Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Employment of a Screen Device in The Glass Menagerie

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The Glass Menagerie is a collection of memories played out onstage, and therefore does not flow in the traditional way. For this reason, Tennessee Williams uses the screen device as a guide for the audience. It guides the audience transitionally, as the tone or focus changes, it repeatedly offers emphasis and further insight, and above all sets the mood by stirring up particular emotions in the audience. Beyond simply leading the way through the play, the screen device is a tool used to alter our comprehension of the events taking place. Williams accomplishes all this through a careful selection of images and phrases, including quotes from the characters themselves.

Throughout the play, the screen device is used repeatedly as a transitional tool that leads us onward and into the main focus and tone of the coming scene. The very first legend appears on screen immediately following Tom’s introduction and precedes the first dialogue of the play. The legend reads, “Ou sont les neiges” (I.185). The translation need not be known, though it does suggest the main focus of the scene more bluntly. Regardless, this legend actually sets the tone for not only the scene, but for the play, which is primarily nostalgic, but also has a feel of romantic melancholy. Within this first scene the audience sees the family seated at the dining room table, and for the first time hears Amanda’s flashbacks to her days as a debutante. It is through these flashbacks that we come to understand Amanda and her desires for Laura. It makes sense then, that the image that appears on screen at the open of the next scene is blue roses. The image leads us into the story of the first and only boy Laura has ever liked. Laura shows Amanda his picture, and tells her “He used to call me�Blue Roses” (II.101). This image also offers a feeling of sadness, but a persistence of beauty, and romanticism, the tone that persists throughout the play.

Already, the audience can understand that the screen device is multi-purpose. Building on the ideas of transition and tone, the device is also used to offer further insight and emphasis on events and characters. This is much simpler, and plainly obvious. For instance, in scene one, when Amanda is telling the story of her 17 gentlemen callers, and we see an image of her as a girl on a porch, it is clear the image is just to emphasize the importance of this story. Later on, in scene six, after Tom has told Amanda about Jim, he addresses the audience regarding Jim. The scene opens with the image of a “High-school hero”(VI, 116). Tom tells us, “In high school Jim was a hero”(VI.116). Then the image changes, and it is the image of a clerk. We are told, “He was the only one at the warehouse with whom I was on friendly terms. I was valuable to him as someone who could remember his former glory…”(VI.116). The images simply enhance Tom’s story, and help us to better understand Jim.

The primary and most complex function of the screen device is to stir up a particular emotion in the audience. Essentially, this is when Williams is telling us not only what to pay attention to, but how to feel about it. There are occurrences in the play when the emotion the audience should feel is made very clear, such as in scene six when the legend “Terror!” appears twice, both in regards to Laura encountering Jim (IV.11, 1). However, when blue roses appear on screen again in scene seven, the message is a bit subtler. At this point, Jim and Laura are deep in conversation, and Jim tells Laura “You’re one times one!….They’re common as�weeds, but, --- you�well, you’re�Blue Roses!” (VII.1). The feeling meant to be associated with “blue roses” in this instance is different than the previous times it occurred. This time, it’s a bit of excitement, anticipation, as well as the strange, beautiful, sadness.

Williams’ use of the screen device in The Glass Menagerie is an effective element used to alter the audience’s comprehension of the events taking place. It is only one of the tools Williams employs to accomplish this goal, but it is both frequent and complex. The screen device is capable of guidance and transition, as well as setting tone and evoking emotion from the audience.

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