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The Crashing Symbols of The Glass Menagerie and My Little Town


silverystars 14 / 105  
Apr 3, 2009   #1
This is what I have written so far, off the top of my head. I'm just not sure if I'm on the right track. It has to be 2,000 words, and I've barely half that! Thanks in advance!

The Crashing Symbols of "The Glass Menagerie" and "My Little Town"

At the beginning of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie," Tom Wingfield makes it clear in his narration that the story about to be seen is true, though certainly not in a purely realistic sense. What the audience is about to see is most true to Tom himself, for it is a heartfelt, if artfully composed, recollection of a pivotal time in his life. Through remembrance and imagination, he concocts a moving monument that allows him to deal with his past in a highly creative manner, to turn psychological discord into something harmonious. As Tom states about his method of delivery in his opening soliloquy, "I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion" (1729), a description which can easily apply to either a stage play or a four-minute hit single. Like a songwriter, the playwright expounds his past in a powerful, lyrical piece. If ever there was a pop song equivalent of "The Glass Menagerie," it is "My Little Town," a song composed by Paul Simon and released in 1975 by Simon and Garfunkel. Through interpretation and analysis, the story of "My Little Town" can be seen as being strikingly similar to that of "The Glass Menagerie." The characters of the play can be seen in the song's lyrics in both a literal and symbolic sense. Both the song and play share the same basic theme: no matter how far someone goes, it is impossible to truly escape his or her past.

Tennessee Williams and Paul Simon both share similarities not only in writing style but also in biography. Williams "is considered one of the best playwrights" of the post-WWII era, and "wrote powerful and involved dramas that mainly deal sensitively with emotionally damaged people trying to survive in a hostile environment" (Asiado), an apt description of "The Glass Menagerie." In a similar manner, Simon is generally regarded as "one of the most accomplished and sophisticated songwriters, able to condense, in a few verses, simple but universal emotions," creating songs that are "delicate urban introspection . . . humble but profound vignettes of daily life . . . [with] an intense sense of compassion for the personal and public tragedies of humanity" (Scaruffi). To summarize their respective styles, each writer places emotionally injured characters in a sympathetic light.

On a lighter note, coincidentally, at one time in their lives, both Williams and Simon worked in the shoe industry. Tennessee's father, Cornelius, who was a traveling shoe salesman, forced him to withdraw from college and work as a clerk at the International Shoe Company in St. Louis, Missouri. In an interview with Katherine Lanpher on the Barnes & Noble interview series "One on One," Simon described his first job: "I worked at Kitty Kelly Shoes, which was at 34th Street then [near Broadway in New York City.] It's gone now, and not lamented. I was fifteen, and I was a stock clerk. My job was to go get the shoes that the salespeople requested. My nickname was Lightning. In my mind, I was not really planning on having a career in the shoe business" (Lanpher). It is fitting that, in Williams' play, Tom, like Williams and Simon in their youths, is an aspiring poet who works at a shoe warehouse, frustrated by the routine of his job: "Whenever I pick up a shoe, I shudder a little thinking how short life is and what I am doing! Whatever that means, I know it doesn' t mean shoes-except as something to wear on a traveler's feet!" (1756). The same longing for escape, along with its consequences, is also the major theme of Simon's song "My Little Town."

