising a retrospective view of his life that relates to Williams presentation of reality and illusion as Tom is conveyed as a character who had longed to develop his illusions and dreams into reality. Williams depicts the play, through Tom’s perspective thus it is seen as regarded as a “memory play” which could be seen as an illusion in it self as it may be inaccurate in its portrayal. Williams states the atmospheric touches of this “memory play” and subtlety of direction are an important part in the reality of the story,

“The sense is memory and is therefore non realistic. Memory takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; other are exaggerated, to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart. The interior is therefore rather dim and poetic.” (pg )

The whole play takes place in Tom’s memory and selective perception plays an important part as insignificant parts may be forgotten and made distorted and expressionistic, juxtaposing with reality, as it exists as an aspect of Tom’s consciousness,

“Yes I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my

sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives

you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth

in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” (pg 4 tgm)

Tom describes the lighting of the Wingfield apartment is of a very shadowy nature, which emphasises the condition of nostalgia and illusion and the resistance against reality in his long retrospective speech as the commerce of the play as he states

“The play is memory. Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.” (5)

In ‘The Glass Menagerie’ the sources of music weaves through the scenes, bridging the sphere of time, highlighting the illusionary world of the past by which Amanda is obsessed and the immutable sorrow of life persists under the superficial gaiety. The victrola, Laura plays represent the youth of her parents and the dance hall mixes the hot swing of the thirties with the slow tangos of the twenties and the tender waltzes of Amanda’s girlhood that she strives to retain. The victrola is also seen as an escape mechanism for Laura as it supplies a delicate and kind association that is contrary to the outside world.

The portrait of the absent father is very influential towards the rest of the characters and his facial expressions are emphasised to highlight the misery and reality of the situation and circumstances in the Wingfield household that the father has escaped from,

“There is a fifth character in the play who doesn’t appear except in this larger-than- life photograph over the mantel. This is our father who left us a long time ago. He was a telephone man who fell in love with long distances; he gave up his job with the telephone company and skipped the light fantastic out of town…”

Williams depicts Tom as expressing discontentment towards his circumstances in life as he recalls his depressed years of when he worked in a warehouse but revealing aspirations illusions of fulfilling his dreams and escaping from reality and becoming a successful poet. In order to escape the situation at home and reality Tom escapes to the movies and turns to alcohol, like Blanche. Williams depicts the character of Tom as exemplifying the fact that he has transformed his yearned illusions into reality, providing a connection between the two evocative concepts as he escapes from his situation at home that he long resents in order to fulfil his dreams. This is emphasised as his retrospective narration conducted at the beginning of the play is carried out as “Tom enter, dressed as a merchant sailor”.

Tom is ultimately, however seen as a victim of illusions as although he escapes the drabness of his warehouse job and the discomforts of his home life, as a narrator he knows from experience, that no amount of travel and adventure will free him from his illusions and shake that demon that is within him. Williams presents Tom as a poet and his diction confirms this, as his dialogue is rebellious and imaginative this is depicted when he speaks with his mother as he portrays an ambitious side that he longs to fulfil but nevertheless is aware of his obligations to his family,

“…Listen! You think I’m crazy about the warehouse? [He bends fiercely toward her slight figure.] You think I’m in love with the continental shoemakers? You think I want to spend fifty-five years down there in that � celotex interior! with � florescent � tubes! Look I rather somebody picked up a crowbar and battered my brains-than go back mornings! I go! Every time you come in yelling that damn “rise and shine!” “Rise and shine!” I say to myself “How lucky dead people are!” But I get up. I go! For sixty five dollars a month I give up all that I dream of doing and being ever!”

Tom’s wish to live the life of a hero in an adventure film through the role as a merchant seaman is accomplished and Tom’s longing to go to the Movies symbolises his determination to leave the apartment and escape into reality, a place where one can find adventure but Tom being a poet is kept from entering reality by Amanda who criticises him as being a “selfish dreamer”,

“…I know what you’re dreaming of. I’m not

standing here blindfolded, [she pauses.] Very well, then.

Then do it! But nit till there’s somebody to take your place…

Overcome selfishness! Self, self, self is all that

You ever think of” (pg 5)

Ultimately Tom does escape and turn his dream into reality by transferring the payment of the light bill to pay for his dues in the Merchant Seaman’s Union. This is his passport out of the drab of existence at the warehouse and the Wingfield apartment. However in his final speech it is apparent that even the Merchant Marine has offered no escape from his responsibility to Laura, the memory of whom haunts him wherever he goes. This portrays that reality does not allow his dreams and illusions to be fulfilled because reality exists as a stronger force intruding upon desired dreams of escapism,

“…Oh Laura, Laura I have tried to leave you behind, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger-anything that can blow your candles out!

