Literature mirrors an author’s bias of particular events that have occurred within the scope of that author. When reading fiction, non-fiction, plays, and poetry, the audience utilizes the symbols and diction portrayed by the author to create images in the readers mind. Lye (2003), “literature is ‘mimetic,’ that is to say, re-presents ‘reality’, ‘nature’, or ‘the way things are’. It portrays moral and other experiences in a compelling, concrete, immediately felt way through its aesthetic devices and powers, yet allows as well for reflection, for a theorizing or reconsideration of the experiences evoked, as we are both ‘experiencing’ the world evoked and are separated from it” (The ‘Representation’ or ‘Reflection of Reality’ thesis, para. 3). In every story there are particular themes created within each story. One recurring theme readers see in many different stories are the aspects of human nature and the unrealistic view of life and the different types of realities that shape with age. This theme of an unrealistic view of life is seen in the play “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, the short story “Araby” by James Joyce, and the poem “Before the Mirror” by John Updike.
These three readings are connected through the interesting way the authors present the dialogue. In all three pieces it is as though the reader is on the outside looking in. This is represented through the foreshadowing technique used in “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, the memory technique used in “Before the Mirror,” by John Updike, and the dreamlike state achieved by the character in “Araby” by James Joyce. Each piece represents a bit of society and a bit of history. Even though “Araby” is not set in America, the setting is so ambiguous it could take place anywhere. The same is true for “The Glass Menagerie” and “Before the Mirror.” Any large city with tenement housing could substitute for the setting in “The Glass Menagerie,” and any museum with a painting could work for “Before the Mirror.” This usage of a transferable setting can make the reader able to envision themselves within the piece. The authors also go into great detail to describe each setting, focusing more on the ‘place’ aspect than the ‘time’ aspect; leaving little to the imagination as far as place is concerned, but time is more open, which allows the reader to imagine themselves in the piece with the characters, and is part of what makes each piece so timeless. Another common thread with all three pieces is the imagery used. Imagery is the way an author attempts to create a mental picture or reference point in the mind of the reader. Imagery can be both visual and emotional (Roane State Community College, 2005). These pieces use a lot of imagery to make the reader feel as though they are a part of the story. In “The Glass Menagerie,” Tennessee Williams sets a part of the play behind a scrim, so the viewer can get the feeling they are peeking back at a memory. In “Before the Mirror,” John Updike asks the reader a question, “How many of us still remember…?” in order to draw the reader into the piece. “Araby” contains imagery related to a dark and musty house and that is how the reader can relate that to the boy’s memories.
Two specific literary devices used to demonstrate the aspects of human nature and the theme of an unrealistic view of life are through symbolism and diction. Symbolism is shown in “The Glass Menagerie” through Laura’s glass menagerie characters. The glass animals that Laura tinkers with constantly serves two purposes: the first as a physical object to aid Laura in her escape from the reality of the world around her, and second as a symbol for many dimensions and layers for Laura herself and the entire Wingfield family. Laura is fixated on the glass animal collection and therefore lives in a fantasy world full of characters that are unique and unreal. The glass menagerie set is similar to the members of the Wingfield family, they look readable and normal until the light shines on them, and one see’s the complexity of their characters and their situation (Barnet, Cain, & Burto, 2011). James Joyce displayed symbolism through a window in his short story “Araby”. This window is where the narrator watches for Megan’s sister to appear. “I watched my master’s face pass from amiability to sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle. I could not call my wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child’s play, ugly monotonous child’s play” (Barnet, Cain, & Burto, 2011, p. 879). However, more importantly the window marks the threshold separating the internal life and reality of the characters from the external life and reality. John Updike establishes symbolism in “Before the Mirror” through color association through diction. “I note with satisfaction; the cherry reds and lemon yellows full of childish juice” (Barnet, Cain, & Burto, 2011, p. 564). Updike describes the changed view of life and reality through Picasso’s painting Girl Before the Mirror and the interpretation and assessment of the colors and quality of the work by comparing it to the maturity and changed reality of life in general.
The authors own experience within a society or culture will influence the subject matter in which they are writing. Powell (2002) stated, “a traditional tale is subject to constant change because different narrators of a story have different motives and emphasize or embroider on different aspects” (p. 15). One cannot help but expect a piece to be biased when it is written by an individual who was victimized by a specific event. When we read fiction there is still going to be opinions from the author or a slight bias about race, religion, ideas, and just their feelings on different subjects.
“Araby” written by James Joyce lets the reader witness the awakening of the narrator as he comes to learn of his place in society and that his life is set on a path predestined for him. Joyce ends the short story right after the point of his realization so the reader is unaware if the narrator also realizes that nothing is predestined and life can be what we make of it. “Araby” gives the reader a false sense of hope that all may turn out well for the main character only to find ourselves disappointed in the end, feeling just as defeated as the young boy who describes himself “as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.” (Barnet, Cain, & Burto, 2011, p. 882) The story of “Araby” shows that the narrator reached this state of awakening based on his past experience in life. No matter how much he strives to be someone different he is not going to change who he is, or where he is from, or even what is expected of him. One must wonder if Joyce shared this same view of life and why he ends the short story at the point of the characters deepest despair with no light in the dark.
In “The Glass Menagerie” a partly autobiographical play, the character of Tom is created based on the playwright, his real name is Thomas, and he, like Tom, had an unstable home life with an absent father. If this character represents the author of the play, there is not even a question of how personal experience shapes the interpretation of this play. We are given a brief glimpse into the life of Williams and how difficult situations must have been through his childhood.
John Updike wrote a poem “Before the Mirror”, and this was easily based on his personal experience that he took the idea back to when he was in his mother’s womb. He wants the author to think about their past almost to the point of preconception and how things could have been different. He speaks about the painting, and he uses the image inside as a reflection of his own past, present, and future. The play is about his interpretation of his own life and the twists and turns it has taken and his alternate reality of what could have been.
When a piece of literature is published the author intends for it to be read and usually appreciated. There is meaning behind the words that they have written and hopefully the readers are able to discern the point that the author is trying to make. There are those occasions that the reader does not know the authors meaning or the reader finds their own meaning in what has been written.
When reading “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, significance is not always clear but if a reader can identify the theme and interpret the symbols used in the story then the reader can hope to be on the same page as Williams. The characters live in a world where the difficulties of the real-world cause them to retreat into a world of fancy and imagination. This is shown with the glass animals in Laura’s menagerie and even more so by her favorite animal, the unicorn. There is Tom who lives through his movies and consistently drunken state so that he can escape from reality. “I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion. (Barnet, Cain, & Burto, 2011, p. 1248). This is one of my favorite quotes as I think it can also be interpreted in that old cliché that the world is a stage and our lives often take on the appearance of an illusion.