In the song, the character of Tom's father, Mr. Wingfield, can be interpreted in a symbolic sense as having a Godlike influence on Tom. The first half of the first verse can be seen simply as a description by the singer of growing up believing in God and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, showing that religion and patriotism are a strong influence in his hometown: "In my little town/I grew up believing/God keeps His eye on us all/And He used to lean upon me/As I pledged allegiance to the wall/Lord I recall/My little town" (Simon). When contrasted with the play, however, it can be seen as having another dimension. In the play, Mr. Wingfield has abandoned the family and, therefore, is never seen, save for a large photo of him that hangs in the Wingfields' living room. The only contact established by him to his family is a brusquely written postcard from Mexico. In the song, God "lean upon" the singer while pledging "allegiance to the wall," which, when coupled with the line, "Lord, I recall," paints a picture of a man holding his hand over a heavy heart, mourning the loss of his past. In the play, Tom's father is still with him in memory, though it is purely in the spirit of abandonment: "I'm like my father. The bastard son of a bastard! Did you notice how he's grinning in his picture in there?" (1756). Mr. Wingfield exerts an almost omnipresent power over Tom, which is emphasized by the photo kept on display. This analogy is further coalesced by Laura's likening of their mother Amanda's disappointed face to that of a "picture of Jesus' mother" (1735), a reference to Mary, who is described in Christianity as a virgin who conceived Jesus by means of the spirit of God. At the beginning of Scene Four, as a church bell rings, a drunken Tom "shakes a little noisemaker . . . as to express the tiny spasm of man in contrast to the sustained power . . . of the Almighty" (1739). This, combined with like symbols, show both how insignificant Tom feels in his small-town existence and how worshiping he is of his father's lasting example of self-empowerment through escape.

The song can also be interpreted as describing the character of Tom's mother, Amanda Wingfield, who is portrayed in an unsophisticated manner that belies her genteel upbringing. In the second half of the first verse of "My Little Town," the protagonist reveals more of what is on his mind with arduous images of factories and doing laundry, which show that a strong work ethic is deeply embedded in his memories, though in a bitter tone: "Coming home after school/Flying my bike past the gates/Of the factories/My mom doing the laundry/Hanging our shirts/In the dirty breeze" (Simon). Amanda is a faded Southern Belle, as she was raised aristocratically in her oft-reminisced Blue Mountain. However, once she married Mr. Wingfield and was subsequently abandoned, she was forced into single-motherhood and her life was drastically changed. This reversal of fortune, which finds Amanda and her family living in a tenement in Depression era-St. Louis, can be visualized through the song as the protagonist's mother does the tedious work of a servant, washing and drying the family clothes.

Tom's memory of Amanda can also be seen as being accompanied by contemptuousness, as the shirts are hung "in the dirty breeze," most likely caused by the churning of factory smokestacks. The image of traveling through the city can be symbolic of Tom longing to take flight from Amanda and her dominance over his actions: "More and more you remind me of your father! He was out all hours without explanation!-Then left! Goodbye! And me with the bag to hold (1744) . . . What right have you got to . . . jeopardize the security of us all?" (1738). Amanda's reprehensible nagging is not so much out of a desire to control Tom, but rather to keep him from becoming like the negligent Mr. Wingfield. But it is to no avail, as her concern for him is executed without sophistication and, therefore, is poorly received by Tom, as if it were nothing more than mechanized smog. In other words, Amanda's good intentions are what pave the road for Tom's escape.

The characters of Tom's painfully shy sister, Laura Wingfield, and Jim O'Connor, Tom's goal-oriented co-worker at the shoe warehouse and Laura's secret high-school crush, can be interpreted in the second verse of the song as being represented by conflicting symbols of escape into fantasy and the contrary threat posed to it by reality: "And after it rains/There's a rainbow/And all of the colors are black/It's not that the colors aren't there/It's just imagination they lack/Everything's the same/Back in my little town" (Simon). Laura attempts to be a calming force amid the dysfunctional dynamic between Tom and Amanda. Therefore, she can be seen as a the proverbial rainbow after the rain of the family's stormy domestic life. At the same time, Laura is also the owner of the titular menagerie-a collection of tiny glass animal figurines that, if seen in the right light, become prisms displaying "delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow" (1773). The same characterization can be applied to Laura. She tends to withdraw into shyness and speak very few words when faced with pressures from the outside world. In the right situation, though, she can display a bright and colorful side of herself, as seen when she shows off her collection: "Little articles of it, they're ornaments mostly! Most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest little animals in the world . . . Here's an example of one, if you'd like to see it!" (1766). Such is how she is able to be sociable with Jim in a chance reunion in the Wingfield apartment.

