American Aristocracy




Isnawaty Lydia Wantasen


Amerika Bagian Selatan mengukir sejarah tersendiri setelah Civil War dan selama Great Depression, terutama kondisi kehidupan masyarakatnya. Krisis ekonomi yang melanda masyarakat pada saat itu memicu setiap individu tmtuk bekerja lebih giat lagi, demi memenuhi kebuiuhan hidup mereka. Sayangnya, keadaan seperti ini seperti hantaman keras bagi segelintir anggota masyarakat yang masih merasa sebagai kelvarga bangsawan. Mereka masih mewarisi nilai-nilai kebangsawanan yang melekat pada diri mereka sebelum depresi hebat melanda Amerika, yaitu gentility, honor dan superiority. Nilai-nUai kebangsa­wanan lersebut lercermin jelas dalam karakter ulama, Amanda, dalam drama yang ditulis oleh Tenesse Williams ini.

Key words: aristocracy, gentility, honor, superiority


Aristocracy can be found at any place in the world as the manifestation of human being in showing their social status in their society. People who be­long to aristocratic family will act in such a way that they are really aristo­cratic people. They do not change then-attitudes although the era has changed rapidly. What they are supposed to be good in their class will be assumed as the attitudes which they have to main­tain.

In aristocratic family, each mem­ber of the family, each member of the family has his own. The division be­tween man’s role and women’s one is so clear that each has to follow the role. What he or she has to do is based on the role which he or she has in the family. This condition will be inherited by the descents the ancestor of the family has. It is why the parents will educate their children to maintain their family’s tradi­tion although it has been out of date.

According to the division of role in the family, men have to have, for exam­ple, hospitality in order to show to which class they belong. They cannot change this attitude because it is a kind of ‘mark’ in aristocratic class. Besides, they have to study hard in order to earn money. It means that men should work hard so that they can give money to their family. On the contrary, women have to live at home either taking care of their children or keeping the house. It is not necessary for women to have good edu­cation because they need not to earn money. They depend mostly on their husband and they are subordinate to the male superiority. They just think of hav­ing good manner and wait for gentleman who will come and marry them.

In The Glass Menagerie, Williams depicted social life condition in the South after the Civil War and during the Great Depression. He created Amanda as the important character representing aristocratic family. It is hard to live during the time because people have to work hard in order to fulfill their basic need. They have to do anything so that they can survive. Meanwhile, Amanda, who still thinks of being an aristocratic woman, does not prepare to face such conditions. She still thinks that she has privileged rights in her society so that she never changes her attitude. She maintains to be aristocratic woman and her thought must be followed by her two children although both do not agree with their mother.

The hard condition of the society influences many things. Economical conditions do not make people live in prosperity. Instead, they live in poverty. Bradburry says “by 1931, as the banks and factories closed, farming collapse, industrial plants worked to 12 percent of capacity, millions of unemployed walked the streets, and destitution, poverty, and pain were wide­spread” (1989:123). These hard condi­tions make Amanda and her two chil­dren, Laura and Tom, have to think how to manage their lives. Particularly for laura, she does not know how to over­come her difficulties. She has been edu­cated by her mother to be a gentle woman. She has to prepare for her mar­riage without having an opportunity to earn money. She just waits for a man who will become her husband. It is a typical woman in aristocratic familt. Brown (1982:238) states that “the girls had been less forward and better pre­pared for marriage by working at home instead of giggling and gazing on the side walk”. Besides, “the failure of a girl to catch a man for her husband is a ‘sin’ of her” (1982:238).

The Glass Menagerie is one of Williams’ plays which portrays an American aristocracy, in this case, the

focus of the article will be on Wingfield family.


