Wednesday, March 11

The Glass Menagerie

One of my favorite things in life is reading. I had always thought to myself that if I could never be a good writer, then I could at least be a good reader—someone who enjoys books immensely and keeps an open mind for them. Over the years, I had picked out books here and there, mostly classic literature, and spent many hours walking around bookstores to skim through them, or to add them to my collection. In all those times that I was to be found in this sort of dreary ritual--sitting quietly alone on inconspicuous corners----books had provided me an ideal company, a shield for unwanted advances, a good reason to stay put when I was financially down and out, just generally a good way to feed a constantly hungry soul. Used to be that in one day, I could devour no less than a couple of books. And I still wasn’t sated over.

Now that I am a working mother, however, sneaking a book into my routine is an indulgence, and has to be dealt with a lot of patience, and delayed gratification. Delayed meaning, one book could take up a week, or a month, to finish. But, no complaints hey. So, apart from my oft-repeated outbursts about the harassment of motherhood, I wanted to talk again about the book I just recently finished reading: THE GLASS MENAGERIE. Typically, I would say that I am probably better off twittering about my children, or how I am trying not to appear too self-absorbed by making small attempts to talk about them, but really, it’s the diminutive things that kill me, those little things that go on in our household everyday that I would want to pick anecdotes from and share in my blog.  But having a shitty, pathetically substandard memory, I will not even attempt that. Suffice it to say, that I suck in the story-telling department. So, again, bear with my incoherent ramblings. .

THE GLASS MENAGERIE is a play written by Tennessee Williams. It is about the Wingfields- Amanda, her children, Tom and Laura—a family struggling through the difficulties of their life, from the fact that the father had left them and never had returned. Amanda is the mother who lives in the memories of her past glories as a child of a genteel family, a southern belle who married a telephone man, but was left to wage a solitary battle in raising two unusual children. Laura, her daughter , is a cripple who is painfully shy and confines herself to her world of little glass ornaments of animals-what her mother calls her glass menagerie. Her mother worries that Laura will spend her days as an old maid and would have no one to take care of her. Tom is a dreamer who hates his job in the shoe warehouse. He is constantly annoyed of the pressure his mother puts on him to become financially successful so he could look out for his sister, and he turns to literature and movies and drinking to allay his frustrations. He secretly dreams of running away to join the Marines. But before he did, he obliged his mother to find a gentleman caller for Laura. Jim Connor was invited over to the Wingfields for a dinner elaborately prepared by Amanda. It wasn’t shortly after they discovered that Jim Connor was engaged to be married—shattering all their dreams, like he accidentally broke Laura’s glass unicorn. Tom finally gets to step out of the house and run away. The play ends with Tom narrating how he had followed in his father’s footsteps and had travelled many places, but that many times something had pulled him back, and reminded him of his sister Laura. As he exclaimed “ Oh Laura, Laura , I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be…..for nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura---and so goodbye…..”

How tragic, I can just weep all day about it. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference, reading something like this, then you begin to realize how circumstances of your life resonate with what you read in print, or when you dismiss and say it’s just pure fiction. It gives you an eerie feeling that the author might guess your emotions at precisely the same moment it is being played out in the book, to convince you of its veracity. It must be fluke, too, knowing that this book was written way back before I was even a dot in the face of cosmos, and surely I wasn’t yet involved in the great scheme of anything for the writer to guess someone in a remote part of the earth would be able to come across his work . But very cunningly, real life is reflected in the words and situations presented here, that it feels politically correct to say how true it is of my life, as if it was written just for me, thereby I affirm the aphorism Life Imitates art….?

Well, my thoughts on this are …. I think it is human and universal for everyone to be in a point of their lives when they feel some degree of helplessness, of being stuck, of feeling disappointment over unrealized dreams. Some of us tend to censure the harsh everyday realities by turning into illusory objects of diversion—books, music, liquor, drugs, even retail therapy (read: compulsive shopping). Still others, not being able to communicate this frustration openly, rely on the grasp of old memories and the vestiges of their past—a form of escape and coping mechanism from the dysfunction that incessantly rage within them, or us. We endeavor to do or achieve things that make us feel fulfilled, or useful, and for years and years, there is almost a sense of undisrupted normalcy, of a feeling that we are alright with the world. But reality has a way of rearing its ugly head, a peculiar way of making itself felt, time and again. We can’t just ignore the fact that problems and feeling of inadequacy arise at different stages in our lives-whether we are of school age, adults, or in our last breathing moments. Such is the tragic beauty of our existence.

It is how strong our personalities are, how tough and conditioned we are to take its blows. As someone who was born and lives in the third world, I can say I have seen and been through a lot. We are not in a fortunate enough place to do what we really want to do, but that is by no means an impediment to dream sky-high, or should take the joy out of our imaginings. If anything, having limited resources makes our struggles and the fulfillment of our dreams all the more bittersweet. We learn to be more resilient, to appreciate the little we have, and come to terms with what cannot be ours.

Tennessee Williams also portrays the familial association we are inevitably drawn to towards our loved ones- mother, father, child, sister, brother. In the same thread, they are emblematic of the fact that our connection to them means there is no real escape in this world. We may physically abandon them from our life in search of a different situation; we may, with strong decisive will, run away from our present struggle and disappear from the face of the earth, but they will never be completely out of the way, nor are we able to edit out our feelings for them, not while we have the “unrelenting power of memory”, that will pursue us endlessly and haunt us, in the form of things we will eventually come across---a waft of music, a particular scent, taste of food, the changing weather, faces of people, etc.

Like any other person, I feel there is no end to these entire human struggles- the ups and downs and the suffocating realities of life. I think that we are able to overcome that no matter how. What I am just concerned about is the constant bout man has with his stronger and more vicious enemy that can ultimately defeat him---- himself, or his inner turmoil--- my inner turmoil, the possibility that I will one day become stagnant, and like Laura, live in a world of my glass menagerie, immovable lifeless things, that while pretty and interesting to look at, are fragile and are really just illusory and not lasting. I wouldn’t like to be the kind who would crumble and wallow in the memories of my former glories, and then find out that I can be nothing more than the shadow of my distant past. What are the chances that I will live in total dependence to others, useless to myself or to my environment, and as Amanda quite accurately put it, stay home and watch the parades go by, live upon the grudging patronage of folks, and eat the crust of humility for the rest of my pitiful life? Will I ever allow myself to get to that? “Is that the future we’ve mapped out for ourselves?”

But we fight to find our dreams, to make enough difference in our lives and the lives of others so that there is a purpose to our being, so that we can emancipate ourselves from our mental prison walls. Being different from others, being mythical unicorns in the sea of horses, should not snuff out our inner candles. I know that it is lonely to be different, but don’t we already know that each of us has felt lonely and stuck all along, and that no matter where we go to escape, we would someday converge in the same path of this realization anyway? Well, such is the beauty of life and the struggle to see it through the end….
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