Jim stands in stark, logical contrast to Laura's fantasizing nature. He is referred to as "being an emissary from a world of reality that we were somehow set apart from" (1730) by Tom in his opening soliloquy to the audience. Jim is the embodiment of the world and the "imagination they lack," in terms of being ignorant of the true suffering of others, coupled with misguided attempts to relieve it. During their encounter, Jim states outright regarding one of the figurines, "I'd better not take it. I'm pretty clumsy with things" (1766). When he does accidentally break the horn off of Laura's glass unicorn, it is an act that is indicative of his unthinking nature and a foreshadowing of how he accidentally breaks her heart. For even when they kiss, it is merely an effort on Jim's part to "build [her] confidence up and make [her] proud instead of shy and turning away" (1769). After their kiss, Jim tells Laura that he is engaged to someone else. Like the imaginary unicorn that, once its horn is broken, is reduced to a horse, Laura's heart is broken by Jim, causing her dreams of love, when confronted by the reality of the situation, to be reduced to nothing. As reflected in the song, because of Jim's insensitivity, Laura's unique, rainbow-like qualities are turned black as she is locked in a cell of loneliness from which there is no escape. This crippling event is the turning point in Tom's desire to break away from the responsibilities that have been thrust upon him.

The final verse and chorus of the song can be construed as very much like Tom's relationship with Amanda, which parallels that of Laura and Jim, in that her severity toward the excitement-seeking Tom causes him to finally walk out, though doing so means upsetting the lives of his mother and sister: "In my little town/I never meant nothin'/I was just my father's son/Saving my money/Dreaming of glory/Twitching like a finger/On the trigger of a gun/Leaving nothing but the dead and dying/Back in my little town" (Simon). The seemingly sentimental images of the song are now rendered empty and meaningless, as the protagonist wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of his little town, no matter the cost. The image of saving his money can be seen as a good thing, but, in Tom's situation, it is done in a way that hurts his family. Instead of paying their light bill, he purchases a membership with the Union of Merchant Seamen, which serves as an outlet for his pursuit of dreams of glory. Tom, being the pleasure-centered person he is, is fed up: he has become both frustrated with being harassed by Amanda's constant criticism and bored with the limited level of fun he can have. The picture produced by the analogy of the protagonist "twitching like a finger" pulling "the trigger of a gun" strikes with impact. It implies that his exit is akin to committing a crime that leaves "nothing but the dead and dying," a line that repeats over and over again as the song ends. In Tom's situation, the dead and dying can be seen as Amanda and Laura, with no one to support them. The haunting memories and persistent guilt of his decision to leave them confirms that, even though he is far from his little town, he is nothing but a fugitive, one who will never outrun his past.

Placing "The Glass Menagerie" and "My Little Town" in a side-by-side analysis serves to emphasize the creative aspect, as both the song and the play are ambiguous and open to the audience to decide the effects and the effectiveness of Tom's actions. At the end of the play, Tom Wingfield makes it clear that he could never really escape his past, for it continued to haunt him over and over again, even through the power of song: "It always came upon me unawares . . . Perhaps it was a familiar piece of music. Perhaps it was only a piece of transparent glass. . ." (1773). Therefore, the only true escape was for him to confront it as best he could: by handling it in some form of artistic expression, "truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion" (1729). Both song and play capture the same themes. The song, like the play, like Tom's depiction of Mr. Wingfield, shows both the emptiness and presence left by a missing family member. The song, like Tom's depiction of Amanda, uses urban images fraught with feelings of escape and contempt. The song, like the play, conveys Laura's dreamy and potentially colorful nature and the shattering of it by Jim's logical manner and lack of thoughtfulness. Ultimately, both play and song feature an almost violent desire to escape the confinement of family and small-town life. Even without interpretation and analysis of these details, it is clear that both are well-crafted, emotionally resonant works with much in the way of artistic value. Their very existence show that, while true escape from one's own past is impossible, one can turn those same regretful memories and experiences into powerful art that can be inspiring to others.

