Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Repetition as Trapped Emotion in Tennessee Williams's the Glass Menagerie

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Repetition as Trapped Emotion in Tennessee Williams's the Glass Menagerie

Article excerpt

Repetition as a linguistic and stylistic device is used in many plays by Tennessee Williams, one of the greatest twentieth century American dramatists rivalled only by Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller (Kolin 1998: ix). This has not passed unnoticed, either among scholars who have seen his characters and plays as "fountains of ... blistering, nerve-scraping, recognizable speech" (Kerr 1996: 118), or among those who have primarily been tempted to explore the superb and distinguished dramatic style of the playwright. And his style, apart from exhibiting an unparalleled variety of idiolects and sociolects, is widely recognized for its poetic expressions, lyncism and the liberation of words, demonstrating "the joy of the writer in writing them", which made a link "to the whole tradition of unashamed word-joy" (Miller 1987: 182). A very illustrative example is Dan Isaac's (1965) exploration of repetition in the celebrated, Pulitzer winning piece Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In it, Isaac presents one of the main characters of this play, Big Daddy, a dying patriarch whose fortune is the cause of family strife, through his use of language and (poetic) repetition. Notably, posing the question as to how Big Daddy succeeds in "arousing the emotion of the audience to such a high pitch of admiration and active concern" (Isaac 1965: 272), he attempts to show that the explanation lies in his use of language. Analysing his language, Isaac mostly focuses on the repetition of words, phrases and, eventually, word strings, which he sees as Williams's "most forceful rhythmic device" and which seem to "grow and lengthen because of an unusual energy released by the increasing excitement of the rhetorical device in progress" (Isaac 1965: 273). It is in these repetitive word strings that he finds the main driving force behind the tremendous poetic and emotional effect the character of Big Daddy creates in the readers of this play.

However, not all scholars have focused on repetition in Williams's plays as a linguistic and stylistic device. Joseph Silvio (2002), for example, speaks of the dramatist and his work from the psychoanalytic perspective with an emphasis on Freud's concept of repetition compulsion, focusing in particular on another masterpiece by Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire. Presenting the relevant biographical information about the dramatist, this scholar finds a striking and profound link between his troubled childhood experiences and relationships and the "contrasting themes, characters, and action" (Silvio 2002: 135) both in this play and in The Glass Menagerie. Illuminating the depth of his psychological conflicts and emotional turmoil, Silvio accentuates Williams's inability to leave behind family problems: "secrets of drunken rages, physical, emotional, and possible sexual abuses, marital infidelity and frigidity, and insanity" (Silvio 2002: 143), showing how they "pursued" him, driving him to repeat them in A Streetcar Named Desire in particular, but also to some extent in The Glass Menagerie. That this is not true only of these two plays mentioned by Silvio is shown by Philip Kolin (1998: x), for example, who stated that there was probably no dramatist who "more intimately and more incessantly inscribed his personal life within his scripts", while Harold Bloom (2000:11)observed that "[i]n all his plays Williams would write about what he knew best: himself and his memories of his family", which seems to confirm Williams's need to never stop using his art to cope with his own life.

In view of this, this article is an attempt to show that these two perspectives need not necessarily be kept apart. On the contrary, the thesis of the article is that The Glass Menagerie is a good example to show that linguistic repetition in dramatic plays can sometimes appear as an obsessive expression of the characters' emotions as well as those of the dramatist himself, making him repeat and relive both his experiences and his emotions. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.