Tennessee’s The Glass Menagerie and Greek Tragedies


There are various names which emerge in history which have been coined together with the Greek tragedy. They range from Sophocles, Euripides among others. Scores of other playwrights also achieved the fame on the same field in the classical antiquity. This has been in the records in very many sources including quite a number of inscriptions. On the other hand, there has been the advent of some other modern playwrights who have incorporated Greek tragedy into their work like Tennessee Williams. This paper will seek to compare the work of Tennessee Williams in his play, the glass menagerie to some former founders of the Greek tragedy like Aristotle, Sophocles and others. It looks at the differences as well as similarities that exist between the Greek tragedies and founders and the play by “The Glass Menagerie”. The paper also looks at how Tennessee Williams has interjected more realism and less idealism into the various tragedies within the play and in turn, providing a real rather than an as indicated by a number of dramas from ancient Greece.

Tragic Comparison

The play “The Glass Menagerie” revolves around a family who struggle to survive. The play revolves around Tom, who is the narrator, the mother Amanda and the sister Laura. Having being abandoned by their father a long time ago, Tom acts as the bread winner for the family. The Greek tragedy can be defined as plays whereby the heroic individual goes through situations and faces great obstacles that overcome him or her and which he or she struggles to get rid of. This kind of drama often ends with the central characters down fall. The glass menageries can be compared to the Greek tragedies in a number of ways. On deeply analyzing the play, one can decisively conclude that it is a case of modern tragedy. It has coined together aspects of modernity to the antiques involved in the former Greek tragedy masterpieces.

If the paper was to compare the Greek tragedies with the contents in the play, there are a lot of matching factors. Thespis was a modern day replica Pisistratus who has been associated to the contraption of the theatrical Greek tragedy. He has the extraordinary record of having brought in a performer for the sole rationale of having the necessity for a rest gap to the Dionysian-choruses. This actor had name which was in line with his character as he was usually referred to as “to answer”. The modifications that were subsequently set up became significant in the refrain from the time of Aristophanes. This custom was later taken on by Phrynichus. Aeschylus initiated the next actor and a number of other actors were initiated later on. These characters were referred to using different names like protagonists, deuteragonists and so. The protagonists in the plays were usually the main characters and even went ahead to determine the name of the plays which they concentrated on and hence sustained (Banham, 76).

The above can be associated with the same as it happened in the “glass menagerie.” In this play, there is a central character, the protagonist played by Tom who has commanded a lot of concentration from the audience by seemingly demanding a lot of sympathy. We can recognize this in the set up for the beginning scene: “The apartment faces an alley and is entered by a fire escape, a structure whose name is a touch of accidental poetic truth, for all of these huge buildings are always burning with the slow and implacable fires of human desperation.” (scene 1, line 0.2) This character has been depicted to have a lot of struggle throughout the play which in the end becomes disastrous. This character in this play has been greatly brought about by a flaw within him. Tom has been depicted to have been experiencing more personal or inner problems than that of the external. He has some cases of useless struggles which he insists on though clearly knowing in his mind that a downfall in this case is way unavoidable.

The Greek tragedy is seen as theatrical process of recreating mythologies that are related to clashes that exist between generations. Different from the initial thought and belief regarding heroes in tragedies as those of grate statures and influences and stature Tennessee Williams has always been seen as an author whose characters were real to the extent hat, the every day person can always identify themselves with them. Laura, Tom and Amanda are each depicted as heroes in the various scenes of the play. William’s lack of focus on the various characters inhibits him from developing past their initial two sided appearance. Tom can be argued to be the hero in the story but his character in the play is not likeable at all especially with the way he acts mean to his own mother, discriminates against his sister as well as his abandonment for the two family members. William’s major concern is on how the play is going to come out in the end. At the end Tom feels very guilty about his own actions. This depicts how the writer revolves around the play’s plot. Tom is the narrator in the play as well as the protagonist of the play. He takes the first position in interacting with the entire group of audience, a definition used during the era of the Greek tragedies.

According to Aristotle, tragedy is one of the eminent genres of literature that has been described clearly as “catharsis”. This is a very deep feeling of emotion by members of the present audience as they get engaged in or have a vicarious experience due to the sad flow of events in the story. This is evidently typical in the” glass menagerie” where the characters are experiencing one problem after the other. Misuse of resources, inadequate education, madness, hospitalization and more other tragedies befall one single stream of characters. This, according to Aristotle has been able to leave the audience in intense fear. In other words as described by Aristotle, a catharsis is a feeling in the inner self which has the ability to bring on a relief from built-up emotions. “Purgation or catharsis is the end or goal of tragedy.” (Roberts, 1271)

At the same time, tragedy has been proven to go way beyond catharsis, bringing with it some ethical benefits. In the modern day, there is an American belief that it is possible to do anything that one set his or her mind to do. As much as this is a very great feeling, it comes in, though, with some downfalls. There is a question of whether it comes with arrogance or even some sense of pride. During Tom’s and Amanda’s discussion on the guest that Tom had invited to come over for dinner, he speaks very arrogantly and with much contempt. It is at this time that Amanda warns him against being such supercilious (Felski, 147).

Looking at the tragic circumstances surrounding the “glass menagerie” and the comparative antiquity classics of Aristotle and the like, modern day tragedies lead the person to think of his human nature. This is one that is frail and flawed and consequently, it proves to be quite a difficult issue to deal with. The greatest enemy to anyone is at times within the same person and all control lies in the person to control it.


Some tragedy in the “glass menagerie” does not go in line with the ancient Greek tragedy. Tom abandons the stage at the end of the “glass menagerie” which depicts him abandoning his family which is not in line with the latter. He though as the narrator of the story has maintained the tragedies in the play throughout thus becoming a classic masterpiece which has been used to depict modern day tragic. This has been throughout all of the tragic doomed life of Tom, Laura and the rest of their family members.


Felski, Rita. Rethinking Tragedy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2008.

Roberts, Edgar. The Tragic Vision: Affirmation through Loss. Literature: An introduction to Reading and Writing. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008.

Williams, Tennessee “The Glass Menagerie.” Ed. Roberts, Edgar. Literature: An introduction to Reading and Writing. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008.

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