English Composition 2
Sample Research Paper on a Play
Below is an example of a well-written research paper. This paper was written by a student in an ENG 1002 class.
The Wingfield Way
Tennessee Williams play The Glass Menagerie gives readers a look into a truly dysfunctional family. At first it could seem as if their lives are anything but normal, but Amandas impulse to preserve her single-parent family seems as familiar as the morning newspaper (Presley 53). The Wingfields are a typical family just struggling to get by. Their problems, however, stem from their inability to effectively communicate with each other. Instead of talking out their differences, they resort to desperate acts. The desperation that the Wingfields embrace has led them to create illusions in their minds and in turn become deceptive. Amanda, Tom, and Laura are caught up in a web of desperation, denial, and deception, and it is this entrapment that prevents them, as it would any family, from living productive and emotionally fulfilling lives together.
Amanda Wingfields life has not ended up as she would have wished. She states, I wasnt prepared for what the future brought me (Williams 720). According to Delma E. Presley, If Amanda appears desperate, she certainly has a legitimate reason (37). First of all, she has a daughter, Laura, that is dependent upon her for everything. She is afraid that Laura will end up a little birdlike [woman] without any nesteating the crust of humility for the rest of her life (Williams 700). She also has a son, Tom, who goes to the movies almost every night, or so he says. Amanda knows that the movies dont let out at two A.M. (Williams 703). When he finally does come home, Tom is stumbling and muttering to [himself] like a maniac (Williams 703). Amanda desperately fears that he is beginning to take after his fathers ways. She is caring for a fragile menagerie composed of two children (Presley 24).
The desperation of her situation leads her to become controlling, and she takes this control to the extreme. Amanda constantly bombards Tom with commands in almost every scene. She begins her direction by reminding Tom how to eat properly. First he is pushing the food wrong and then he is chewing improperly. After they manage to finish supper, she then criticizes him for smoking. Things continue on like this throughout the entire play. She decides to return his books to the library because she believes that they are filth. Tom cannot do anything right in the eyes of his mother. She even tells him how to comb his hair. Amanda also directs her daughter. She sends Laura to Business College and then decides to find her a man. Amanda tries to decide all of the directions in which Lauras life turns. Because of her desperation for her children to succeed, Amanda turns into a dictator. She manipulates her childrens lives through an almost constant barrage of criticism and guilt (Jolemore).
Amandas desperation leads her to deny reality. This coping strategy is called a defense mechanism. Ego-defense mechanisms are defined as a type of reaction designed to maintain an individuals feelings of adequacy and worth rather than to cope directly with the stress situation (Carson, Butcher G-6). Amanda utilizes these self-defense tools in order to deal with her anxieties and also the reality of day-to-day life. If an individual uses these mechanisms excessively, they will become unable to face reality and do not solve their problems (Keltner, Schwecke, and Bostrom 30). Amanda cannot see things as they really are; she can only see what she wants (Jolemore). When talking to Tom about Laura, Amanda questions, In what way is she peculiar-may I ask? (Williams 713). Amanda will not admit that Laura is different from other girls despite the fact that Laura lives in a world of little glass ornaments and plays old phonograph records andthats about all (Williams 713-714). Amanda is obviously living a world of self-made illusions. Amanda believes that Lauras difference is all to her advantage, but Lauras self-isolation is hardly a characteristic for a mother to be proud of (Williams 713). Amanda also entertains the fantasy that her crippled daughter is going to have gentlemen callers knocking down her door. She repeatedly orders Laura to stay fresh and pretty-for gentlemen callers (Williams 696). According to Presley, Lauras role, as Amanda fantasizes it, is that of the southern belle (35). In Lauras twenty-six years she has never had a gentleman caller, but Amanda is so delusional she believes only a flood or a tornado could keep them from coming. Every time one of her children mentions Lauras disability, Amanda quickly snaps back. She says things like . . . youre not crippled, you just have a little defect . . . and dont say crippledyou know I never allow that word to be used (Williams 701, 713). It seems as if the only person that does not face the reality of Lauras deformity is her mother. Laura acknowledges it several times as does Tom. Love can make a person blind, but when Amanda says that its rare for a girl as sweet an pretty as Laura to be domestic, she is only denying reality (Williams 720).
