THE REDEEMERS IN TENNESSEE WILLIAMS THE GLASS MENAGERIE.
Tennessee Williams' the Glass Menagerie presents bleak situation but the present article focuses on the optimistic aspects of the play'. The psycho-social situation of Laura leads her to complete collapse but Jim shows her hidden energies. Some critics call Jim as an illusory figure because he does not become Laura's lover but such criticism is lopsided. Jim is already engaged to a girl whom he loves truly. He in fact does not know why the Wingfields have invited him. However he electrifies new hope in the hopeless world of Laura with his youthful exuberance. He helps Laura in coming out of the inanimate world of her menagerie. Similarly Amanda offers Laura motherly care during the most critical moments of her life. Such a care becomes redemptive for the delicate Laura.
Keywords: Williams pitiable entrapment redeemers hope courage sympathy
The dramatic world of Tennessee Williams portrays pitiable and sorry state of human affairs but the beauty of such a world lies in the fact that it delves deep into human miseries and explores some light at the end of the tunnel. Williams' protagonists are caught in their precarious existence. They are badly trapped in their struggle for survival so search for some salvation is the key to their existence. They are marginalized in the worst way and they are poorly equipped to deal with such marginalization. They are pitted against the life destroying forces ready to annihilate them completely. They know their limitations so their desire for someone who could save them from their annihilation becomes so strong. It is true that life destroying forces in this world are powerful but the presence of the life saving forces is effective and represents the element of hope.
In spite of bleak situation presented in Williams' plays there are moments when the dream of redemption is achieved with the helping hands of the saviors. This aspect proves that Williams is not a pessimist as portrayed by critics like Thomas P. Adler Judith J. Thompson A. Ganz and C. W. E. Bigsby. When the burden of life becomes unbearable and the mysteries of life become so enigmatic the lonely figures of Williams yearn for the arrival of some messiah/savior who could resolve the riddles of life. Most of the time these saviors come to their rescue but some of these saviors however do not turn up on certain occasions and the dream of redemption remains unrealized. The arrival of some others is ecstatic expectation of better things to come but their departure leaves black clouds of frustration and desperation.
2. Waiting for Jim as a Redeemer
The Wingfield's in The Glass Menagerie are trapped in an unpalatable situation and yearn for some redeemer. The whole plot of the play in fact revolves around the waiting for a messiah in the form of a gentleman caller Jim O'Conner. In one of his monologues Tom Wing field presents Jim as "a symbol of the long delayed but always expected something that we live for" (Menagerie 235). Fatima T Sugarwala compares him with Christ.
Jim symbolizes Christ the savior and his Annunciation signifies the coming of Christ. The arrival of Christ was heralded by the celestial body the North Star Jim's arrival is closely associated with the silver slipper of the moon on which Amanda wishes for a messiah in the form of a gentleman caller (Sugarwala 2004 p. 46).
Comparing Jim with St. James Roger B. Stein calls him "as a Christ-like savior figure or at the very least as Moses about to lead the Wing field family to the promised land of harmony and happiness" (Stein 1964 pp. 141-153). It is interesting that Jim is idolized as a Savior St. James or a Christ-like figure and the Wingfield's regard his arrival in their home as the advent of a messiah while the fact of the matter is that he is an ordinary young man like Tom and both of them work in a shoe factory. The way the Wingfield's wait for him shows that he would rescue them from their entrapment. His arrival appears as if he were a legendary figure but at the end of the play it turns out that "Jim inspires an illusion of false hope" (Krasner 2006 p.13). He dreams of commanding the world as was expected of him but ends up as an ordinary worker.
Tom describes Jim:
In high school Jim was a hero. He had tremendous Irish good nature and vitality with the scrubbed and polished look of white chinaware. He seemed to move in a continual spotlight. He was a star in basket-ball captain of the debating club president of the senior class and the glee club and he sang the male lead in the annual light operas. He was always running or bounding never just walking. He seemed always at the point of defeating the law of gravity. He was shooting with such velocity through his adolescence that you would logically expect him to arrive at nothing short of the White House by the time he was thirty. But Jim apparently ran into more interference after his graduation from Soldan. His speed had definitely slowed. Six years after he left high school he was holding a job that wasn't much better than mine (Menagerie 272).
