The Glass Menagerie is often criticised as a juxtaposition, or arrangement of scenes, rather than being a traditional unified play. I believe this criticism is a correct one for many reasons. A major reason which fuels this criticism is the lack of acts. In Shakespearian plays there are traditionally 5 acts, with the play being divided into roughly two halves, the build up of problems and then the solving of these problems. More modern plays usually have 3 acts, which nicely divides the play into three parts, the build up of problems, the climax, and the solution of problems.
This play, however has no acts, so has no solid structure as such. It is just an arrangement of seven scenes. I believe this was intentional by Tennessee Williams, I believe the structure of the play is symbolic of the structure of the family, it has no real structure and is just an arrangement of people, or if you like, a menagerie. Right from the start in the opening speech of Tom, we are told that the play is a memory play.
This gives the impression that it will not be an exact account of the events, rather an arrangement of memories that are often disjointed.
As we read the play we can see that it jumps around in time, one scene might be set a few days or even weeks later than the last scene. The statement by Tom that this is a memory play tells us instantly that it is out to break conventions.
A large theme in this play is static. The set rarely changes, so is static. Tom finds his job static, as he wants to escape from it. In this play there is a continuing theme of people being stuck in time. Amanda is stuck in the past with her fond memories of Blue Water, where she used to live and was very obviously enjoying life.
We can tell that she is stuck in the past because she often recounts her stories to Tom and Laura. Oppositely there is Tom who is tired of the present and past and is stuck in the future. He often visits the movies to see glimpses of what his future could be, rather than what it is going to be if he stays at home. He wishes for adventure and excitement rather than the cage or trap that he is stuck in at home. Since his father left he has been rather unfairly stuck in the providing role and therefore trapped and unable to leave and see the world as he wishes.
This is why Tom is almost always around the fire escape. The fire escape is symbolic of a halfway house between the outside world and his world. He cannot leave it however because of Amanda. She is is conscience, and is constantly reminding him of the things he cannot do, which is why he rebels from her. Then there is Laura who is stuck in the present. I believe this is her choice. She seems uncomfortable in venturing forwards into the future, and when she does in the case of Jim the gentleman caller, she gets heartbroken.
This just buries her deeper in lack of self-confidence which will in the end ruin her. I believe that she just enjoys the simple time she spends on her own with her collection of glass. Again the theme of static comes with the play’s stage directions. Tennessee Williams gives so many heavily detailed stage directions that he gives the people performing the play less and less room to create or add things of their own. This makes the performers static in their input to the play. Leading back to the theme of static, the set remain static for virtually all of the play.
The only thing that changes is when Amanda glosses the house up with the new lamp and curtains etc. There is also the on stage screen which acts as a link between the abstract thoughts of the characters, and the thoughts of the audience. The on stage screen barely ever mentions the future however, which again backs up the static nature of the play. So in conclusion I believe that the criticism mentioned in the title is correct, because of the static nature of the play, the fact it’s a memory play, and also the lack of an overall structure.