[Laura bends over the candles.]

For nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura- and so goodbye…

[She blows the candles out.]” 7

The fire escape holds fundamental symbolic significance as it represents a bridge between the illusionary world of the Wingfields and the world of reality. The people in the Wingfield apartment are figuratively burning and the fire escape is the only immediate escape. It appears to be a one-way passage but the direction varies for each character. For Tom it is an entrance into the real world away from Laura and Amanda. He stands outside to smoke and does not like being part of the illusionary world indoors. For Laura the fire escape is a way into her own illusionary world and to escape reality as she thinks of it as a way in. This is conveyed when Amanda sends Laura to the store and Laura trips on the fire escape this also illustrates that Laura fears the outside world and emotions greatly affect her physical condition,

[She pulls on a shapeless felt hat with a nervous, jerky movement, pleading glancing at Tom. She rushes awkwardly for her coat…]

“AMANDA Laura, go now or just don’t go at all!

LAURA [rushing out] Going � going!

[A second later she cries out. Tom springs up and crosses to the door. Tom opens the door. Tom opens the door.]

TOM Laura?

LAURA I’m alright. I slipped, but I’m all right”

Williams evocatively depicts the powerful contrast between reality and illusion within the portrayal of the character of Stanley as a representative of reality in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and as having parallels with the character of Jim. Stanley is conveyed as an embodiment of reality, as he is responsible for the revelation of truth regarding Blanche’s promiscuous past. Stanley powerfully degrades Blanche towards the end of the play and completely destroys her by violently raping her, which leads to the complete psychological destruction of Blanche and her harsh removal from reality.

Williams presents Stanley as ultimately exposing the reality regarding Blanche’s past as continues his attempt to reveal the truth.

BLANCHE “I don’t want realism… I tell you what I want. Magic!…

Yes! yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth I tell what ought to be the truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it! � Don’t turn the light on!” (astnd )

In the character of Stanley Williams manifests that he does not enjoy magic and only longs for the truth,

STANLEY …Some men

Are took in by this Hollywood glamour stuff and

some men are not.

Williams displays the powerfully evocative contradiction between Stanley and Blanche that creates much tension between the two characters and the climax reaches its peak when Stanley exposes Blanche’s promiscuous past while Blanche ironically sings in the bath,

STANLEY Our supply man down at the plant had been going

through Laurel for years and he knows all about her

and everybody else in the town of Laurel knows all

about her. She is as famous in Laurel as if she was

the president of the United States, only she is not

respected by any party! This supply-man stops at a

hotel called the Flamingo.

BLANCHE (singing blithely)

Say, it’s only a paper moon, sailing over a

cardboard sea �

But it wouldn’t be make-believe If you believed in

Me!… (streetcar 7)

“It’s a Barnum and Bailey world, Just as phoney as it

can be” 81

Williams reveals a symbolic collision between their two philosophies, as the louder Stanley continues insisting on undeniable facts about Blanche, the louder Blanche sings. Williams highlights the extremes of reality and illusions within the characters of Blanch and Stanley as their paradoxical motives in life illustrate the portrayal of reality and illusion.

Stanley is conveyed as an animalistic and brutal character that confronts the harshness of the reality of life. No reference is made to Stanley’s past, which suggests he is a character who accepts his present circumstances and lives in realism.

Blanche believes that bathing will symbolically spiritually purify and cleanse the stained past and ugly reality that she refuses to accept that reveals her apprehensions regarding reality she strives to transform and legitimate.

Blanche’s stress on seeing something that shatters an ideal or an illusion is echoed throughout the whole play. As Bigsby points out

“the thought with be reiterated (repeated) as a theatrical (dramatic) metaphor at the beginning of scene 10 when Blanche’s romantic fantasy in cut short by a glimpse of herself in a hand mirror which she then breaks.“ bigsby

Williams symbolically presents the breakage of the glass as representing shattered hopes and illusions and the harshness of reality,

“Trembling she lifts the hand mirror for a closer inspection. She catches her breath and slams the mirror face down with such violence that the class cracks.