It is true that Jim fails to come up to the desired expectations but such failure is owing to the forces beyond his control. Ruby Cohn associates Jim's retrogression with the dehumanizing effects of the industrial life (Cohn 1971 p. 100). Jim comes to the Wingfield's and departs forever but the dreams of deliverance remain unrealized. His arrival his kiss and his dance with Laura "give Laura only a momentary glimpse of normal existence before she drifts back into the fantasy world of glass animals" (Ganz 1987 p. 101). He not only breaks Laura's dreamland world of unicorns but also breaks her already broken family unit. Her brother Tom Wing field quits the family for good after he quarrels with his mother on the issue of Jim. Moreover Jim is already engaged to a girl and this revelation proves a bomb shell for the dream of deliverance for Laura. Darkness prevails soon after his departure forcing Laura to grope into her shattered dreams.
Jim fails to come up to the Wingfield's expectations urging critics like Thomas P. Adler to call him "a false savior" (Adler 1998 p. 40) but such a criticism is lopsided and ignores many positive aspects of Jim's personality: Jim for example brings light and life in Laura's inanimate world of menageries.
3. Jim as the Victim of External Forces
Presently Jim is wallowing in the quagmire of the Great Depression. He is tied to a menial job at the warehouse and tries to escape from it by mastering the art of public speaking. He aspires to have an executive job and dreams of commanding the world someday but his present position reflects his underachievement. Keeping the "performance-view of language" (Blommaert 2005 p. 70) in mind he wants to make up his deficiency with the art of public speaking. He looks the things through the prism of economy because he is as frustrated as the Wingfield's. His frustration results due to "psycho economic disorder or the inner psychological disturbances that lead to economic symptoms" (Fine 1981 p. 253). The rational values of commerce become more valuable for such a person than the idealism of love. Economic motives are of fundamental importance - a ladder to power for Jim. He wants to be the master of his future by using this ladder.
He is so enthusiastic about the ideals of material success He measures happiness with the yardstick of worldly success but fails to come up to his dreams because he is pitted against the cut-throat world of material success resulting from confusion and disturbance of "the decade of a dissolving economy of the thirties" (Menagerie 234). He is as self-deluded as the Wingfield's. Like every insecure person money and power are the two motives of his life. As a result his innate innocence is smothered. He neglects essential human and spiritual needs for the sake of financial rewards. Instead of beautifying his life with love he wants to become a money-making machine. He becomes a poor savior for the Wingfield's as he is guided by self-interest and wants to make his life meaningful and rewarding with the power of money rather than the power of love.
Thomas P. Adler's objections that Jim is a false and deceptive figure do not sound true. It is notable that Jim has neither tried to visit the Wing field apartment of his own accord nor has he offered any promise of redemption to Laura. He is in fact confused why he has been invited to the dinner. Like the Wingfield's he is also the victim of oppressive and repressive forces of life omnipresent during the days of Great Depression. He underachieves in his life but he is never crushed by the Depression and believes in the future. He defies the adverse circumstances with courage and determination. That is why he is taking a course in public speaking which equips him for the competitive world and promises him prosperity. He expects that public speaking will open up new vistas of life for him. He remains upbeat even after facing many failures in life as Krasner comments: "Jim exudes optimism despite hard times. He epitomizes the American spirit of defiance in the face of adversity" (2006 p. 32).
4. Incompatibility Between Jim and Laura
Both Laura and Jim belong to two different worlds. Jim is extroverted dynamic and optimistic while Laura is introverted lethargic and pessimistic. Jim lives in a real world of technological progress while Laura lives in the illusory world of inanimate menageries. There is deep incompatibility not only in the approaches of Jim and Laura but also in their names and what they denote. Jim sounds spiritual names like James Christ or Moses but he harbors deep desire of material success and tries to adopt every strategy at his disposal to realize his desire while "Laura whose name is derived from the laurel shrub or tree the wreath of which was awarded to honor the concrete achievements of the people in ancient times lives in the dreams of spiritual or artistic fulfillment" (Cardullo 2008 p. 98). This incompatibility of disposition is also a hindrance in their union.
