The Disillusioned Wingfields America
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A state of disillusion. After the first World War, Americans found it difficult to buy into the american dream because of how horrific the event was handled. Disillusionment is everywhere, but a prominent example of disillusionment is in the memory play, The Glass Menagerie. A memory play is a play in which the lead character narrates the events of the play, which are drawn from the character’s memory. The Glass Menagerie, written in 1945 by Tennessee Williams, is classified as a memory play. In fact, the play was the first memory play. The play portrays a small family of the south. Living in a quaint apartment is mother Amanda, brother Tom, and sister Laura. Throughout the play, the focus stays on Amanda, who desperately hopes that her daughter Laura will find a nice man to marry, even asking her son Tom to find a man to court her. In 1973, the drama was adapted into a film. The entire movie is produced with only four actors; Katharine Hepburn as Amanda, Sam Waterson as Tom, Joanna Miles as Laura, and Michael Morlarty as Jim- the gentleman caller.
While maintaining the genre of drama, the film did not meet the standards to correctly represent the theme of disillusionment. Disillusionment of reality is portrayed numerous ways throughout the play, but lacking in the stage production due to poor acting and unrealistic costumes and props. Disillusionment shines through the written play, even though the readers cannot physically see the actions of disillusionment. All of the characters are living in their own worlds, not realizing reality, but the most prominent case of disillusionment comes from Amanda. Amanda continues to live in the past, not recognizing that time has moved forward. She constantly relives moments of her teen years, making her children uncomfortable. Amanda tends to remind Laura how many gentlemen callers her mother had in her day, despite the fact that it may hurt her daughter considering she has none, “One Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain–your mother received– seventeen– gentlemen callers!(Williams). While Amanda is stuck in the past, it is almost as if Tom is stuck in the future. Tom dreams for a life full of adventure. He goes to the movie theater every night, watching action films that are not realistic, but are what he dreams his life to be like.
He is very immature, but also someone who is large minded. He is immature in the way that he does not comprehend that action movies are not what his life would be like, if he left his family. He is large minded in the way that he is simply bored. He hates living a small life, in a small town, with his small family; “Everytime you come in yelling that goddamn “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! And you say self-self’s all I ever think of. Why, listen, if self is what I thought of, Mother, I’d be where he is — GONE!(Williams)”Amanda and Tom may be opposites in their disillusionment, but Laura’s is all her own. Laura’s disillusionment is that she never matured. Laura has the mentality of a child. She plays with her glass collection, or toys, as a way of coping with her life. The way Laura speaks of her glass animals is very childlike and as if they are real, “Put him on the table. They all like a change of scenery once in awhile!(Williams)” The entire family has their own disillusionment, but together they all achieve being completely disillusioned.
Williams does an amazing job of giving each character their own type of disillusionment and unique personality, but the stage production of the play does not represent each character’s disillusionment to the fullest. One way the film does not represent each character’s disillusionment to the fullest, is the mediocre acting. Along with Tom Wingfield being disillusioned, Tom is a mysterious character, contemplating leaving his family. In the stage production of the play, Sam Waterson failed to portray a convincing Tom. Waterson seemed empty minded, or vacant. It is difficult to relate to the character who is supposed to be adventurous and large minded, when the actor shows no emotion. An example of when Waterson could have portrayed a substantial amount of emotion, is the ending scene when Tom leaves his family. This scene should have been an emotional awakening for Tom, but instead it ended the film with the feeling of it being unfinished. On the contrary, Katharine Hepburn managed to portray Amanda Wingfield with the passion and intensity demanded for the part. Hepburn showed the bipolar, overbearing, protective mother that Amanda is. Hepburn perfectly captured the essence of her character, unlike Waterson.
One moment that best highlighted Hepburn’s performance was the scene when Amanda finds out Laura had not been going to business school. Hepburn’s emotional outburst and dramatic acting made the scene powerful. Joanna Miles on the other hand did not portray Laura as well as her colleague did Amanda. Miles’ acting was not nearly as exceptional as Hepburn’s, but it was also not as dreary as Waterson’s. Miles portrayed a dumb, clueless girl who had no purpose. In the play, Laura is indeed a lost girl, who does not know what her future entails, but she is not stupid. In fact, she is smarter than anyone knows! She is a deep character, who is often misunderstood. Miles failed to portray the depth required for Laura’s role, which in return made the entire film tedious. Overall, the acting in the film disappointed, and did not represent the theme as well as it could have. Another key way that the stage production failed to portray the theme, disillusionment, was the unrealistic costumes and props. In the play, the costumes were made an important aspect of the drama.
The manner in which the attire was described made the impression that clothes were a crucial part of feeling put-together in the Wingfield household. In the film, the costumes did not seem high priority to the producer or costume designer. For example, Amanda’s outfits were rather dull, and out-of-character. Amanda is a loud, dramatic character, it would only make sense that her fashion sense would be the same. In the opening scene, Amanda is dressed in a faded blue top. The pattern is minimal, and attracts no attention. Laura on the other hand, was wearing a bright yellow sweater. Laura is a quiet character, who would never want to attract attention to herself. Styling her in a bright sweater, and her mother in a quiet outfit, was a backwards decision made by the costume designer and producer. The men in the film were dressed fine, but not exceptional, or even simply up to standards. In the beginning scene, Tom was dressed in a simple shirt and sweater, exactly what is expected of a man in his down time. This outfit choice was great, there was no room for complaints. The scenes including Jim however, mediocre once again.
The men were supposed to be dressed in their best for dinner. Instead, Tom and Jim came off as sloppy and bad mannered. The suits did not fit correctly, and the actors seemed uncomfortable. The props also left a feeling of mediocrity. The main prop utilized that was not up-to-par, was the glass menagerie. According to the title, the glass menagerie is a key part of the play. The performance used few glass animals, making the name “the glass menagerie” unrecognizable. Menagerie is another word for zoo, meaning an abundance of animals open for public few. There were dismal numbers of animals in the film, making the iconic title void. The other prop that stood out as unrecognizable was the father’s portrait. In the play, the portrait was used as an escape for Amanda. Every argument Amanda got into, she would turn and look at the portrait. The characters also seemed to reference it a substantial amount of times in the play.
The film neglected the portrait, and the actors did not know when to reference it. Hepburn did not turn to look at the portrait during all of her arguments, which is a key component to representing Amanda. Overall, the portrait was ignored by all characters, making it just another unimportant prop. The costumes and props in the film did not meet the standards of the play, making the film unimmusing, and unable to meet the theme of disillusion. The film did not meet the correct standards in order to represent the theme of disillusionment due to the awkward acting, and unbelievable costumes and props. Disillusionment was portrayed through each character in the play, making the theme obvious. The film, however, made the original theme unidentifiable. If it were not for Waterson’s uninspired performance of Tom, and the run-of-the-mill costumes and props, the film would have accurately portrayed the theme of disillusionment. Unfortunately, the film failed to bring the film to life. Tennessee Williams’ play is an iconic work, read in high schools and universities around the world. If the film had represented the theme well, it would also be an iconic piece of work today.
- Ford, Cecil F. The Glass Menagerie. Youtube, 15 Mar. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3TrLczE9Oo.Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. 1945.