Music in an effective device that is utilised by Williams to reflect Blanche’s emotions and the blue piano represents Blanche’s insecurity, as she requires shelter and companionship, which is a factor that has led to her psychological breakdown. The blue piano also signifies the claustrophobic atmosphere of Elysian Fields,


The music is apparent when she recounts the deaths at Belle Reeve, kisses the newsboy and it is the loudest when she departs to the asylum.

The varsouviana echoes her guilt about her husband’s death, a disaster to Blanche. It also provides psychological intimacy and is an important technique that allows us access into Blanche’s mind thus illustrating her psychological deterioration. The death of Allan Grey remains to be a tragically disturbing event of her life and a part of her ugly reality for which she holds her self responsible.

The gunshot releases her from the torture that she experiences every time she hears the Varsouvianna playing and retrieves her return to reality,

“…(She touches her forehead vaguely. The polka tune starts up again.) � pretend I don’t notice anything different about you! That �

music again…

MITCH What music?

BLANCHE The “varsouvianna”? The polka tune that they were playing. When Allan � Wait!

A distant revolver shot is heard. Blanche seems relieved.

BLANCHE There now, the shot! It always stops after that.

The polka tune music dies out again.”

Blanche’s fineries emphasise her neglect of reality as she fulfils a fictional role in an illusionary, fantasy world that she utilises as a façade to disguise and hide ugly reality that she cannot tolerate, as it has led to her destruction,

“As the drinking and packing went on, a mood of hysterical exhilaration came into her and she has decked herself out in a somewhat soiled and crumpled white satin evening gown and a pair of scuffed silver slippers with brilliants set in their heels. Now she is placing the rhinestone tiara on her head before the mirror of the dressing-table and murmuring excitedly as if to a group of spectral admirers.”

Blanche’s imagination aids her survival and highlights her aristocratic attitude that she portrays as a southern belle holding and perpetuating an ascending and eloquent social position that no longer exists.

Blanche is ultimately raped in her southern belle dress and completely obliterates her from reality as the consequences lead to severe psychological deterioration and in turn to schizophrenia, where she is unable to distinguish between reality and illusion.

Stanley’s denim clothes provide a contrast to Blanche’s appearance that signify a working class background and a symbol of the American Dream that relates to the acceptance of reality.

Williams utilises Light is crucial symbolic factor to represents truth that illuminates the rejection of reality. Light fulfils a fundamental role between Stanley and Blanche and Jim and Laura whom can be perceived polar opposites and presented as an antithesis of reality and illusion. Blanche is constantly associated with light from her first appearance in the play in which Williams describes her as a moth,

“There is something about her uncertain manner, as well as her white clothes that suggest that she is a moth.” (asnd) pg 4

Blanche longs to camouflage reality as she puts an artificial lantern on the light bulb to live her world of deception and illusion,

“I brought this adorable little coloured paper lantern at a Chinese shop on Bourbon. Put it over the light bulb! Will you, please?” asnd Pg

However Stanley reveals the truth that Blanche attempts to conceal and brings to light the true facts regarding Blanche’s past and recognises that she is an embodiment of deception and conceit,

“there isn’t a goddam thing but imagination…and lies and conceit and tricks!” (scnd pg 10)

Mitch also acknowledges Blanche’s history via Stanley, the source behind the provision of reality and proceeds to rip off the paper lantern from the light bulb and demands to look at her face,…….


Stella is an ambiguous character created by Williams, in “A Streetcar Named Desire” who is absorbed into Stanley’s world, which she believes is vital in order for her to survive. She has surrendered to Stanley’s way of life and it’s values. Stella provides the link between the two characters, as she must listen to the fact provided by Stanley and the virtues of idealism given to her by Blanche.

Stella makes a clear decision between Stanley and Blanche, after Blanche has made negative condemnations regarding Stanley, in attempt to persuade Stella to escape,

“STELLA has embraced him with both arms, fiercely,

And full in the view of BLANCHE. He laughs

and clasps her head to him.”

Stella’s comprises a state of “narcotised tranquillity” in her existence at the end of scene four, that reveals that she willingly accepts Stanley’s domineering behaviour and machismo. She cannot imagine life without Stanley therefore her readiness to sacrifice her sister becomes inevitable. She has made a compromise that depicts her commitment to Stanley, which may serve as a survival mechanism for her and her new baby. It can be argued that Stella does not want to confront reality as it may occur to her that Blanche may be correct regarding her accusations about Stanley,

“STELLA I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley.

EUNICE Don’t ever believe it. Life has got to go on. No matter what happens, you’ve always got to keep going.”