While living in a world of desperation and illusions, Amanda becomes deceptive and also is subjected to deception. It seems as if Amanda is the character who seems to reap the bitter consequences of deception more than any of the other characters in the play (Presley 39). According to Presley, the critical deception originated with the man she agreed to marry long ago (39). Amanda fell in love with a telephone man who in turn fell in love with long distances (Williams 720). She feels that the innocent look of [Toms] father had everyone fooled (Williams 713). While his reason for leaving is not specifically stated, Amanda believes that it was his love for long distances that drove him from her. If she pestered her husband half as much as she harasses Tom, the reason for her husbands disappearance is more than obvious. Her children were also deceptive to her. Tom forms a secret plan of escape and Laura drops out of school. Not only did other characters deceive Amanda in the play, but she was also deceptive in her ways. She spared no expense in trying to deceive Jim, the caller. She begins by giving the entire apartment a makeover. From new curtains to chintz covers on the chairs and sofa, Amanda went all out. She even bought a new dress for Laura and helped her put in the Gay Deceivers.These Gay Deceivers were two powder puffs which [Amanda] wraps in handkerchiefs and stuffs in Lauras bosom (Williams 715). Amanda feels that all pretty girls are a trap (Williams 715). She is trying to make Laura look her absolute best in order to make Jim fall into this trap. Her deception continues when Jim and Tom arrive home from work. In order to make Laura appear more capable Amanda states, You know that sister is in full charge of supper (Williams 720). That statement is a flat out lie. She also tells Jim that she never could make a thing but angle-food cake (Williams 720). It seems that once Amanda starts lying, there is no stopping her. When Laura appears obviously ill, Amanda credits the sickness to standing over the hot stove (Williams 721). If Jim knew of Lauras horrific fear of social situations, he probably would not be too impressed. Amanda is so desperate for Jim to fall in love with Laura, she will deceive him as much as she can.
Tom, like his mother, is also entangled in the Wingfield web of despair. He is desperate to extricate himself from his coffinlike existence (Presley 51). He is tormented by the constant redirection from his mother and cannot take it anymore. Tom is starting to boil inside (Williams 719). His problem, though, is his devotion to his sister. He knows that without his financial support Laura will be in trouble. He is in the middle of a dilemma. For a while he tries to satisfy his craving for adventure by retreating to the movies. After some time, he only becomes jealous of the actors. He feels that they are hogging and gobbling up all of the adventures (Williams 719). He realizes that the only way to escape from [his] trap is to act without pity (Williams 693). He loves his sister and does not want her to suffer because of his dreams, but he cannot stand his life. Tom decides to leave home only after a slow painful process (Fordyce).
Tom also forms illusions instead of accepting reality. In several scenes he exits saying, Im going to the movies (Williams 707). He uses the movies as his escape from reality. He feels that man is by instinct a lover, a hunter, [and] a fighter (Williams 707). Tom, while he is living at home, is not able to be any of these things that he feels he should be. By going to the movies, Tom can temporarily live out his fantasies on the big screen. By the end of the play, Tom becomes tired of the movies and he states that he is about to move (Williams 719). He is living in the illusion that if he can only get away from his life in St. Louis, he will be able to make a safari and to be exotic (Williams 719). What he does not realize, until it is too late, is that the movies are not real. He goes to the movies to try and get some adventure, and he also uses them as a way to get away from reality. Whenever things are getting tough at home, he runs off and goes to the big picture show. Instead of staying and facing his problems Tom runs. It is only after he abandons his family that Tom realizes he cannot rid himself of his memories of the family he fought so hard to leave.
In order for Tom to escape from his prison-like existence, he must be deceptive. Tom is introduced as a poet with a job in a warehouse (Williams 693). His dreams obviously do not include working in a factory. He detests his job and would rather somebody picked up a crowbar and battered out [his] brainsthan go back mornings (Williams 703). His escape seems almost inevitable. He begins the play by saying, Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve (Williams 695). It is known from the start that Tom is a deceptive character. He gets in an enormous argument with his mother, and then he goes out and gets drunk. When he stumbles home, Laura meets him at the door. He is bent down looking for his keys and Laura begins to question him. Even though the truth is rather plain to see, Tom starts fabricating a huge story to explain where he has been. He says that he has been at the movies and that it was a very long program (Williams 704). He explains that the big stage show included Malvolio the Magician (Williams 704). Malvolio turns water into wine, wine into beer, and finally beer into whisky. Toms knows he did all this because he gave out souvenirs (Williams 704). Only someone as na´ve as Laura would believe this fable. After talking to his mother, Tom learns that his only way out of his desperate situation is to somehow find a gentleman caller for Laura. Amanda gives him her permission to leave as soon as he can find somebody to take care of [Laura] (Williams 708). Tom knew that Jim and Laura had known each other at Soldan and he had heard Laura speak admiringly of his voice (Williams 715). Tom plays matchmaker in his head and decides that Jim would be someone good to set his sister up with. When he invites Jim over for dinner, Tom does not mention Laura or his devious agenda. He did not want to let on that [he] had dark ulterior motives (Williams 713). If he had revealed his true plans to Jim, the whole night probably would have never happened. Jim would have told Tom that he was already engaged, and that would have been it. Tom also deceives his mother. He uses the money for the light bill to pay his dues for the Merchant Marines. He seems so sure of his prearrangement of Laura and Jim that he already has his escape plan ready.
