The Glass Menagerie as Expressionist Theatre

The Glass Menagerie has often been called an extension of the expressionist theatre. The Expressionist movement is known for its certain characteristics- the most prominent being the stark rejection of Realism to embrace dreamlike states. The narratives are often non- linear with disconnected structures- imageries and symbolism take the place of naturalism- the focus is always on abstract ideas and concepts. Artists who practiced Expressionism focused on the alienation of man as an individual, the isolated selves trapped in the modern life. Expressionism propagates the idea that the angst within individuals will not be satiated by modern social constructs. It deals with the internal subjective perception of an individual; thus, it negates the objective take on reality.

Though America did not directly participate in the First World War, it could not avoid the effects of it. We have already discussed the economic recession and the Great Depression which were the consequences of the war. The economic downfall affected the South the most. The south can be called the American equivalent to the Hyde Park in London. The southern people did not accept the blow at first, they tried to continue with their superfluous lifestyle which Williams has used in this play brilliantly. Amanda, the ‘Southern Belle’ is the representative of this past glory. The financial reality has changed but she plays the role of the perfect host by covering up the dingy, shabby apartment. She is the victim of the ruined South but her pride keeps her in a fantastical state. Amanda with her eloquence and artistic superiority engages the audience in a jocund atmosphere. Against Amanda’s jonquils and aristocratic coquettish dress, Laura becomes the symbol of the hollow present of the South. Laura, shies away from her own shadow while people like Jim (North) try to fit in with the situation and accept reality – thus she becomes the representative of the wobbly reality of the adamant South.

The drastic change in socio-economic conditions of America in the 1930s did not give a scope to the common people to bask in the luxury or to escape in the fantasy. The hopelessness in a trapped existence was the only reality. Here comes the mastery of Williams, he portrays a subjective perception of reality. Amanda’s flamboyant attitude, Laura’s way too expensive shyness and Tom’s constant addiction to entertainment are expressionist tools to portray and criticize the condition of Americans in 1930s.

Instead of the prosaic dialogues of realist drama Williams played with language; emphasizing the emotions of the characters. He explored the internal aspiration of the Americans, who continuously chased progress, a fantastical dream that had been sold to them. Amanda’s continuous struggle to stay in the magic cirque of memory, Laura’s self- exile and Tom’s literary angst project three characters who dream. Their dreams are being murdered for a greater good- a bigger dream of a whole nation- the American Dream.

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