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Mothers in Trial: Two Cases to Be Analyzed
by Paulo Grillo - added March, 1st 2008.
One of the main themes of the play The Glass Menagerie is abandonment. The theme recurs throughout the scenes: Amanda is abandoned by Mr. Wingfield; Laura is abandoned by the gentleman caller; both Amanda and Laura are abandoned by Tom. Abandonment is, also, a recurring theme in the extinct ABC series My So-Called Life. Patty Chase was put up for adoption when she was a baby. Her feelings of abandonment are now expressed by a fear of losing her daughter Angela and her husband Graham. Amanda and Patty have a lot in common. They are mothers who either love too much or control too much, depending on the perspective to be chosen. Their abandonment issues play a big part on how they raise their children and their personalities are subject to the audience’s judgment. Are they good or bad mothers?
The fact that Amanda Wingfield was abandoned by her husband plays an important part in the development of The Glass Menagerie. If Amanda had not had abandonment issues, her relationship with her son Tom and daughter Laura could have been different. Amanda’s strong personality is responsible for triggering Tom’s escape from home and Laura’s low self-esteem. Through the eyes of her offspring it could be claimed that Amanda is not a good mother. ‘“You’ll go up, up on a broomstick, over Blue Mountain with seventeen gentleman callers. You ugly – babbling old – witch’ – yells Tom to his mother while they having a fight” (Williams 412). In the same way, Patty Chase is in conflict with her daughter. Angela Chase explodes in rebellion similarly to the character of Tom based on the premise that her mother is repressive and, sometimes, too demanding. ‘“You know, I think you give her too hard a time, sometimes’ – says Graham (Angela’s father) referring to the harsh treatment she has been giving Patty lately” (Holzman). Both mothers share feelings of depreciation from their children, mainly because Amanda and Patty are repressive and over-controlling.
By means of coincidence or use of symbolism, both Tennessee Williams – author of The Glass Menagerie – and Winnie Holzman – writer and creator of My So-Called Life – picked the dinnertime experience as introductory scenes to reveal the conflict between mother and son, and mother and daughter, respectively. Dinnertime, in the American tradition, represents the moment in which families reunite around the table to talk about their experiences throughout the day while sharing the same food and a spirit of unity. Williams and Holzman break that peaceful imagery by introducing the dysfunctional element of both families – in which the mother plays a big part. Tom, in The Glass Menagerie tells how he feels about having dinner with his mother: “I haven’t enjoyed a bit of this dinner because of your constant directions on how to eat it” (Williams 404). In the same way, Angela reveals her feelings towards sharing a meal with her mother: “I cannot bring myself to eat a well-balanced meal in front of my mother. It just means too much to her. Lately I can't even look at my mother without wanting to stab her repeatedly” (Holzman).
The childrens’ transition hate for their mothers – more expressed by Angela, but definitely existent in Tom’s heart – has a basis. Their characters deal with the angst of discovering that rather than being an idol or somebody to look up to their mothers are full of flaws. Angela is “struggling with issues of identity and has begun to question both her own and that of those around her” (Holzman). Therefore, the example of her mom being full of flaws is responsible for bringing up mixed feelings of rejection and disapproval in her mind: “Sometimes I think that if my mom weren't so good at pretending to be happy, she'd be better at actually being happy” (Holzman). On the other side of the conflict, Patty recognizes that, by being questioned, she is losing Angela. Her response is to become more over-protective of Angela’s life by, for example, choosing who should or should not be her daughter’s friend. “Rayanne is not your best friend Angela, to which Angela responds: Mom, she is so my best friend. I'm sorry you hate her” (Holzman). The same conflict, as much subtle as it is evident, is shown by Amanda’s desire to control her son’s reading: “I took that horrible novel back to the library – yes! That hideous book by that insane Mr. Lawrence” (Williams 411). Like Patty, Amanda feels the need to guide every move of her children as an effort to mold their personalities according to her agenda. Ultimately, both mothers show aspects of an obsessive behavior that has its origins in their fear to let their children be free and, as a consequence, see them going away.
