The Glass Menagerie and Never Let Me Go
Crowels states “The Glass Menagerie” is a ghost play, everyone including the narrator is persecuted by memory”. Similarly, Bradley comments “The past is so contemporary in ‘Never Let Me Go’, it is difficult to distinguish between the past and present”. Highlighting, Ishiguro’s novel and William’s play are both immensely absorbed in the past.
They both explore themes such as family, abandonment, duty, deception, and lies, however, the past can be seen as the most important theme, constantly recurring throughout the novel and play. Both ‘Never Let Me Go’ and ‘The Glass Menagerie’ advocate the extent to which the past is intertwined in the present in a positive and negative light. In this essay, we will explore how “The past is not dead. It is not even past” in ‘Never Let Me Go’ and ‘The Glass Menagerie’.
Both narrators, Tom from ‘The Glass Menagerie’ and Kathy from ‘Never Let Me Go’, show extreme attachment to the past. Tom narrates the whole play from “memory”, he “turns back time”. The fact that his memory of all conversations and events is still enacted highlights his attachment with his past and also indicates that Tom can’t get away from his past. Hence, “his past is not dead, it is not even past”.
Throughout the play, Tom repetitively “goes to the movies” as a way of distracting himself from his family life and trying to run away from it. By presenting Tom in this way, William is portraying his own life through Tom. Williams also turned to movies for solace, as a way to run away from all the depressing and tormenting events in his family. In the end, Tom goes far away from his family, he “goes further than the moon”. This exemplifies Tom’s desperation to get away, but also shows that Tom thought to go further than the moon would redeem him from his past; the further he goes the more distant his past will be.
The emphasis of the moon shows the interval he wants to create between himself and his past. However, Tom’s past is unable to leave him, it haunts him and remains with him, this can be seen in the quotation, “oh Laura, Laura. I tried to leave you behind me but I am more faithful than I intended to be”. Once again, this connotes that Tom can not get away from his past no matter how far he goes, the past is constantly being resurrected as the present.
Besides, this also symbolizes Tom’s love for Laura and his guilty conscience for leaving her alone. Crowles states, “The narrator is persecuted by memory”, which is completely true as it can be seen throughout the play. Tom is extremely persecuted by memory, he is seen as being unable to get away from the past. It could be argued that his attachment towards Laura is the reason for his attachment to his past. However, economic factors can also be seen as playing a huge role in Tom’s desperation to get away from his past, ‘The Glass Menagerie’ is set during the great depression. Tom can be seen as one of the many Americans caught in the boredom and the hatred for his job during the hard times.
The pressure of the great depression can be a further cause of why tom detested his past, desperate to move away in an exploration of new, greater opportunities. diversely, Kathy in ‘Never Let Me Go’, shows complete devotion to her past. Even though the novel is meant to be in the present, most of the novel goes into flashbacks of her memories in the past, even things in her present take her back to her past. This shows Kathy’s extreme obsession with the past. The quotation, “I have tried to leave Hailsham behind when I’ve told myself I shouldn’t look back so much,” indicates Kathy’s self-realization of the fact that she’s too obsessed with her former memories.
Throughout the novel Kathy is constantly comparing everything in her present to “Hailsham”, the buildings, the greenery, even while driving, Kathy is constantly seeing and reminding herself of her past, she doesn’t want her past to die and her “past is not dead” as she is constantly reminded of that through her present. K.Richards claims “The past in ‘Never Let Me Go’ is much more positive”, this can be seen when Kathy describes her past as a “golden time”.
The adjective golden shows that Kathy sees her past to be much more admirable, hence she doesn’t want to forget it, maybe she wants to live in the shadows of her past as it is much more positive than her present, it provides her comfort with all the pleasing memories. Kathy’s past is not dead as she doesn’t let it be passed.
This contradicts Tom’s past, which he desperately wants to run away from. Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan and moved to the UK later in his life. He also had many memories of Nagasaki while living in the UK, like Kathy. Ishiguro uses Kathy’s character to show that sometimes the past is so pleasant that you are unable to let go, whereas William presents Tom as someone desperate to let go of his past but unable to. Both the narrator’s “[pasts are] not dead. It is not even past”.
Amanda is seen to be completely shattered from the past, and unable to move on. Equivalently, we see Ruth shattering throughout the play due to the guilt of her past. Amanda is addicted to her past, she is constantly narrating the day, “she received 17 gentlemen callers”. She is reiterating the same story highlighting her obsession with the past. Also, the main reason why Amanda can’t forget her past is due to her husband as Franklin states, Amanda keeps a “larger than life-size photograph” of her husband, in other words, the picture of the husband is constantly looming over the family making it more difficult for Amanda to forget him, but also highlighting that Amanda doesn’t want to forget him; maybe she doesn’t want to remove the picture as she uses it for comfort, thinking her husband is still there for her and her children.
This supports the idea that women were dependent on a man to provide for the family in the 19th century. A woman was seen as weak and the ‘ homemaker’ whereas the man was the provider and the one who went out and worked. As the play progresses, Amanda wears a “girlish frock of yellowed voile with a blue silk sash”, the same one she wore when she met her husband. This once again illustrates that Amanda isn’t willing to let go of her past. Williams presents Amanda as an adamant woman, not willing to let go of her past even though it’s damaging to her and her family. Amanda, like Kathy, is not letting her past die.