Laura Wingfield is also entrapped in this dismal existence. Her self-destruction seems inevitable from the opening of the play (Reser). Laura is so desperate to please her mother that she becomes dependent on her for almost everything. She is not capable of independently planning for her future or even choosing her own dates. It is Amanda that takes the initiative to try and find Laura a husband. It is also her mother that sends her off every morning to Rubicams Business College. She even goes to her school and has a parent-teacher conference just like in grade school. Once Amanda finds out Laura quit school, she decides Lauras future should revolve around finding a mate. Laura sits back and lets her mother run her whole life. She apparently is prepared to lead a life of dependency (Presley 41). She is content with letting her mother choose what she will do, when she will do it, and how she will do it. When Amanda tells her to make a wish on the moon Laura replies, What shall I wish for, Mother? (Williams 714). She cannot even dream without her mothers guidance. Without constant direction Laura would be lost. Her low self-esteem and lack of any confidence what-so-ever marks Lauras descent into the emptiness of her own soul (Reser). She is desperate to just be left alone. She has an intense fear of being in social situations, especially if she has to perform. At Rubicams Business College her hands shook so that she couldnt hit the right keys (Williams 699). During the speed test, . . .she broke down completelywas sick at the stomach and almost had to be carried into the wash room (Williams 699). If only she could be left alone with her glass she would be satisfied. Laura herself states, My glass collection takes up a good deal of time (Williams 727). She spends most of her time washing and polishing her tiny figurines and her favorite piece of this collection is the unicorn. The unicorn is fragile and different as is Laura (Presley 42). She accepts her lonely isolation and doesnt complain about it, just as her unicorn sits on the shelf and doesnt complain about being lonesome (Presley 43).
Laura falls into the same trap of illusion that the rest of her family does. She is unable to handle her anxiety, so she denies what reality really is. As we see it, her existence revolves around her collection of transparent glass animals, which she can order and control (Presley 40). She becomes so lost in her world of glass ornaments that she begins to think that they are real. She imagines they have emotions, and she suggests they all like a change of scenery once in a while (Williams 729). Imagine Laura moving her glass ornaments all around the apartment just so they can have a change of scenery. Laura uses the Victrola as another way to escape from reality and her anxiety. She becomes so terrified when it is time to answer the door, she darts to the Victrola, winds it frantically and turns it on (Williams 717). It gives her the strength to move through the room and answer let her gentleman caller in (Williams 717). Her only resource of power is the old record player. Laura knows how important illusions can be as one seeks to cope with pressures of daily living, and this is why she pleads with Tom to let her mother repeatedly tell them the stories about Blue Mountain (Presley 41).
Lauras desperation and her self-sustained illusions lead her to be deceptive. Because she has such an intense fear of being in social situations, Laura fabricates an elaborate scheme in order to conceal that she has dropped out of school. From seven-thirty in the morning until five at night Laura wanders around town. In order to pass the time she goes to the art museum, the birdhouses at the zoo, and she visits the penguins every day. She also goes to the Jewel Box, which is a big glass house where they grow plants. She even took the chance of catching pneumonia just to fool her mother. All she had was a light coat to wear and it was in the middle of winter. This ploy went on for almost six weeks. Laura is so frantic to accommodate to her mothers desires that being dishonest was her only option. She physically could not bear to attend school so there was no other choice. According to Presley, although Laura cultivates her illusions, she attempts no further deception after her mother discovers the truth about her short tenure at Rubicams Business College (41).
Because of their lack of effective communication and their denial of reality, the Wingfield family falls apart. Amandas only joy is reminiscing about the past and Toms delight comes from his anticipation of his great escape. Lauras life revolves around small glass pieces and an old Victrola. These characters do not experience the true joy that comes from a loving and respecting family. They isolate themselves from each other by forming illusions in their own minds. By acting so selfishly, this family fails to thrive and eventually it falls apart. Tom descends the steps of [the] fire escape for a last time and follows from then on, in [his] fathers footsteps (Williams 734). He too falls in love with long distances. Amanda only considers her point of view and Tom runs away from his problems. Had they only taken time to consider each others feelings and talk respectfully to each other, the play may have had a much happier ending.
(Please note that this paper was written before recent changes in MLA documentation style for the Works Cited page, so the works listed below do not follow the format now recommended by the MLA.)
Carson, Robert C. and James N. Butcher. The World of Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life. Ninth ed. New York: Harper Collins, 1992.
Fordyce, William. Tennessee Williams Tom Wingfield and Georg Kaisers Cashier: A Contextual Comparison. Papers on Language and Literature 34.3 (Summer 1998): 250-272. ProQuest. Jacobs Library, Oglesby, IL. 11 July 2000. <http://www.umi.com/proquest>.
Jolemore, Nancy. Lecture Notes and Study Guide Questions for Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie. Old Dominion University. 18 January 2000. 29 June 2000. <http://courses.lib.odu.edu/engl/njolemor>.
Keltner, Norman L., Lee Hilyard Schwecke, and Carol E. Bostrom. Psychiatric Nursing. 3rd ed. St. Louis: Mosby, 1999.
Presley, Delma E. An American Memory. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.
Reser, Rob. A Touch of Glass. 29 June 2000. <http://www.filmspot.com/glassmenagerie.html>.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. Literature and The Writing Process. 5th ed. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X. Day, and Robert Funk. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, 1999.