Tennessee Williams was born in Mississippi in 1911. He spent his ado­lescence in St.Louise. Williams became, with Miller (q.v.), America’s leading playwright of forties and fifties; only Albee (q.v.) since then has come any­where near to reaching theor popular esteem (Seymore-Smith, 1976:394). He was popular as the young American playwright in his era.

hi his works, Williams portrayed his own region as the setting. He also took some main problems which people underwent. Halline (1951:xxiii) states that “he represents a new spirit in local color tragedy; the concern with a fragile character who is beset with an obsession born of frustration and who is engulfed by a callous or cruel world, usually lo­calized in the lower Mississippi region”.

Williams wrote some plays, among them The Glass Menagerie and A Street­car Named Desire. Both are the best plays which he ever wrote and written in 1947. The main character in those plays is “an anguishedly receptive woman, savaged by neurosis, who lives in a fan­tasy world” (Seymour-Smith, 1976: 394-395). He, then, wrote Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955, Orpheus Descending in 1958, Sweet Bird of Youth in 1959, The Night of the Iguana in 1962. He also wrote a fiction entitled The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone in 1950.The Glass Menagerie is now rec­ognized as one of the most lyrical and moving of American dramas. Williams reveals dramatically how love and hate, closeness and remoteness, are present among members of a family (Barrows, et al eds., 1986:269).


Amanda Wingfield is “a little of great but confused vitality clinging frantically to another time and place” (Williams, 1990:129). She inher­its her past background and she tries to maintain the values which her family has. According to her, her children have to follow those values in order that they can live better as their family did in the past. She never sees things happening around her. She always thinks that she and her family have to live based on val­ues which the aristocratic family has.

As a Southerner, she cannot ignore the old tradition fade away although the era has changed rapidly. The new social condition has made things different and this is not anticipated by Amanda. She is still thinking of herself as an aristocratic woman who has the tradition which she has to follow. She, of course, gets trou­ble in her life because she is not ready to have such a condition.

In Old South tradition, it is gener­ally believed for conscious purpose that in the process of acquiring the rich land and Negroes means they are in the pro­gress of aristocracy and then if they had rich land and Negroes automatically they became aristocrats (Cash, 1983:63). For this reason, each person tries to get the rich land and Negroes in order to be aristocrats. What he has to do is just to have those two because it will make him have a good position in his society. It means that he will have a better life in the future as long as he gets them.

In getting the rich land and Ne­groes, people have to work hard. They

cannot wait for along time to have those without working hard. Those cannot be inherited from their family. Most of them, however, are not familiar with hard work. They never try to work hard because they will inherit the properties their parents have. In this case, they do not think how their parents get their wealth. They never feel tired in order to get some money.

This article will focus on Old South tradition or aristocratic values in Wingfield family, as portrayed in The Glass Menagerie. Those values namely gentility, honor and superiority.

3.1. Gentility

At any time, what people do is just to act in aristocrat manner. It means that they have to learn how to be aristocratic people, not to learn how to work hard and to earn money as Amanda does to her son, Tom. Since she belongs to aris­tocratic family, every thing must be in a good manner. She is never bored to re­mind Tom how to eat well according to aristocratic tradition. It, actually, makes Tom bored because he has to pay atten­tion to all little things.

Amanda [to tier son] : Honey, don’t push with your fingers. If you have to push with something, the thing to push with is a crust of bread. And chew—chew! Animal have secretions in their stomachs which enable them to digest food without mastication, but human beings are supposed to chew their food before they swallow it down. Eat food leisurely, son, and really enjoy it. A well-cooked meal has lots of delicate fla­vors that have to be held in the mouth for appreciation. So chew your food and give your salivary glands a chance to function! (Williams, 1990:146).

Amanda inherits all values and tra­dition from her parents and she wants

her children to have them. She does not realize that her children have different point of view in seeing that values and tradition. They think that they do not live in the old tradition anymore. They have lived in the new situation and they have to adapt themselves.

When Tom objects to her mother, Amanda, she says that what Tom does not represent aristocratic manner. It is not available in aristocratic family be­cause all things must be regular and fol­low the rule.