This is why Amanda’s “past is not dead, it is not even past”. Comparatively, Ruth can be seen as not wanting to remember her past, when Kathy asks “do you remember”, she keeps a blank face acting as she doesn’t remember Hailsham at all, demonstrating her rejection towards her past, and her willingness to distance herself from it. However, later on in the play, Ruth can be seen as completely shattered as her guilt from the past overcomes her.
Ruth confesses that during Hailsham “she kept Kathy and Tommy apart”, this indicates that even years later Ruth was unable to obliterate her memories. Her memories of the past constantly came before her, and she always had the remorse of keeping them apart years ago. This showcases that Ruth’s past is not dead, it is constantly recurring in her present through guilt. Amanda and Ruth can both be seen as unable to let go of the past, despite its negativity, they fail to move on. Both Amanda and Ruth’s “past is not dead, it is not even past”.
Ishiguro structures his novel, ‘Never Let Me Go’ in a way that promotes that “ the past is not dead, it’s not even past”. Despite Kathy narrating in the present, more than half the novel Kathy is narrating her “memories” of the “golden time” at “Hailsham”. Ishiguro presents Kathy and mostly all the other characters obsessed with the past, unable and unwilling to let go of the great memories at Hailsham, presenting the strong theme of memories and the past.
Through this Ishiguro is portraying that the clones have nothing to look forward to in the present, hence they use their past as a way to escape their harsh realities of life. Clones at the time were looked at as something inhuman and abnormal, treated differently from society and kept away from society at the same time creating a sense of isolation. Throughout the novel, you gain a sympathetic view of all those at Hailsham, as there is a dramatic irony that they don’t know of their “tragic life” as C.Lewis stated. ‘Never Let Me Go’ presents the past as a commendable, encouraging and a “golden time” which all the characters look up to, the past is the best thing in the lives of Kathy and her friends.
The way Ishiguro flips back and forth to the past shows the powerful impact the past has and indicates the extreme attachment the characters have to the past, confirming “the past is not dead, it is not even past”. On the other hand, Williams allocates Tom as a narrator of the past, instantly showing the effect and power of the past. The three sections of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ highlights the three main events of Tom’s life.
The play as a whole being from “memory” shows extreme attachment to the past. Tom has been unable to forget and move on, analogously, Williams also had a pessimistic view of his past, he tried to run away from his problems in his family like Tom, but as tom couldn’t forget Laura, Williams wasn’t able to forget his sister Rose, who suffered from mental illness. ‘The Glass Menagerie’ presents the past as a “dark shadow” says Steven.
Upon remembering the past, all the characters are drowned in the same negative emotions that once struck them and damaged their lives. Tom’s past is not dead as he clearly remembers everything from his past unable to move on like Amanda and Laura and also the characters of ‘Never Let Me Go’. However, unlike ‘Never Let Me Go’ where the past is favorable, ‘The Glass Menagerie’ explores a past which damages and haunts the characters. Either way, “the past is not dead, it is not even past in” ‘The Glass Menagerie’ as well.
The ending of both ‘Never Let Me Go’ and ‘The Glass Menagerie’ symbolizes a message about the past. Ishiguro creates a gloomy atmosphere in the last few chapters. We witness Ruth’s death, the rejection of the deferral, Tommy’s death and the start of Kathy’s donations. We slowly see the end of the three main characters’ lives. Ishiguro gradually involves the reader in all the characters’ lives from the beginning to the very end.
Furthermore, towards the ending Kathy states, “this was the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up”, Through this Ishiguro portrays the idea of memories and how they will always be with you in one form or another. Ishiguro himself, despite living in England, had a vivid image of imaginary japan which he built his stories around. Kathy imagines all her memories are being brought back towards her, she imagines Tommy is walking towards her from the “horizon”, symbolising her attachment to the past and how she views the past as in her present.
Ishiguro presents the past as comfort in which characters are unwilling to leave. On the other hand, in ‘The Glass Menagerie’, Williams ends the play by calling to attention Tom’s unwanted attachment to the past. Tom wants “anything that can blow your candles out”, which could be referring to his past. The candles are a metaphorical symbol of the past, Tom is unable to forget Laura and therefore is in search of something which will blow out his past like the candles. Both Ishiguro’s novel and William’s play vary concerning the past. ‘Never Let Me Go’ explores a bright past seen as comfort for the characters’ lives, whereas, ‘The Glass Menagerie’ explores an adamant past, which no matter how far you run away from will not leave you alone.
Overall, the past is strongly the main theme in both texts, through the characters of ‘Never Let Me Go’ and ‘The Glass Menagerie’ we can see that the past is not dead, it is not even past. All the characters are unable to let go of their past, attached to it in either a positive or negative way. The evidence provided is in consent with Faulkner, and so are the thoughts of other critics as the past is not dead in either the play or novel. Williams and Ishiguro both used the effectiveness of the past as the core theme and heart of their books.