Thomas Lanier Williams, better known as Tennessee Williams, like many of the greatest authors, playwrights, and poets, often wrote his best work about what he knew. The people met and situations experienced influenced the growth and characters of Williams’ work. His play The Glass Menagerie reflects Williams own life so much that it could be mistaken as pages from his own autobiography. Tennessee’s mother, Edwina Estelle Dakin, often reflected on the past and recanted her youth as a southern belle and life as a Puritanical woman.
Edwina had a huge effect on Williams’s life as well as holding a leading role as Amanda in The Glass Menagerie. Both Edwina and Amanda had a verbal compulsion. Williams had once stated that his mother “will be talking a half hour after she’s laid to rest. ” Amanda seemed to work in her memory of “the time I had seventeen gentleman callers on one Sunday afternoon,” whenever she could. Williams’s own mother often talked about the more civilized way of life in the south.
With this in mind Williams has referred to her as “that slightly cracked southern belle” and has implied that her sum total influence” led him into homosexuality. As a child Williams was stricken with diphtheria and became very close to his mother while recovering from the illness. Later in life, he rebelled against her moral restrictions by making his plays, for that period in time, risqu. Like Amanda Edwina doted on her son. Between the constant smothering of his mother and his father’s lack of presence, Williams adopted somewhat effeminate mannerisms, which increased as he became older.
Cornelius Coffin Williams was William’s father and sometime tormentor. He was rarely home due to his job a traveling representative for the International Shoe Company. Cornelius was a drinker, a poker player and was abusive to all family members. The little time he spent with Williams in his youth was as an abusive father. Cornelius mentioned quite often that Williams was not “quite right. ” He even went as far as giving Williams the nickname “Miss Nancy,” because of traits picked up from Williams mother. Cornelius showed preferential treatment to Williams’s much younger brother Dakin.
In The Glass Menagerie, his representation is that of the missing ather’s portrait. Like William’s own father, Mr. Wingfield had been apt to stay away from the family. However, Mr. Wingfield finally abandoned his family. Williams had to come up with the money and push his mother into a divorce to be rid of Cornelius. Williams had a brother eight years his younger, Walter Dakin Williams. There was never much of a relationship between Dakin and Tennessee Williams. Partly due to the age difference and it seems primarily to his father’s treatment of Dakin.
While Tennessee Williams was berated and put own by his father, Dakin was the golden boy. When introduced to new acquaintances, the two boys were introduced as “Thomas and my son Dakin. ” The Glass Menagerie has no mention of a brother and no character to represent him. In effect, Williams eliminated Dakin from the play as a bit of a reprisal. Williams’s feelings toward being looked over led to this dismissal of his brother. Instead of Dakin he preferred the company of his sister, Rose. Laura Wingfield is a clear representation of Williams’s mentally distressed sister Rose Williams.
The stresses that Laura feels in the company of strangers are nearly identical to the effects on Williams’s sister, to a lesser degree. Rose suffered from crippling fear and depression. She grew less active in society to the point of secluding herself from all but Williams and his mother. Through all of her troubles, Williams remained the closest of friends with her. They were so close that the Williams servant, Ozzie, referred to them as “the couple. ” Exactly like Laura, Rose had taken business classes to help gain a job and a husband.
Unlike Laura, Rose actually became a receptionist and worked for over a week before she began staying home from work. She never actually quit but she never returned either. Rose also received only one real gentleman caller just as Laura had. Rose, due to the episodes of depression and panic was placed in several sanitariums. Finally, after on particularly bad occurrence, she was subjected to a lobotomy. A lobotomy is a surgical procedure, which leaves the patient feeling little to no emotion. Williams maintained an intense personal commitment toward his sister.
Just as Tom Wingfield took care of Laura and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie, Williams maintained a home for Rose and his mother for a long time. Tom Wingfield from the play The Glass Menagerie was Tennessee Williams himself. The character parallels many points to Williams own life. Tom and Williams had a doting mother, missing father, and troubled sister. Williams went so far as to include his own forced job at a shoe manufacturing plant as Tom’s position of employment in The Glass Menagerie. Through out the play Tom struggles in his relationship with his mother just as Williams had with his mother.
At times Amanda is doting and fussing over Tom as if he were a child, and the next moment is berating him on another matter. Tom struggles to avoid running out as his father had. Williams had the same problems with caring for his mother and sister. Tom was a smoker and a drinker on his trips to “the movies. ” Williams also became a smoker, drinker, and poker player, absent-mindedly following his father’s example. As a friend noted, “Though he will not admit it, he is still his father’s son. ” The Glass Menagerie is a direct reflection on the life of Tennessee
Williams. With a few exceptions, the play is his life up to the point the play was written. Williams’s family was the key influence on The Glass Menagerie. The relationships, troubles, and growth he went through are driving force behind this remarkable play. By using his family as characters, he had real emotions to apply in the writing. The feelings are in the words. The Glass Menagerie proves that being familiar with the characters brings out the raw emotion and can be pivotal in creating a great story.