Amanda [lightly] : Temperament like a Metropolitan star!

[Tom rises and walks toward the living room]

You’re not excused from the table (Williams, 1990: 147)

It indicates Amanda’s rejection to mod­ern tradition. She thinks that aristocratic people have to maintain old tradition. It also can be said that Amanda does not know that the social condition has changed.

Amanda wants her daughter to have an aristocratic manner. What her daughter does should reflect her gentil­ity. She also wants her daughter to do anything smoothly. Her daughter should be able to place herself as an aristocratic woman. She is not permitted to serve her brother although she likes to do so. She has to act like a lady. She does not have to act as if she were a servant or a slave.

[Laura rises.]

LAURA : I’ll bring in the blanc mange.

[Tom remain standing with his cigarette by the portieres.]

AMANDA [rising.] : No sister, no, sister-you be the lady this time and I’ll be the darky (Williams, 1990:147).

In order to her children know to behave when gentlemen callers come, she shows her capability to do that. Her son, Tom, wants to know how she manages to serve them.

TOM [remaining at the portieres] : How did you entertain those gentlemen callers?

AMANDA : I understood the art of conver­sation!

TOM : I bet you could talk.

AMANDA : Girls in those days knew how to talk, I can tell you.

TOM: Yes?

[Image on screen : Amanda as a girl on a porch, greeting callers.]

AMANDA ; They knew how to entertain gentlemen callers. It wasn’t enough for a girl to be possessed of a pretty face and a graceful figure—although I wasn’t slighted in either respect. She also needed to have a nimble wit and a tongue to meet all occa­sions.

TOM : What did you talk about?

AMANDA : Things of importance going on in me world! Never anything coarse or common or vulgar. (Williams, 1990:148).

hi this case, Amanda explains the requirement which women, or people in general, should have. Anyone does not understand how to behave in the impor­tant occasion so that they at once fail to get what they want. They should be careful in doing any thing although it is simply a little thing. It is hoped they show not only their appearance, but also their personality or something inside. If they can do well, they will succeed.

3.2. Honor

Being a single parent, Amanda has to supervise by herself. She tries to be an ideal mother for her children by giv­ing them more attention in their growth. She wants to do the best because she has to show to the society that her family is an aristocratic one. As a Southerner, she is very proud of her aristocratic heritage although she has faced a lot of changes which are not suitable for aristocratic life. To indicate how proud Southerner is, Brown (1984: 29) notes “I would rather be the South in her humiliation than the North in her triumph”. It means that she does not object to having bad conditions as long as she is still the part of the South society.

Amanda thinks that the honor she has is more important than other things. She tries hard to keep her children in her eyes because they tend to have different point of view. They do not care with the honor anymore. She begs Tom to stop being drunkard to maintain their honor.

AMANDA [with great enthusiasm] : Try and you will succeed! [The notion makes her breathless.} Why, you—you’re just fall of natural endowments! Both of my chil­dren—they’re unusual children! Don’t you think I know it? I’m so—proud\ Happy and feel—feel I’ve—so much to be thankful for but—promise me one thing, son!

TOM: What, Mother?

AMANDA : Promise, son, you’ll—never be a drunkard!

TOM : [turns to her grinning]: I will never be a drunkard, Mother. (Williams, 1990:171).\

Amanda really understands that the condition has changed rapidly because of the economical background. People do not depend mostly upon what their parents have in the past. They do not look at the social status which a group of people have, but they look at their ca­pability in managing their lives.

Amanda is also proud of being a widow of Mr. Wingfield. She wants to show how an aristocratic woman maintains her honor by keeping her hus­band’s photograph. She never feels sorry although her husband has run off. She proudly tells Jim about her husband.

AMANDA : … I married a man who worked for the telephone company! That gallantly smiling over there! [She points to the picture]. A telephone man who—fell in love with long-distance! Now he travels and I don’t even know where! But what I am going on for about my—tribulations? Tell me yours—I hope you don’t have any!.. (Williams, 1990:204).