Works Cited

Williams, Tennessee. "The Glass Menagerie." Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Edgar V. Roberts; Henry E. Jacobs. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. 1727-73.

Simon, Paul. "My Little Town | Paul Simon." Paul Simon.

Asiado, Tel. "Tennessee Williams Biography: American Playwright, Novelist, Poet, famous for The Glass Menagerie." Great Writers @ Suite101.

Scaruffi, Piero. "The History of Rock Music. Paul Simon: biography, discography, reviews, links." Piero Scaruffi's knowledge base.

Lanpher, Katherine. "Paul Simon | Book Videos, Interviews & Podcasts from B&N Studio." Book Videos, Interviews & Podcasts from B&N Studio.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Apr 3, 2009   #2
Expand more on the meaning of the song lyrics at the beginning of each paragraph.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Apr 5, 2009   #3
This first paragraph is great! You introduce both and give a clear thesis statement.

Like a songwriter, Tom the playwright poetically personifies expounds his past into in a powerful, lyrical piece. If ever there was a pop song equivalent of "The Glass Menagerie," it is "My Little Town," a song composed by Paul Simon and released in 1975 by Simon and Garfunkel. both of the singing duo Simon and Garfunkel.

Of, I see what Sean means about expanding more on them at the beginning of each paragraph. (I have never heard this song, even though I am a Simon and Garfunkle fan, thanks! I'm listening to it now.) One more thing about it: the format you use with slash marks is unattractive; I wonder if there is a format your prof prefers. I would prefer to put the lyrics in Italics in their own, centered paragraphs.

Anyway, that is no big deal. I think you should find ways to make it less wordy, perhaps by not repeating the name of the song or the name of the glass menagerie so many times. Perhaps just call them "the song" and "the play" In the body paragraphs, but naming them in the intro and conclusion paragraphs.

This is pretty great! Paul Simn and Tennessee Williams are worth much attention.
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
Apr 9, 2009   #4
Thanks for your feedback. My teacher wondered if there was anything already written to support a connection between Williams and Simon. Not that I know of, but I would love it if someone could post a link if there is something like that in existence: it would make writing this essay a lot easier!

Here is where I am at so far. Again, this is an incomplete work-in-progress:

The Crashing Symbols of "The Glass Menagerie" and "My Little Town"
...
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Apr 10, 2009   #5
Well, my most important advice is that this is an essay that will need many coats of paint. When I write something simple, it may need only 2 coats of paint, but somthing as complex as this... trying to link the song to the play throughout.

One coat of paint will have to be for transitions. You should not jump from topic to topic just to link the play to the song in various ways. The essay needs a subtle theme that goes beyond just showing the play and song together. The relationship of the play to the song has hidden meaning, and it is your job to uncover that. When you do, explain it in that first paragraph -- at the very end.

That way, in addition to showing the relationship between the song and play, you also have a unique theme.
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
Apr 10, 2009   #6
Thanks for responding. I wrote, at the last minute, a poetry exposition (pasted below) on the song after I began working on the essay itself. I was thinking of focusing on the idea of "the impossibility of true escape," since they both have that in common, but is that really unique?

Again, thanks for all of your help!
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Apr 11, 2009   #7
This is great! I hope you are able to incorporate it into the essay. Here is some help with the way to use commas in order to include an extra clause in a sentence:

The message of Paul Simon's composition "My Little Town" is that, no matter how far one goes, it is impossible to escape the past.

There is a pause after "that" and after "goes," and it serves to distinguish this extra clause in the sentence. Commas are used this way in order to accommodate clauses that are "not essential to the meaning of the sentence."

I hope that you, a thoughtful student, have good luck with this excellent essay.
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
Apr 14, 2009   #8
Thanks. I also found this abridged passage in a book that is a favorite of mine, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People":

The pleasure-centered person, too soon bored with each succeeding level of "fun," constantly cries for more and more. ...[REMOVED]...Where is the security, the guidance, the wisdom, and the power? At the low end of the continuum, in the pleasure of a fleeting moment.