According to Judith Thompson Jim's disability to light the candles in the life of Laura signifies the fall of the American Adam the failure of Christ to be Laura's savior the failure of Prince Charming to give a kiss of life the failure of Superman to help a woman in distress and finally the failure of Dionysus the fertility God to complete the initiation rite (Thompson 2002 p. 22).
Jim fails to light candles in Laura's life because he has never committed to such a task. On the contrary he is committed to marry Betty yet he tries his utmost to beautify Laura's life by pinpointing her special strength as a human being. He tries to dispel her fear of her physical disability persuading her to take interest in life. He succeeds in his efforts because Laura forgets for the time being that she is a lame girl. He tries his best to teach Laura how to overcome her shyness and inferiority complex gradually but surely:
And everybody has problems not just you but practically everybody has got some problems. You think of yourself as having the only problems as being the only one who is disappointed. But just look around you and you will see lots of people as disappointed as you are. For instance I hoped when I was going to high school that I would be further along at this time six years later than I am now - you remember that wonderful write-up I had in The Torch.... It said I was bound to succeed in anything I went into! (Menagerie 295)
5. The Balmy Touch of Jim Revitalizes Laura
Jim tries to revive Laura's self-belief by using his linguistic repertoire. He succeeds in teaching her how to overcome her inferiority complex by pointing out the positive aspects of her personality. She shuns her shyness and takes interest in life when Jim gives her some hope and urges her to dance with him. She dances with her crippled leg to the tune of the music of the nearby Paradise Dance Hall. His kiss is so electrifying that it shows her way outside the world of her menageries. For a moment she forgets her limping steps and dances with Jim during this brief idyllic and delightful moment; "a moment that breaks the walls of isolation" (Williams 1978 p. 37). Jim revitalizes her hidden energies in such a way that she starts to participate in the enthusiastic activities of life. Jim can diagnose the anxieties of Laura and relieves her with the balmy touch of human compassion. His address to Laura shows that he is the good judge of people trapped in despair:
You don't have the proper faith in yourself. I'm basing that fact on a number of your remarks and also on certain observations I've made. For instance that clumping you thought was so awful in high school. You say that you even dreaded to walk into class. You see what you did You dropped out of school you gave up an education because of a clump which as far as I now was practically non-existent! A little physical defect is what you have. Hardly noticeable even! Magnified thousands of times by imagination! You know what my strong advice to you is Think of yourself as superior in some way! ... just look about you a little. What do you see A world full of common people! All of `them born and all of `them going to die! Which of them has one-tenth of your good points! Or mine! Or anyone else's as far as that goes - gosh! Everybody excels in some one thing. Some in many (Menagerie 299)!
In this way Jim definitely shows her a way to light her own candles and dispel darkness. He appears like as a breath of fresh air and sunlight in the frozen life of Laura. His youthful exuberance and charm leave an ennobling effect on her. He generates life giving self-confidence in her and she starts looking beyond herself. He regenerates youthful passion for life in her cold and inanimate world of the menagerie. Jim has never been Laura's lover and remains friendly and faithful to her without posing to be her lover. In fact Laura loved him secretly in her school days. Similarly he finds Laura in a sexually and socially vulnerable position but never tries to exploit it. By showing her the bright side of her personality he in fact revives her confidence like a psycho- therapist.
6. Jim as a Loving and Caring Person
Jim believes in sincere human relationships. He had a love affair with Emily Meisenbach during his school days stardom but Emily was a showy and selfish girl. Her gaudy dresses reflected her shallowness. So the love affair failed to develop into well rooted relationship. Presently he is engaged with Betty and remains true to her like a sincere fellow. He even informs Laura about Betty and the way he is getting along with her. Instead of involving himself in another love affair he tries to sustain himself with the loving company of Betty. He admits to Laura that "Being in love has made a new man of me!...The power of love is really pretty tremendous! Love is something that - changes the whole world Laura" (Menagerie 307)! It proves him to be a true person believing in the sanctity of human relationship. Jim pinpoints the hidden qualities of Laura and compares her with blue roses because she is pretty in the most unusual way.
