Friday, January 22, 2010

The Glass Menagerie (67-97) and The Catastrophe of Success

In Williams' essay The Catastrophe of Success, he describes a time in his life when he went from nobody to somebody in a very short time and how empty his life felt during this time. Now this is finally something that I feel like I can relate to! "But once you fully apprehend the vacuity of a life without struggle you are equipped with the basic means of salvation...that with the conflict removed, the man is a sword cutting daisies, that not privation but luxury is the wolf at the door...". I don't think he could have said it much better. I have always wanted a certain kind of success for my life. I have always wanted security, to never have to worry about whether or not I will be able to afford the necessities of life. I want my kids to grow up in a world where they can have everything they need, and a little extra without me having to worry about how I am going to give it to them. But I have never wanted such a massive fortune that I wouldn't know what to do with it. I have never wanted to become rich beyond my wildest dreams. I believe I would start to feel like Williams did if I never had to work for anything again. I would feel lost and trapped by the very things that I had worked so long to achieve.

I agree with him when he says that man is built for conflict, that we were made to keep striving for that next level, the next plateau of meaning. I have always told myself that if I got rich, I wouldn't let it get to my head. I still want to be a normal person. I want to walk around in normal clothes, I want to have goals, I don't want people to wait on me hand and foot. Like Williams' reference to the hotel maid struggling with the pail of water, it sickens me to see someone who has all the means and ability in the world, but is too lazy to put them to use. I feel badly when I let people clean up my mess, when I know I have all the tools to do it myself. The world would be a much better place if the successful people in it didn't stop at success and kept striving for something higher. Think of the CEO's sitting on billions who do nothing but play golf with their clients for the rest of their lives. Think of the athletes worth millions who have all the fame in the world to call their own, and yet they just sit on it all and wait for the end of it. They could be giving. They could be using their fame to highlight worthwhile causes. They could all make big things happen with the wealth and fame they possess, but they don't. I believe success can bring out the worst in people, because all of their lives begin to lose meaning. They don't have anything to struggle for when human nature itself tells them they need something. And I hope I am never like that.

Now that all that is said and done, I did read the end of the Glass Menagerie as well. I just didn't find as much meaning in it as I did the Catastrophe of Success. This was not the ending I pictured for this play. It was a bit ironic to me that two people who were so obviously different (Amanda and Laura) could both be afflicted by the whole "the one that got away" scenario in different ways. They were different, the approach was different, but the outcome was the same. Amanda had many gentleman callers before she finally settled on her husband, but he apparently couldn't stand her and left. Laura is crippled and had only one gentleman caller, the one guy she had had feelings for in several years. Laura was a strange girl, with a personality that made Tom worry about the fact that not a lot of guys would be attracted to her. And yet that one person loved the person that she was. He still "got away" though because they were too late and he was already engaged to another girl.

Tom left for good just like I thought he would. And he apparently went off and found his adventure that he was always dreaming about. But he wasn't happy. "Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!" He missed Laura and did anything he could to stop thinking about her. He was restless in his life in St. Louis and he was again restless in his life of adventure. Perhaps he was looking for something that he would never find.

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