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“The Play is Memory.” The Glass Menagerie is a fictionalized portrait of Tennessee Williams’ family. The character Amanda is based on his mother, Edwina. Laura is based on Williams’ troubled and eventually lobotomized sister, Rose, with whom he had been very close. Here, in his own words, the playwright talks about his family and the genesis of his most personal play. Williams’ quotes excerpted from the Paris Review (Fall 1981, No. 81) “The Art of Theater No. 5, Tennessee Williams”

“The process by which the idea for a play comes to me

has always been something I really couldn’t pinpoint. A play just seems to materialize; like an apparition, it gets clearer and clearer and clearer. It’s very vague at first… I believe I was thinking of my sister, because she was madly in love with some young man at the International Shoe Company who paid her court. He was extremely handsome, and she was profoundly in love with him. Whenever the phone would ring, she’d nearly faint. She’d think it was he calling for a date, you know? They saw each other every other night, and then one time he just didn’t call anymore. That was when Rose first began to go into a mental decline.” Tennessee Williams (age 54) photographed in 1965 for the 20th anniversary of The Glass Menagerie. Photo: Orland Fernandez

“I was a born writer, I think. Yes, I think that I was. At least when I had this curious disease affecting my heart at the age of eight. I was more or less bedridden for half a year. My mother exaggerated the cause. She said I swallowed my tonsils!…That illness came upon me, and my personality changed. I became a shut-in. I think my mother encouraged me to be more of a shut-in than I needed to be. Anyway, I took to playing solitary games, amusing myself…I mean I began to live an intensely imaginative life. Thomas Lanier And it persisted that way. That’s how “Tennessee” Williams (right) with his mother, I turned into a writer, I guess. By the Edwina (center), and sister, Rose (left). age of twelve, I started writing.”

“Mother chose to have Rose’s lobotomy done. My father didn’t want it. In fact, he cried. It’s the only time I saw him cry. He was in a state of sorrow when he learned that the operation had been performed. I didn’t know anything about the operation. I’d never heard of a lobotomy. Mother was saying that it was bound to be a great success. Now, of course, it’s been exposed as a very bad procedure that isn’t practiced anymore. But it didn’t embitter me against my mother. It saddened me a great deal because my sister and I cared for each other. I cared for her more than I did my mother. But it didn’t embitter me against Miss Edwina. No, I just thought she was an almost criminally foolish woman…

Why was the operation performed? Well, Miss Rose expressed herself with great eloquence, but she said things that shocked Mother….Rose loved to shock Mother. She had great inner resentment towards her, because Mother had imposed this monolithic puritanism on her during adolescence. Rose said, ‘Mother, you know we girls at All Saints College, we used to abuse ourselves with altar candles we stole from the chapel.’ And Mother screamed like a peacock! She rushed to the head doctor, and she said, ‘Do anything, anything to shut her up!’… Whatever Mother did, she didn’t know what she was doing.”

Rose Isabel Williams

“My mother–everyone calls her Miss Edwina–was essentially more psychotic than my sister Rose. Mother was put away once, you know. She was put away long before she was old, in the early part of the decade of the fifties. I was on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, and she called me up.

‘Tom, guess where I am?’ she said. ‘Why, Mother, aren’t you at home?’ ‘No, Tom, they put me away!’ “She was living alone, and I guess her fantasies got the best of her. She thought the blacks were planning an uprising in St. Louis, and they were exchanging signals by rattling the garbage pails. She called the family doctor over to tell him about these threatening aspects of life, and he took her right to the bughouse!” Edwina Dakin Williams

“The idea for The Glass Menagerie came very slowly… I think I worked on Menagerie longer than any other play. I didn’t think it’d ever be produced. I wasn’t writing it for that purpose. I wrote it first as a short story called “Portrait of a Girl in Glass,” which is, I believe, one of my best stories. I guess Menagerie grew out of the intense emotions I felt seeing my sister’s mind begin to go.” Tennessee Williams

Glass Menagerie Lobby Display  
Glass Menagerie Lobby Display