He tries to create hope in the hopeless world of Laura by highlighting the brighter aspects of her personality.
Jim is a loving and caring person. He comes in the lives of the Wingfield's where profound and noble values are missing. He does everything to bring a smile on Laura's grave and somber face. Sugarwala calls Jim as "the combination of the father and brother in Laura's life who deserted her. He has the winning and charming smile of the father and an adventurous spirit of the brother" (Sugarwala 2004 p. 49).
He remains high-spirited in a materialistic "modern world where the destruction of the human spirit seems a natural corollary" (Bigsby 1984 p. 43). In such societies the bond of love and homeliness is broken rather than solidified. The personal relationships become fragile and love fails to become a liberating force or effective bond between human relations. By remaining faithful to his fiancACopyright Jim shows sympathy and kindness to Laura which her father and brother fail to show: they in fact leave her at the mercy of her circumstances. They desert her at a time when she needs them the most. The vulnerable and marginalized position of Laura and her mother is badly exposed when their male members desert them. So a lasting bond from a stranger like Jim cannot be expected in a life when father/brother fails to cement such bonds.
It is the tenderness and finer sensibilities of Jim that transform Laura's inanimate world of menageries into her humanness. His kiss not only revives her back to life but also makes her realize that she is made up of flesh and blood. By touching the sensitive chord of her heart he brings her to normalcy where both her mother and brother have failed. Like a Good Samaritan he breaks her shackles of inferiority complex and makes her a new woman. Instead of living in the lonely world of menageries she shifts her attention from the non-living to the living.
The unicorn symbolizes her repressed personality. By giving the unicorn to Jim she in fact tries to get rid of such suppression. Fatima T. Sugarwala believes that:
The breaking of the unicorn and Laura's reaction is the turning point of her life. It begins the demythicizing process signifying hope and Laura's return to normalcy.... The shattering of the unicorn signifies the breaking off that chord of inhibition repressions and inferiority that Laura has nurtured. But the giving away of the unicorn as a souvenir to Jim before he leaves is a manifestation of hope and return to mundane reality thereby completing the demythicizing ritual (Sugarwala 200 pp. 47-48).
Laura is pitted against a world which promises survival only for the fittest. She is a lovely and dreamy but fragile girl. She is sensitive and thus ill equipped for the world of callous materialism. Only a committed man can guarantee the survival of such a girl. "She seems physically unfit for an earthly life. She is too good for this world The Romantics might say and for this reason she could be said to be sadly beautiful and bluely roseate" (Cardullo 2008 p. 86). Her expectations from Jim to become her savior are misplaced because Jim is committed to someone else. Moreover it is the warmth of his company that touches the broken spirits of Laura. His presence evokes the inner sensibilities of Laura. Jim's presence leaves a positive effect on her soul and she comes out of the shell of her romantic illusion by positively responding to human contact.
Jim is in fact wronged by the Wingfield's because he is invited to the dinner with a lot of planning. He is a gentleman caller without knowing about it. When he meets Laura without knowing these plans his unintentional gallantry is misperceived by Laura. He cannot be blamed for not proving himself a suitable match for Laura as he has been kept in the darkness. He is unaware of the real intentions of the Wingfield's and does not know why he has been invited to dinner and that he is already engaged to a girl of his choice. It is unfortunate that Laura fails to come out of the prison of self and cope with the realities of life in spite of the fact that Jim tries his best in the single meeting to make her a happy girl.
By blowing the candles at the end of the play Laura condemns herself to live everlasting darkness because she is unable to face human relationship.
The implication is that no gentleman caller will never enter her life again; none will ever be gentle enough among an American people so crassly materialistic to perceive her inner beauty to appreciate her love for beauty to understand her unnatural if not supernatural place in a world ruled by science and technology... instead of her heart and soul - science and technology that in the contrary opinion of Amanda only add to the mystery of the universe rather than clearing it up (Cardullo 2008 p. 97).