In part, both of Amanda and Patty’s characters show reasons to be questioned. They are not actually happy, although they try to project an image of happiness. “Rise and Shine”, says Amanda everyday to wake Tom up (Williams 414), as if being happy was the first direction he had to take for the day. Parts of the scripts of both The Glass Menagerie and My So-Called Life show aspects of the characters’ need to pretend being happy: “Amanda utters another gay laugh in the kitchen” (Williams 443). “[Patty gets to the bottom of the stairs and runs into guests. She puts on a beautiful fake smile]” (Holzman). In contrast to the need of these mothers to show strength and energy – even though they feel their lives are falling apart – Tom and Angela are looking to break out of a world of illusion and challenge the world instead of trying to fit in: ‘“It just seems like, you agree to have a certain personality or something. For no reason. Just to make things easier for everyone. But when you think about it, I mean, how do you know it's even you?’ – questions Angela” (Holzman).
Angela is a bit more complicated character than Tom, but not Laura. In The Glass Menagerie while Tom represents the questioning to Amanda, Laura seems to be somewhat jealous of her mother’s strength and happiness. Laura does not have the courage to question her mother. Angela does. However, like Laura, Angela somehow struggles when it comes to compare herself to her mom. Ultimately, Amanda’s and Patty’s efforts to project a successful – even if unrealistic – image of strength and beauty, enhances a tendency of low-self esteem in both characters of the daughters. “It isn’t a flood, it’s not a tornado, Mother. I am just not popular like you were in Blue Mountain” (Williams 406); in My So-Called Life, Angela says: “Mom, just face the facts, okay? [voice starting to quiver] (…) That I'm ugly, okay? (...) You expect me to be beautiful...because you're beautiful” (Holzman). Amanda as much as Patty share the need to show their daughters how to be beautiful or successful because both believe that by being an example they will be able to have their daughters love and gratitude – which is what they are looking for. In part, for both mothers that wish becomes true. Laura does not abandon her house like Tom does; and Angela in the end of the episode “Other People’s Daughter’s” finally acknowledges her mother’s quality as a strong and perseverant woman: “Each card has a name. The Magician [Graham], the Empress [Vivian], the Fool [Danielle], the Wheel of Fortune [an old couple dancing], Strength [Patty]” (Holzman).
That twist in Angela’s
perception of her mother reveals the other aspect of Patty’s
character and by extension Amanda’s character as well. As
controlling as they are, it is evident they both love the idea of
protecting their children from a world that can be harsh and
merciless. They both carry painful feelings of rejection and
abandonment and lacked the ability of overcoming their own issues in
order to raise their children. But if the pressure to be always
perfect or to control their son’s and daughter’s life is
undeniably bad in many ways as described in the examples above, Patty
and Amanda are always participative mothers – as opposed to Mr.
Wingfield that has abandoned his offspring. Therefore, The
more than just portrait a simplistic figure of an evil mother, they
open the audience’s eyes to the complexity of human nature and
relationships. Also, both Amanda and Patty’s
characters evoke a reflection about how intentions can be good at
heart but hurtful to others. Ultimately, both characters promote an
understanding of the world through a multitude of aspects, where just
black and white or good and bad is not enough.
“Pilot”. My So-Called Life. Script: Winnie Holzman. Perf. Claire Danes, Bess Armstrong. 25 Aug. 1994. ABC. 18 Feb. 2008. < http://www.mscl.com/scripts/transcript_01.html >
“Other People’s Daughters”. My So-Called Life. Script: Winnie Holzman. Perf. Claire Danes, Bess Armstrong. 3 Nov. 1994. ABC. 18 Feb. 2008. <http://www.mscl.com/scripts/transcript_10.html>
“The Zit”. My So-Called Life. Script: Winnie Holzman. Perf. Claire Danes, Bess Armstrong. 7 Sep. 1994. ABC. 18 Feb. 2008. < http://www.mscl.com/scripts/transcript_05.html >
Williams, Tennessee. "The Glass Menagerie." Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers. Ed. John Schilb and John Clifford. 3rd. Ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006. 402 – 424.