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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The comparison of the absence of a parental figure in The Glass Menagerie and A Raisin in the SOn

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Often the absence of a parental figure can have as great an effect as the presence of that person. This is certainly the case in the plays The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams and A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. Though in different ways, in both cases the absent fathers have huge impacts on the families they left behind.


In The Glass Menagerie, Tom Wingfield, the narrator of the play as well as a participant, is the first to speak of his absent father and acknowledges his presence in the play, despite his physical absence. “There is a fifth character in the play who doesn’t appear except in this larger-than-life-size photograph over the mantel. This is our father who left us a long time ago.” Tom goes on to explain that his father “was a telephone man who fell in love with long-distance.” His father left never to be heard from again except for a postcard from Mexico that read “Hello-Goodbye!” This message summarizes the minimal physical role Mr. Wingfield played in the lives of his wife and children. However, the portrait of him that is seen throughout the play shows the presence he sto;; has.


The absence of Mr. Wingfield affects Amanda, Laura and Tom. With the absence of a father, Tom is expected to be the sole breadwinner for the family. Tom was much like his father in the sense that he longed for adventure and could not deal with Amanda and the life she expected for him. While Tom hates his job at the warehouse, he begrudgingly accepts it. In Scene Three Amanda berates Tom for wanting to quite his job. She accuses Tom of being selfish. Tom angrily responds that “For sixty-five dollars a month, I give up all that I dream of doing and being ever! And you say self- self’s all I ever think of. Why, listen, if self is what I thought of, Mother, I’d be where he is- GONE!” [He points to his father’s picture.] This is one of the worst ways Tom could threaten his mother. She despises her husband for being an alcoholic and abandoning the family, and worries that Tom will follow in his footsteps. At the end of the play, Tom actually does just that. In his last monologue of the play, he says, “I descended the steps of this fire escape for a last time and followed, from then on, in my father’s footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space.”


In A Raisin in the Sun the absent father is first of all not absent but dead, and is viewed in a largely positive light. However, while Mr. Wingfield left his family with nothing, “Big Walter” Younger left his family $10,000 from his insurance policy, which causes conflicts, as the family competes for the money to live out their respective dreams. However, these conflicts were bore out of the value that Big Walter instilled in his children to dream of a better life. In scene one, Mama tells her daughter-in-law Ruth that Big Walter was “Crazy ‘bout his children!.. Always wanted them have something, be something. That’s where Brother gets all these notions, I reckon. Big Walter used to say… ‘Seem like God didn’t see fit t give the black man nothing but dreams- but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worthwhile.” By leaving this money for his children, Big Walter dreamed his children Walter and Beneatha would have a better life than he did. However, his children were dreamers just like he was,so naturally they dreamed of bigger and better things, just as their father did.


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Mama’s doesn’t care about money, but her dream is to own a house, a dream she and her late husband shared but were never able to achieve. Her dream is almost deferred when Mr. Lindner of the neighborhood society offers her family money not to move into the all-white neighborhood. Although the family needs money, because Walter lost the $6,500, they do not accept the deal. In the younger Walter’s shining moment he tells Mr. Lindner “we have all thought about your offer and we have decided to move into our home because my father- my father- he earned it.” Walter was able to have the strength to reject the money, something he really wanted, and look out for the betterment of his family. He was able to realize that just as his father wanted him to dream, it was important that he completed the dreams that his father always wanted.


In both plays, the absent father played a critical role in character and plot development. Both protagonists, Tom and Walter, share characteristics with their father and in the end, do what their father would have done in the situation. However, just as their fathers had different influences on their lives, the decisions those present in the play chose to make reflected those influences. Tom left his family behind, the way his own father selfishly did. Walter did not let his father’s dream to own a house be deferred, the way his own father tried to nurture Walter’s dreams. Though in different ways, in both cases the absence of a father-figure influenced the outcomes of the plays.





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