It is not Jim who proves an illusory savior for Laura but her father and brother. Jim says "I wish that you were my sister. I'd teach you to have some confidence in yourself.... Somebody needs to build your confidence up and make you proud instead of shy" (Menagerie 295). While leaving Laura he once again reminds her: "And don't you forget the good advice I gave you" (Menagerie 310). Laura in fact remains without a fatherly touch for years which makes her introvert. The little confidence she gains with the balmy company of Jim could have been sustained if her brother did not depart at such a critical juncture of her life. According to John J. Fritscher "the large portrait of the father symbolizes that God who is much needed but absent and incommunicable. It is however the nature of this Prime causality that greatly disturbs Williams' world" (Fritscher 1970 p. 204). Mr. Wingfield's absence is a severe blow to the family.
It turns them into insecure human beings. Amand a has all the reasons to invest her faith in her son who must take his father's place. She tells him "I've had to put up a solitary battle all these years. But you're my right-hand bowler! Don't fall down don't failt..Try and you will succeedt...You're just full of natural endowments" (Menagerie 250). But instead of taking his father's place Tom also follows the footsteps of his father and leaves his sister when he should have saved her.
7. Amanda Saves Laura from Complete Annihilation
Under these circumstances it is Amanda who becomes Laura's saving grace and saves her from complete annihilation. Amanda is defeated and destroyed like Laura but at no moment she yields to her defeat. She has the courage to pull herself together. She holds her daughter in her sheltering embrace with the same courage. She hugs Laura and relieves her of the anxiety of the situation with the tenderness of maternal comfort. In this way she creates some sensible reason for Laura to continue living in a less tender and comforting world. It is "tenderness in her slight person.. .endurance and a kind of heroism" (Menagerie 228) that makes Amanda an admirable character. She shows love and compassion for the ruined child of hers and brings some smile on her face. Both the mother and the daughter still hope for some meanings in life by embracing each other at the time of utter despondency.
Amanda's embracing Laura at the end of the play reminds us of Williams' comment: "I think that the greatest happiness is felt in moments of great tenderness between two people" (Williams 1978 p. 28).
Amanda and Laura can hope to be saved by developing a close contact with each other because: "As long as you can communicate with someone who is inclined to sympathy you retain a chance to be rescued." (Williams 1975 p.204). Amanda knows that "We have to do all that we can to build ourselves up. In these trying times we live in all that we have to cling to is - each other...." (Menagerie 258). She also knows that she has to make sacrifices to save her daughter. She faces the difficulties of life with "Spartan endurance" (Menagerie 259) and exhibits "dignity and tragic beauty" (Menagerie 312) when her plans fail to yield any fruit. She knows "when people have slight disadvantage... they cultivate other things to make up for it - develop charm - and vivacity" (Menagerie 247). In spite of all her weaknesses Amanda knows how to face the calamities with heroism and courage.
Both Jim and Amanda try their best to save Laura from the pit of despondency. Both of them are the victim of forces beyond their control but their concern for the overall well-being of Laura is praiseworthy. Their determination to affirm life in the midst of heavy odds makes them heroic figures. Their affirmative attitude towards life leaves bright spots on the bleak atmosphere portrayed in the play. Jim revitalizes hidden energies of Laura as a sincere psycho-therapist. Similarly Amanda wants to see Laura well placed in life so she is deeply shocked to know about Laura's playing truancy from the college. When Laura is left alone at the end of the play Amanda gets ready to console her daughter in a motherly manner. It is Amanda's positive outlook towards life and caring attitude towards her daughter that saves her from total collapse. Amanda is badly marginalized in an apathetic and indifferent world.
The negative effects of such a marginalization appear in the form of her neurosis but it is her commitment with the family and courage in the face of adverse circumstances which levitate her to the heroic stature.
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|Publication:||Kashmir Journal of Language Research|
|Date:||Dec 31, 2013|
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