Based on the honor people have, there are classifications among the peo­ple in the South. They do not want to have a guest whose class is in the differ­ent level. They are very proud of having guest coming from a higher class. This manner is available in Amanda’s per­sonality when she receives Jim as her gentleman caller.

AMANDA : [coyly smiling, shaking her girlish ringlets]: Well, well, well, so this is Mr. O’Connor. Introductions entirely un­necessary. I’ve heard so much about you from my boy. I finally said to him, Tom— good gracious!—why don’t you bring this paragon to supper? I’d like to meet this nice young man at the warehouse!—instead of just hearing him sing your praises so much! I don’t know why my son is so stand­offish—that’s not Southern behaviour!.. (Williams, 1990:203).

3.3. Superiority

Amanda belongs to aristocratic family and for the reason she wants her children to obey what she orders to them. There is not equality among the aristocratic family because parents have superiority upon their children. This un­derstanding has been taught to the chil­dren. Being disobedience does not be­long to aristocratic manner and it is bad.

It is the condition of the Southern soci­ety. Eaton (1981:292) says that “by 1860 the upper class of Southern society had de­veloped the habit of command and a re­markable sense of pride. They were not ac­customed to subordinate their will to a cen­tral authority”.

The quotation below shows Amanda superi­ority to her son, Tom.

TOM : Look!—I’ve got no thing, no single thing—

AMANDA : Lower your voice!

TOM : —in my life here that I can call my OWN! Everything is—

AMANDA : Stop that shouting!

TOM : Yesterday you confiscated my books! You had the nerve to—

AMANDA : I took that horrible novel back to the library—yes! That hideous book by that insane, Mr.Lawrence.

[Tom laughs wildly}

1 cannot control the output of diseased minds or people who cater to them—

[Tom laughs still more wildly.}

But 1 won’t allow such filth brought into my house!

No, no, no, no! (Williams, 1990:161).

Amanda does not agree if her son does not listen to her suggestion even though her son is probably true. Anything which is out of aristocratic rule must be omitted. She does not care if her son likes to do it or not.

Her superiority to her children actu­ally indicates her admiration of the past when she underwent such condition. He thinks that she may be able to do what she wants. In this case, she does not realize that her superiority to her children will make conflicts among them. She really inherits aristocratic values and tradition so that she con not throw them away in her life.


Based on the analysis, it can be concluded that the characteristics of American aristocracy is gentility, honor and superiority. In The Glass Menagerie, Amanda, an aristo­cratic woman in the South, has such charac­teristics because she inherits them from her family and her society where she lives. She, however, does not realize that the era has changed rapidly. Her children, actually, do not like to be the past generation because it is out of date in their era.


Barrows, Marjorie Wescott (eds.), The American Experience: Drama. 1968.New York : The Macmillan Company.

Bradbury, Malcolm and Temperly Howard. Introduction to American Studies. 1989. Singapore: Longman Singa­pore Publisher.

Brown, Betram-Wyatt. Southern Honor: Ethics & Behavior in the Old South. 1982. New York : Oxford University Press.

Brown, Leonard (ed.). A Quarto of Modern Literature. 5th edition. 1964. New York: Charles Scribner’s Son.

Cash, W.J. The Mind of the South. 1983. New York: Alfred A Knopf, Inc.,

Halline, Allan G. (ed.), Six. Modern Ameri­can Plays. 1951. New York: Ran­dom House, Inc.,

Seymour-Smith, Martin. Who’s Who in Twentieth Century Literature. 1976.New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

Shank, Theodore J. (ed.). A Digest of 500 Plays. 1963. New York: The Cromwell Collier Publishing Company.

Williams, Tennessee. The Theatre of Ten­nessee Williams. Vol.1. 1990. New York: New Direction Publishing Corporation.—


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