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First performed in 1945, The Glass Menagerie marked the beginning of the recognition of Tennessee Williams as a major American dramatist. The audience appreciated this domestic drama which had its roots in William's childhood. Though it varied at certain points from actual history, the similarity was too close to be ignored. Thomas Lanier Williams gave his own first name to his narrator, and, like Thomas, Tom too worked for a shoe company but detested his job and wrote poems. Thomas found solace behind closed doors, hammering on his typewriter while Tom found his escape by frequenting the cinema. Both deserted their families in the end. Both felt guilty for leaving a beloved, troubled sister. This work was, thus, Williams' cry for understanding and forgiveness; in its own way, this work is his apology.
The father's character did not match the original. Tom's father worked for a telephone company and deserted his family sixteen years before the action of the play begins. This probably was wishful thinking on Tennessee's part, for he never got along with his brutal father. Though Amanda Wingfield shares a certain resemblance with Tennessee's mother, she was not intended to be a portrait of her. The mother in the play is silly, frivolous and cantankerous. Perhaps, however, Tennessee was suggesting that his own mother had a part in his sister's decline.
Laura Wingfield is a combination of the real-life Rose and Williams' imagination. Both real life and fictional sisters suffered a severe childhood illness, but Laura's left her slightly crippled. Her psychosis, therefore, has its source in a physical defect, whereas Rose's abrupt failure to attain adulthood resulted in part from the failure of the parents' marriage and the unhappiness of her childhood. Both Laura and Rose were extremely hypersensitive and shared a passion for tiny glass animals and phonograph records. Whenever there was an angry exchange of words in the house, Rose, like Laura, shut herself away to mope and finger the miniature glass world, both failing to become well-adjusted individuals. The marriage of fiction and history in the play makes The Glass Menagerie a poignant record of the author's private domestic tragedy.
Like Faulkner, Williams shows the southern family in decline, with certain members holding desperately to past visions of grandeur. Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie desperately clings to her romanticized memories of her southern past. Williams makes it clear, however, that her memories are really illusions. The South has a tragic history, just like Amanda and Rose.