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An Analysis of the Tragedy in the Glass Menagerie

Author ZhouHuiYing
Tutor JiangTao
School Harbin Normal University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords tragedy tragic model tragic conflict tragic beauty
Type Master's thesis
Year 2011
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Tennessee Williams occupies an important position in the history of American literature. He contributes to the readers and the audience two novels, four books of short stories, two volumes of poetry, a collection of essays, a volume of letters and all sixty-three produced or published plays. After his death in 1983, these works become valuable treasure in the world literature. In his lifetime he was awarded four Drama Critic Circle Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Most of his well-known works continued to evolve in new adaptations and his plays have survived the test of time and are widely popular throughout the world today. He is considered as one of the most prominent American dramatists since the Second World War.The Glass Menagerie, which contains seven scenes, tells a tragic story that happens in a lower middle-class family in St. Louis, 1937. It won a terrific success on Broadway Stage in 1945. Referred to as Williams’most memory work, this four-character play is revered as a masterwork of modern theater and was the first play that firmly established Tennessee Williams as a major new playwright.This thesis is composed of six parts altogether. The Introduction briefly involves the writer Tennessee Williams and his masterpiece The Glass Menagerie. This section presents the researches of this play by the literary critics both at home and abroad. Most of them pay attention to the plots, the themes or the historical situations of the plays. This thesis intends to analyze this play from a new point of view. It analyzes the social background, the tragic conflicts between the characters in this play from the perspective of Hegel’s theory of tragic model, tragic conflict and at last finds the beauty that this play brings to the readers and the audience.Chapter One introduces the concept of Hegel’s tragedy theory. Aristotle is the first one to give the definition of tragedy and Hegel inherits the traditions of Aristotle’s theory of tragedy and develops his own tragedy theory system. So this chapter first states Hegel’s inheritance and development of Aristotle’s tragedy theory and then introduces Hegel’s tragedy theory of tragic conflict, tragic model and tragic effect. This part provides a solid foundation for the following analysis of the play. Chapter Two focuses on the background against which the story happened from the perspective of Hegel’s theory of tragic model. According to Hegel, tragedy demands a special tragic situation. As the place of origin of the Great Depression, America at that time provided a typical social situation for Williams to express the tragic conflicts in The Glass Menagerie. And each character has a personality structure derived from their particular social situation. They can represent different types of people in American society in 1930s. This chapter concentrates on the organic unity of typical social situation and the typical characters in the play.Chapter Three is devoted to the analysis of characters’conflicts in The Glass Menagerie. The heart of Hegel’s theory is the notion of conflict and it is agreed that in each tragedy there is some sort of collision or conflict. Similarly, conflicts exist throughout the whole play—exist between mother and her children, between sister and brother and even exist in each character’s inner world. From the perspective of Hegel’s theory of tragic conflicts, this section is attempted to analyze different tragic conflicts existing in the play and to find the primary causes for the characters’tragedy.Chapter Four analyzes the tragic beauty that this play presents to his readers and audience. Although without a happy ending, the tragedy has its special charm and beauty. To Hegel, a great tragedy can arouse the audience’s fear and pity and finally achieve cathartic harmony in the audience’s consciousness. This is the beauty of tragedy. Williams brings the audience to experience the tragic beauty of his memory play, which also takes the audience to a trip to spiritual purification.In the last part, by analyzing The Glass Menagerie from the perspective of Hegel’s tragedy theory, we can get the conclusion that the tragic conflicts emerge in the special tragic situation, which cause the characters’tragic fate and the beauty that a tragedy brings may purify the audience’s spirit.

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