Perhaps I could apply it to this essay in some way? My rough draft is due today, so I'm frantic for a fit of inspiration.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Apr 14, 2009   #9
Building on Kevin's advice to you about transitions, I think that the only real problem your essay has is that you still persist in treating the song as if it were about the play, rather than similar to it. So, you say things such as "The song also describes the character of Tom's mother, Amanda Wingfield." I'm guessing that this isn't true, that the song is not attempting to describe Tom's mother at all, but that instead it describes a person who manifests characteristics that are similar to those of Tom's mother in the play. This guess, by the way, is based on your own phrasing of the thesis: "the story of "My Little Town" can be seen as being strikingly similar to that of "The Glass Menagerie." This is a different assertion than arguing that the song is about the play. The distinction is important, and if you don't maintain it throughout, the essay will sound slightly off, even if the reader will still be able to figure out what you really mean.
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
Apr 14, 2009   #10
Thanks for all the feedback! Yes, I do need to make the distinction that it is only an interpretation, and that any similarities boil down to my point of view.

Here is another coat of paint...:)

Thanks so much for all of your help, Kevin and Sean!

The Crashing Symbols of "The Glass Menagerie" and "My Little Town"
...
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Apr 15, 2009   #11
Even without going into interpretation and analysis, it is clear that "My Little Town" and "The Glass Menagerie" are well-crafted works with much in the way of artistic value. Their very existence show that, while true escape from one's own past is impossible, one can turn those same regretful memories and experiences into powerful art that can be inspiring to others.

Not "their very existence," but instead ... no, actually, the way you have it seems great. I see what you mean about how their existence shows that. But you must say something about the authors' intended meanings! hat can you say to expand on the thesis statement? Restate the thesis and EXPAND on it. That notion is new to me, actually. I always thought the thesis should be repeated and driven home in the last para... not EXPANDED. But go on and expand your thesis now. :)
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
Apr 15, 2009   #12
the authors' intended meanings!

Yes, definitely! Also, the idea of "expanding" my thesis wasn't intentional, but rather a happy accident. Thanks, Kevin!
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Apr 17, 2009   #13
Wow! Someone still believes in intentionality when it comes to interpreting texts. Hallelujah and praise the Lord! But . . . arrgh . . . as much as I agree . . . I . . . urgh . . . can't resist playing devil's advocate . . . so . . .

Try searching Google" for "intentional fallacy" in order to familiarize yourself with the latest literary theories (i.e. those after developed sometime after the 20th Century) and throw off your anachronistic, and probably patriarchal and oppressive, Victorian mindset. Good grief, who really believes that texts have individual authors in any meaningful sense anymore?

:-)
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
Apr 17, 2009   #14
Thanks for inspiring a "light-bulb" moment, Sean! This led to me discover the theory of reader-response criticism, which I strongly identify with. I don't totally disregard that, most likely, Paul Simon wasn't inspired by "The Glass Menagerie". What I am saying, though, is that I like my interpretation, and I hope that whoever reads it likes it, too! In the end, if you actively hear or read or see a work of art, you become involved in the art itself. You add to its significance and meaning through your own interpretation. I had better funnel this revelatory feeling into finishing this essay!
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
Apr 17, 2009   #15
Here is what I have so far for the final paragraph. I'm not entirely happy with it, but it has potential. :)

(...) Placing "The Glass Menagerie" and "My Little Town" in a side-by-side analysis serves to emphasize that creative aspect. Both play and song combined show Tom's depiction of his father through religious symbolism in his physical absence and spiritual presence. Both associate Amanda with themes of escape and contempt. Both convey Laura's dreamy and potentially colorful nature singlehandedly shattered by Jim's logical manner and lack of thoughtfulness. Ultimately, both play and song combined show Tom's almost violent desire to escape the confinement of his family, and both leave the result of which ambiguous and open to the audience to decide the effects and the effectiveness of his actions. (...)
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Apr 17, 2009   #16
Placing "The Glass Menagerie" and "My Little Town" in a side-by-side analysis serves to emphasize that creative aspect. Both play and song [...] ambiguous and open to the audience to decide the effects and the effectiveness of his actions.

