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A Psychoanalytic Critique of the Anxiety in the Glass Menagerie

Author SuiCuiCui
Tutor ZhaoJianXia
School Zhengzhou University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie psychoanalysis anxiety
CLC I712.073
Type Master's thesis
Year 2012
Downloads 70
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Tennessee Williams is an outstanding playwright in the United States after World War Ⅱ. He produced many successful plays, including The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Summer and Smoke, Suddenly Last Summer, etc. The characters in Williams’s works are usually people who are in desperate trouble: they are isolated, forgotten, misunderstood, despised, poverty-stricken, without hope of helping themselves or being helped by others. Besides, most of them share one characteristic-anxiety. And this anxiety is perfectly displayed in The Glass Menagerie, which established his reputation as a playwright.The Glass Menagerie is a story about the unhappy Wingfields who live a miserable life in an old and shabby St. Louis tenement during the depression. Each of the Wingfields-the single mother Amanda, her adult daughter and son Laura and Tom, struggles desperately in severe anxiety.Based on Freud’s theories of anxiety and defense mechanism, this thesis analyzes the different kinds of anxieties that torture the characters in the play so that a precious lesson may be learned from their psychological predicaments.The thesis begins with a general introduction to the playwright Tennessee Williams and the play The Glass Menagerie, followed by literature review of this play and the research questions of this thesis.The body of this thesis is divided into four chapters. The first chapter presents the theoretical framework of some of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories: personality theory, theories of anxiety and defense mechanism.Chapter Two analyzes the different kinds of anxieties that Laura, Amanda and Tom suffer from. The panic reaction that frequently attacks Laura is one form of neurotic anxiety; Amanda is tortured by objective anxiety-the dreads the future of her family, especially that of Laura. Tom suffers from moral anxiety-he feels intense guilt for deserting his poor sister.Chapter Three focuses on the causes of the anxieties Laura, Amanda and Tom suffer from. Laura’s neurotic anxiety is the result of her long-term severe sexual repression which is caused by the conflict between her ego and id. Amanda’s objective anxiety is the result of the conflict between her ego and the reality:her ego is overwhelmed by the harsh reality. Tom suffers moral anxiety because of the conflict between his ego and superego:his ego is punished by his superego---he is punished by his conscience by leaving his helpless sister much more helpless.Chapter Four discusses the tactics that Laura, Amanda and Tom (consciously or not) take to cope with their anxiety. When ego feels anxiety, it starts the defense system and takes defense mechanism to cope with the unbearable anxiety. Laura’s ego takes the technique of displacement: frustrated and rejected by the outside world, Laura resorts to withdrawing to her small world of glass ornaments and old records. Amanda’s ego takes the technique of fixation:she fixes frantically to the illusion of her girlhood romance to escape from the painful reality. Tom’s ego takes the technique of undoing: Tom chooses to do anything that can keep him from thinking of his poor sister so that he won’t be tortured by the feeling of guilt.Finally the thesis draws a conclusion that Laura, Amanda and Tom are lost in their anxiety: none of their attempts to deal with their anxiety is successful, because none of the three characters clearly recognizes the nature and the cause of their anxiety, so they accordingly fail to take feasible and effective measures to solve their problems; instead they try to forget or avoid the painful anxiety in different ways, and this allows them to avoid being tortured by anxiety for the time being but can not eventually help them out of anxiety.

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