In this exchange between Stella and Eunice, Williams clearly depicts Stella’s unwillingness to consider Blanche’s explanations as she rejects the acceptance of what may actually be reality thus making a compromising her relationship with Blanche.

Williams presents Jim O’Coner, as the gentleman caller in “The Glass Menagerie” who is long anticipated by Amanda because he is whom they have waited for all their lives. He has parallels with the character of Mitch as they both serve to fulfil a sense of hope. Jim symbolises the outside world from which the Wingfields are somewhat isolated. He compares to Stanley in the sense that he also symbolises reality in “The Glass Menagerie” representing the one thing that Laura and Amanda fear and reject to confront. He represents Amanda’s days of youth, when she went frolicking about picking jonquils and supposedly having “seventeen gentlemen caller on one Sunday afternoon”.

Between the spiritual and physical needs of the characters conflict overlays between the painful present and the ideal past.

Jim’s speech is an effective contrast to that of Amanda’s as his diction is one of a person undertaking a course of public speaking, that is warm and friendly. He uses colloquialisms common in the 10’s as he speaks confidently by a culture very different to that of Amanda’s, thus his dialogue can be seen as reflecting his character

“Because I believe in the future of television [turning his back to her.] I wish to be ready to go right along with it. Therefore I’m planning to get in on the ground floor. In fact I’ve already made the right connections and all that remains if for industry itself to get under way! Full steam-[his eyes are starry] knowledge-Zzzzzp! Money-Zzzzzp! Power! That the cycle democracy is built on!”

Jim reveals enthusiasm and inspiration as he is concerned with achievement and development, his illusion appears to be the American dream, which juxtaposes with Amanda and Laura who maintain their stasis in time,

“…What impressed me the most was the Hall of Science. Gives you an idea of what the future will be in America, even more wonderful than the present time is” tgm 7

Jim reveals his contact with the outside world, which is evident in the eager tome of voice.

Although Amanda desires to see Laura settled down it is hard to distinguish whether she longs for the gentleman caller to be invited for Laura or herself. Ultimately he fails to fulfil the role of as a redeemer for Laura.

However Jim himself is plagued by doubts and must live in his own world of illusion, he thus symbolises the universality of uncertainty and inability to live in a harsh reality.

Light is associated with Jim as he represents reality, an antithesis to Laura’s dark and melancholy world in her rejection of reality. He is also referred to as “Mr. Light bulb” (67)

He also brings in the candles when he approaches Laura,

“[Jim comes into the dining room, carrying the candelabrum, it’s candles lighted, in one hand…] (pg 70)

When the atmosphere is invaded by darkness during the meal at the Wingfield’s Jim enters with the candles that provide the light, symbolically representing an embodiment of the truth and reality towards which Laura behaves in a fearful manner. This illuminates the juxtaposition of illusion and reality represented by Jim and Laura.

“[Jim comes into the dinning room, carrying the candelabrum, it’s candles lightened, in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. The door of the kitchenette swings closed on Amanda’ gay laughter; the flickering light approaches the portieres. Laura sits up nervously as Jim enters. She can hardly speak from the almost intolerable strain of being alone with a stranger. ]” 70 tgm

However candle light as the only source of light that is available during Jim’s visit illustrates that he is not the saviour and sign of hope that Amanda assumes he is as his departure shatters her illusions. This could also be symbolised by the failure of electricity after their dinner. Eventually he leaves Laura in the darkness, which is symbolised by the black - out and by Laura blowing out Jim’s candles to end the play. The joyful moments flicker only for an instant within the surrounding darkness of eternity as when Jim and Laura look at the little glass unicorn together by candlelight. The gentle man caller does not fulfil the role of a redeemer and the altar candles in Laura’s heart are soon extinguished.

Stanley and Jim are nevertheless not suspended in time and represent reality. They represent the American dream and accept their life and work on the principle of meritocracy in a democratic society. The character of Stanley has no past, which emphasises further that he lives in the present,

“I am not a Polack. People from Poland are Poles, not Polacks. But what I am is one hundred percent American, born and raised in the greatest country on earth and proud as hell of it, so don’t ever call me a Polack.” Scnd 1

In conclusion, Williams very effectively presents the conflict between reality and illusion and he communicates his themes very successfully through a variety of dramatic techniques such as characterisation, setting and symbolism, which includes light and sound. As the audience, tribute can be paid to his powerful dramatisation of this antithesis of the playwright.

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