28. A book you’ve started but never finished: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
List Progress: 28/30 (+3)
Yes, I have a play for my “started but never finished”. I made an incredibly half-assed attempt at reading this in high school and gave up a few dropped n-words in. (One of the older characters is evoking a style of Classic Southern Womanhood that tiny Alanna didn’t quite know how to process.) But that did make for a quick return this time!
The Glass Menagerie, which debuted in 1944, was the play that launched Tennessee Williams’ career and positioned him as a writer of American classics. The play follows Southern mother Amanda, her son, embittered factory worker and poet Tom, who also serves as a narrator, and daughter Laura who is crippled by her anxiety and mental frailty. Amanda pressures Tom into inviting a “gentleman caller” over to meet Laura in an attempt to ensure her daughter is taken care of in the future, while Tom is busy fuming over the fact that he has been supporting the whole family since his father left them. The play gives a dream and memory-like quality to the story, with Tom stepping in and out of the present moment to comment about the paths they are all on. While the entire story takes place over two days, there is a sense that these two days are a microcosm of all the pain and resentment and fear that the family is soaking in at all times.
I found The Glass Menagerie lovely, but not as mind-blowing as its reputation would suggest. Some of that might be reading it as opposed to seeing it on stage. Another aspect could be that I recently saw a production of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, which covers similar territory as this play and is a truly astounding script (given a great production by Ubuntu Theater in Oakland, CA). And then there’s just the fact that Williams’ work might not seem as stark without the historical context of what the theater scene looked like before him. That is always a risk when experiencing art that drastically changed its own scene from the perspective of a later era.
I will say, as someone who has suffered from, and is medicated for, anxiety, the writing of Laura hits home. A particular scene where she is so terrified to answer the door, even as her mother is screaming at her to put on a happy face and go through with the seemingly-simple task, really resonated with me. With what little I know of Tennessee Williams’ family history, you can see the places where personal experience colors the characters and their world.
This was a very moving, lovely play, but not something that changed the way I see theater or mental illness or Southern family dynamics. It was a rich opportunity to spend time with well-written characters, and at the end of the day, that is enough.
Would I Recommend It: Yes.