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Modernistic Features Of The Play The Glass Menagerie

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The Glass Menagerie” is a modernist play written by Tennessee William and was published in 1944. This era was very well known for all the changes in literature and society. In his work, the writer presented post- modernistic characteristics through the need of society to break all conventions and to run away from the harsh reality of the war. Society no longer wants to conform to rules given by institutions, and families are broken. Plus, literature has seen a different style of writing and experimentation. Similarly, this play presents chattered characters, unable to live realistically. They live through illusions that they create for themselves. So, this essay will present these changes such as the pessimistic attitude, the use of symbolism and the broken families.

This play is quite dramatic and there is a lot of pessimism, an alienation and a sense of despair. It is represented through the setting of the house in which the characters are very gloomy and sad. The music is soft at the beginning then suddenly changes when Tom fights with his mom on Laura’s condition. ‘the music changes to a tango that has a minor and somewhat ominous tone’. In fact, all the elements of the setting establish the sad mood. The tone is sad and regretful as well because of the use of the dim light. Plus, the critical tone is clear through all the criticism that the mother gives to both Tom and Laura. Such constant critique creates a painful tension that none of the members of the family can break. This technique of combining setting effects such as dramatic music and decor to create drama in accordance to the character’s feelings is very proper to the 20th century plays. The writer experiments and the dramatic effects used are very much new. All the rules of writing are being reviewed and there is creativity and innovation to find new ways of expressing drama.

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Another modernistic feature is the extensive use of symbolism. This movement started under the umbrella of the 20th century. the most meaningful symbol in the play is the glass menagerie, also used as a title. The glass menagerie is in reference to Laura’s collection that she keeps polishing to escape from the harsh reality that she lives in. It reflects Laura’s fragility, as she does not want to go to school because the outside world scares her. The fire escape is yet another powerful symbol. Tom smoking near the fire place suggests that he wants to escape and is tired of having to face responsibilities. As for Jim, he calls Laura “the blue roses” symbol of her beauty because Laura is known for her gorgeousness. However, it could symbolize her loneliness and retreat from the outside world because blue roses do not exist. The coffin is yet another symbol for the house, in which Tom wants to break free from the ties of his mother. The characters are dissatisfied with their reality just like modernists rejected realism. All these symbols are a way to portray the emotions of the characters used by modernist writers.

All members of the Wingfield family are living in the same house, but are unable to communicate and to understand one another. They are so close physically but their mental state suggests that each character has a distinct illusion that he created for himself. If we consider Amanda, her obsession with the past when she was a young desired woman haunts her in her life. She doesn’t understand her daughter Laura and there is always this inability to fully communicate. As for Laura, not only is she always in her room, but she also rarely talks to her family. Her world of perfect glass dolls blinds her from everything else. Tom isn’t content and doesn’t want to take responsibility for his family. He simply wants to escape which is the reason why he leaves the house to go to the cinema. Along with Laura, their worlds are real only in arts including the movie he watches, the poetry he reads and his obsession with Shakespeare. This sense of inner self is proper to the 20th century. People are no longer concerned with the masses. Each person is free to do whatever she sees fit. The same thing happens in the play. Even when being in a same house, to each his own.

Finally, the changes in society are clear in the play because of the pessimistic attitudes of the characters who are looking for an escape from family ties and society’s rules. We could add to it the displayed setting such as the music and the décor who go in accordance with the events and establish the mood. The changes in literature include the use of extensive symbolism to portray a certain character psychologically or to tell about his temperament. modernistic features used in this play show that each character is independent to the point where there is a dysfunction and constant misunderstanding. The modernism was quite an experimental period were writers wouldn’t hesitate to perceive life differently and to live more freely.

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Modernistic Features Of The Play The Glass Menagerie. (2021, August 26). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
“Modernistic Features Of The Play The Glass Menagerie.” Edubirdie, 26 Aug. 2021,
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Modernistic Features Of The Play The Glass Menagerie [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Aug 26 [cited 2023 Sept 22]. Available from:
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