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Historical Context

The Glass Menagerie opened on December 26, 1944 at Chicago's Civic Theatre. Abroad, the Battle of the Bulge (Dec. 16, 1944 - Jan 16, 1945) was taking place in southern Belgium. Also known as the Battle of the Ardennes (because the fighting took place in the Ardennes region of Belgium), this was the last German offensive. It was termed "Battle of the Bulge" after the wedge shape that the Germans had made into the Allied lines in the same region in 1940 -- although the earlier fight was won by the Germans, and the later one won by the Allies.

There were a number of different kinds of literary responses to the war and the postwar atmosphere. In prose fiction, books like Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead (1948), and Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions (1948) were realistic ventures, dealing with topics like power, strategy, and militaristic ideology. Other writers, like Vladimir Nabokov and Jorge Luis Borges became strong influences on non-realist American postwar writing. To many, it seemed like realism might not be able to capture to absurdity and extremism of mid-century events like the dropping of the atom bomb. These works emphasized innovations in form and language, and presented a more "artificial" or deliberately contrived landscape than those conjured in realist fiction.

Social realism remained a strong force in American fiction, though, especially amongst Jewish writers who perhaps had a stronger stake in striving for certain kinds of accuracy and verisimilitude. Writers like Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Grace Paley and Isaac Bashevis Singer came into their own during this period and offered fiction that directly addressed questions of Jewish identity.

Black writers like James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison wrote essays calling for the realistic representation of the lives of minorities. Many consider Ellison's Invisible Man (1952) to be one of the most important novels of the postwar period. Ellison and Baldwin tackled such topics as religion, sexuality, nationalism, and communism, to name a few -- issues that were coming to a head after the war.

Alongside these prose movements, drama was coming into its own as an anti-commercial force in American cultural life. Perhaps following the prose innovations, drama too took on an experimental edge. Eugene O'Neill was perhaps the most famous of the early-to-mid-century playwrights. While Anna Christie(1921), Desire Under the Elms (1924), and The Iceman Cometh (1946) were all naturalistic works, The Hairy Ape (1922) and The Emperor Jones (1920) made use of a kind of German expressionism popularized between 1914 and 1924. Williams would later pick up this expressionistic style and use it in The Glass Menagerie, in which he aims not to represent "objective" reality, but rather to somehow depict the subjective emotions of the characters. This is done by eschewing fluid outward appearances and striving towards exaggerated, distorted or jarring formal qualities. We can see this in the motions the actors make or the way in which formal structures, such as lighting or sound, work in the play. This style was meant to evoke the ecstasy or torment (to name just two possible emotions) of the characters' states of mind.

Expressionism was the dominant literary movement in Germany during and directly after WWI, and conceived itself in opposition to smooth bourgeois complacency, with its emphasis on outward appearance and material possessions. For Williams, too, we might say, expressionism is a way of resisting the easy flow of cinematic images, the way in which American popular culture lulls its masses into thoughtlessness through easily digestible realistic representations of bourgeois life.

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Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Scene One
Scene Two
Scene Three
Scene Four
Scene Five
Scene Six
Scene Seven


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