I recently discovered that I’ve lost my tattered, old copy of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and I was pretty upset about it. There were two reasons for my devastation: 1. It is my favourite play ever and I read it all the time. And 2. Enjoying both the smell and finding little notes inside the cover from previous owners of second-hand books, I had found the cutest pre-loved copy (it also had A Streetcar Named Desire and Sweet Bird of Youth in it) at a Lifeline Bookfest a few years ago that I’m so sad to be forced to part with.
Wanting to replace it with another second-hand book that hopefully has all three plays in it again, my latest mission in life is to find a copy of The Glass Menagerie to take the place of my previous beloved one.
Even though I am mostly an open book, I harbour a deep respect for those who guard their hearts. These walls are built over time as a form of protection and the builder is not always the person the walls surround. I’m only 24 and while it hasn’t always been an easy ride, to date I have been lucky and happy for most years in my short lifetime. Through art and reading I attempt to further learn and understand human nature and The Glass Menagerie has been my greatest teacher.
As a quick background (but there are some spoilers), The Glass Menagerie focuses on four central characters. It is narrated by an older Tom Wingfield who recounts his memories from 1937 of his mother Amanda, older sister Laura (based loosely on Williams’ own sister) and the gentleman caller Jim O’Connor. Mr Wingfield ran out on his family some years ago and Tom works resentfully to provide for them while Laura who walks with a limp, suffers from pleurosis and obsessively collects glass figurines of animals, is painfully shy and awkward. Mrs Wingfield is an aging Southern belle who often reminisces about her heyday, a recurring character trait in Williams’ works – think Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. She wishes upon her daughter, the adoration of courtship she remembers so fondly and when Tom brings his colleague Jim round for dinner one evening, an attempt at match making ensues. Laura feigns illness and disappears from the room when she recognises Jim from school, until later when they find themselves alone in the living room during a blackout. Perhaps finding confidence in the darkness, Laura shares secrets as they listen to records, dance and finally steal a sweet kiss. Jim pulls away from Laura abruptly, announcing he must leave as he has a fiancé. This is only the bare bones of the story, as Williams’ superb subtext screams out affectively from behind his words.
The Wingfield’s are a broken family headed by a matriarch who brushes their problems under the carpet and provided for by a man who would desperately like to run away from it all. All the while, the beautiful soul of Laura is stuck in an emotionally and physically imperfect body and just when it seems like Jim is going to be the saving grace for her, we find out he is not. Some may read the script or see this play performed and come away feeling quite uninspired, especially when connecting to Laura. To me though, her fragility is hauntingly beautiful and masterfully symbolised by the tiny glass animals she loves so dearly. In one scene, Jim knocks Laura’s favourite statue of a unicorn from its mantle, the horn snapping from its head and when she muses that the magical unicorn is now just an average horse but continues to appreciate it regardless, I am reminded to always attempt to see the positive in every situation, the beauty in every flaw.
Tom does eventually run off on adventures, but is unable to forget Laura or forgive himself for leaving her behind. In The Glass Menagerie, Williams reminds us that we can never truly escape the reality of and responsibility in our lives. We strive for happiness and we do our best with the support of loved ones and hopefully that is enough at the end of each day.
The first day of my search, which let’s face it, could potentially go on for months, began in Melbourne. I love markets and being a lovely, brisk morning… okay I was freezing my butt off… it was the perfect Sunday for strolling through the aisles of stalls hoping that a copy of the play would miraculously sing out to me to take it home. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen but I’m not calling off the search just yet! I definitely believe in fate and so I know the day will come when I get my hands on it.
I plan to scour as many markets, antique stores and second-hand book stores in Melbourne as it takes as well as rummage through the best places Brisbane has to offer until I find it. I will keep you updated as to whether I am successful in my quest and also share recommendations for the excellent aforementioned markets/stores I’ve found along the way. The next hunt will take place at the 2012 Lifeline Bookfest in a couple of weeks. Please keep those fingers and toes crossed for me!