It might be good to start with all this, above. It is not so good to start with the sentence you currently start with. Can you move that first sentence so that it comes after effectiveness of his actions?

You just need to give it a topic sentence.

This is such a hard essay, because you have to write about both things in every paragraph...
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Apr 18, 2009   #17
"Both play and song combined show Tom's depiction of his father through religious symbolism in his physical absence and spiritual presence. Both associate Amanda with themes of escape and contempt" I thought you had agreed that the song wasn't about the play? If so, I think what you mean here is that both song and play capture the same themes. The song, like Tom's depiction of his father, shows the emptiness left by a missing family member. Or something along those lines.
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
Apr 18, 2009   #18
Like I said, I wasn't entirely happy with it! Thanks, guys. :)
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Apr 19, 2009   #19
That's much better. I like the anaphora -- it creates a nice rhythm. It also completely solves the issue you were having with conflating the song and play. Great job.
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
May 6, 2009   #20
Because of a formatting error, I received a B. I'm happy with that.
Notoman 20 / 419  
May 6, 2009   #21
Man! I *hate* that. I have been nicked several times for formatting errors. You would think that I would learn, but I guess I am a little slow. Part of the problem is the inconsistiencies in on-line sources. One would think that you could Google "MLA format, long quotes," and come up with the correct answer. I am sure that one could Google "MLA format, long quotes," and come up with the right answer, but I am the idiot that clicks on a link that takes me to a site that shows an outdated format that I will then take as the gospel.

You received a B. Wow. I am shaking my head in disbelief. A formatting error was able to take off that many percentage points?? I am afriad that my future prospects of receiving an A are next to nil.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
May 6, 2009   #22
The worst part is that sometimes teachers have misconceptions about formatting, as we all do, because it involves so many details. Also, when you get into the nitty gritty things, it really becomes a matter of opinion. Sticklers for the rules should keep in mind that language, itself, is something we make up as we go along.
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
May 6, 2009   #23
At one time, it would have been a big deal to me to have received a B on account of a formatting error. At one time, I would have probably responded with negative protest. But I remind myself of this, written by Grace Llewelyn and abridged by me. I ought to print this up and plaster it on my wall:

It makes sense that people who like controlling others gravitate toward teaching. It's a great profession for people who wish they were a king or God . . . It is this controlling and designing quality that disturbs me again and again in teachers - including myself - and in administrators. The most dangerous people in life are often those who want most to help you, whether or not you want their 'help'. "She's the sort of woman who lives for others," wrote C.S. Lewis. "You can tell the others by their hunted expression."

In a broader sense, criticism is to be expected in all aspects of life. That is, unless you do or say nothing at all! So if you get a B, just remember that it's the work you put into it that counts most!
Gautama 6 / 133  
May 6, 2009   #24
Dang! I'm so sorry. I will say that quote about teachers makes me sad, though, ha ha.

Do you mean formatting as in the style of the essay or citations or what?
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
May 6, 2009   #25
It's okay: Bs happen!

The profession of teaching has to be able to withstand the good with the bad. Sometimes, the good outweighs the bad. Most of the time, however, the above quote more than applies.

It was a margin error. That's all it took.

The funny thing is that my teacher once suggested that I not block quote a particular source, and by the time I received my essay back, written next to it (in red ink, of course) was, "No block quote?" (Picture me grinning and bearing it.)

It's not that I was set up to fail, but there is always something to be found by the critical eye.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
May 8, 2009   #26
Sorry to hear about the "B." Great quote though. I'm curious, have you had this particular teacher for a long time?
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
May 13, 2009   #27
Yes, I've known her for about two years now.

I got my final grade for the class (English II) and was shocked: I got an A.

Woo! Thanks for all of your help!


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