The play inaugurates with lengthy description as to the setting and stagecraft, followed by the entrance of the narrator, Tom Wingfield, who soon states that ‘the play is memory’ and makes it clear that we are viewing events through the lens of his memories, intensifying emotions and extracting significances in the way that memories do. When the scene progresses, we as an audience also have an insight to recollections within recollections, such as those of Amanda as she recounts her days as a girl and her inept attempts to relive this time of her life.
This complex theme is an imaginative device which Williams uses effectively to express truth, and one of the methods he uses to establish this is through the stagecraft. To begin with, the lighting is key in the portrayal of memory, because it displays the interior as ‘dim and poetic’. This not only helps us to distinguish the contrast between the past and the present, but reflects how the memories which the character of Tom will be showing us are coated with unhappiness and pain, and creates the effect of a thoughtful, slightly morose mood.
Furthermore, Williams’ precise and detailed descriptions of the stage setting, such as ‘murky canyons of tangled clotheslines, garbage cans, and the sinister latticework of neighboring fire escapes’ allow him to achieve a dreamlike atmosphere, as opposed to straightforward realism. Tom himself tells us that the play is ‘sentimental’ and ‘not realistic’ and Williams draws attention to the ruse of the theatre by introducing lowered and raised gauze scrims during the play and shifting walls, whilst representing the mysterious attribute that memory brings.
When he asks us to peer through the gauze, Williams reminds us that we are being taken back in time and made to observe things from a particular point of view. The theme of memory is also depicted through the use of music in Scene One. Just before Tom begins to explain how it is ‘a memory play’, the stage directions indicate for music to be played, and this aids the emphasis on this theme by again showing the difference between the past and present.
It is clear that the playwright is trying to connect music with the theme as Tom even tells us, ‘In memory everything seems to happen to music’. In relation to the setting, lighting and music, the screen device is used a significant amount. The legends which appear recurrently on screen, such as ‘Ou sont les neiges d’antan? ’ draw attention to the way in which memory works by directly forcing the audience to think about how circumstances in the play are so different now to how they used to be in the characters’ lives, and create a wistful effect.
Additionally, another theme established in Scene One is that of dreams and illusions. The characters in ‘The Glass Menagerie’ are constrained by their fantasies of financial security, solidarity and escape. The ever conventional Amanda Wingfield harbours ambitions of reaching a time when neither her children nor herself need be concerned about their circumstances economically, and in order to obtain this dream, she believes she must find her daughter a suitor.
On the other hand, Tom and Laura are not such worldly characters, and whilst the latter wishes only to be permitted to coast through life without any demands, the former, although also having no desire to connect with others, has a slightly clearer vision of an aim in life, and values seclusion as a way of being able to continue with his creative work as a poet. As a playwright, Tennessee Williams portrays this theme through many different techniques.
Firstly, the setting is used by showing the family home as ‘dim’ with ‘old-fashioned’ features; a place from which the characters would evidently love to escape, Tom in particular. Therein hangs ‘a blown-up photograph’ of Amanda’s ex-husband and Tom and Laura’s father, which is a constant reminder to Amanda of the life she once had and emphasizes not only the dreams she has of finding Laura a ‘gentleman caller’ and attaining financial security, but also how she would possibly like to return to the days when she was young and had considerable male interest.
A further theme established by Williams in Scene One which links in with dreams and illusions is entrapment. In spite of the near impossibility of each character’s dreams being accomplished, Williams is adamant that entrapment must be resisted despite the suffering it entails, and this is primarily introduced through the character portrayal of Tom. As the audience, we learn that the only way to evade everlasting entrapment is through acting without pity.
If Tom is to one day become his own man, he is forced to step away from his mother’s constant persistence and pursue freedom. He does not have a real desire to behave harshly towards his family, as when Amanda begins to tell the story of ‘one Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain’ yet again, he begins grumblings of ‘I know what’s coming! ’ and ‘Again? ’ but does submit, however as the scene progresses he incorporates more frequents digs, such as ‘Isn’t this the first you’ve mentioned that still survives?
’ to show a disregard of the men Amanda is so proud of when she describes the fates of them all. He knows that this life is in no way one that he wishes to be a part of forever, and the only method he knows to escape is by behaving with no pity. Tennessee Williams also establishes the theme of entrapment through stagecraft, as the fire escape on which Tom stands at the beginning of the scene is a visually prominent part of the set which symbolizes the incarceration which Tom feels, and the prospect of release.
By using stage directions, Williams characteristically fills the fire escape with symbolic weight, stating that the buildings are burning with the ‘slow and implacable fires of human desperation’, and by positioning Tom there to address the audience it underlines how he stands alone between the world outside and the confinement of the apartment and highlights the anguished choice he makes to leave his family further on in the play.
This creates an emotional effect on the audience, who feels a sense of compassion towards him for the duties he has had to take on in the past in place of the father who so carelessly abandoned him and his family. In addition, the theme of endurance is established in Scene One. We start to see the Wingfields struggle against emotional and physical confinement, such as the previously mentioned difficulties Tom faces in wishing to leave the house, and also how Laura doesn’t feel the same way as her mother in regards to ‘gentleman callers’ due to her disability and lack of self-confidence.
However, Williams does not provide the characters with solutions to these troubles but instead indicates that they possess positive characteristics which encourages them to carry on. For example, Scene One shows Amanda constantly wittering on with pride about how ‘one Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain’ she received ‘seventeen! ’ gentleman callers, to the slight irritation of Tom, who, accustomed to this, has predicted it, but Laura is aware of how the family need to stick together and respond to each other needs, and advises Tom to ‘let her tell it’.
Therefore, through the portrayal of each character, Williams shows that endurance is an important theme in ‘The Glass Menagerie’, to the effect that we as an audience appreciate each of them individually for their qualities as well as the times when they err. Thus, we can see that Scene One of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ by Tennessee Williams encompasses a number of themes in a variety of different ways, all to meaningful and dramatic effects. We learn that some of these methods include character portrayal, setting and stagecraft, but all are equally significant and allow us to grasp the key messages portrayed by the playwright.