Success and failure are equally disastrous. —Tennessee Williams
As a complementary close reading to the analysis of Why Expressionism? The Glass Menagerie, this Launchpad provides a guide for students to work independently on an informational text.
This is an examination of the nonfiction essay written by Tennessee Williams entitled “The Catastrophe of Success.” He wrote this piece three years after The Glass Menagerie first opened on Broadway. It is a reflection on how the triumphant opening and successful run of this play dramatically affected his life, and it offers insight into how to combat the fallout of such a “disaster.”
The essay was originally published in The New York Times on November 30, 1947. “The Catastrophe of Success” is often included in print versions of The Glass Menagerie.
Instructions: Follow your teacher’s direction to complete the following analytical exercise.
The text of Tennessee Williams’ non-fiction essay, “The Catastrophe of Success,” can be broken up into five short excerpts. Each excerpt is noted here by its first and last sentence. Each excerpt is followed by several comprehension questions and a brief writing activity. There are two summative writing activities at the end of the essay which offer links to two additional readings for your comparative analysis.
This winter marked the third anniversary of the Chicago opening of “The Glass Menagerie,” an event that terminated one part of my life and began another about as different in all external circumstances as could well be imagined.
Excerpt 1 continues through:
No, my experience was not exceptional, but neither was it quite ordinary, and if you are willing to accept the somewhat eclectic proposition that I had not been writing with such an experience in mind and many people are not willing to believe that a playwright is interested in anything but popular success—there may be some point in comparing the two estates.
Go back into the Cinderella story and generate a list of elements of the plot and characters. (EDSITEment Cinderella lessons Variations in Plot and Setting and Variations in Character may be enlisted to identify the main elements of the story.) Then choose one of the following scenarios and write an essay applying these elements to it:
The sort of life that I had had previous to this popular success was one that required endurance, a life of clawing and scratching along a sheer surface and holding on tight with raw fingers to every inch of rock higher than the one caught hold of before, but it was a good life because it was the sort of life for which the human organism is created.
Excerpt 2 continues through:
Once I ordered a sirloin steak and a chocolate sundae, but everything was so cunningly disguised on the table that I mistook the chocolate sauce for gravy and poured it over the sirloin steak.
Identify an object (i.e., the “green satin sofa”) or a food item (i.e., the “chocolate sauce” Williams mistook for gravy) that once charmed you but came to represent disenchantment in your own life. Explain how that item came to be transformed.
Of course all this was the more trivial aspect of a spiritual dislocation that began to manifest itself in far more disturbing ways.
Excerpt 3 continues through:
As far as my physical vision was concerned, this last operation was only relatively successful (although it left me with an apparently clear black pupil in the right position, or nearly so) but in another, figurative way, it had served a much deeper purpose.
Describe a painful experience you have had that served a deeper purpose and actually liberated you afterward.
When the gauze mask was removed I found myself in a readjusted world.
Excerpt 4 continues through:
It is no longer safe for a man even to declare them!
Describe the setting and condition where you work best. Is there an ideal setting where you think you could work better? Explain.
This is a long excursion from a small theme into a large one which I did not intend to make, so let me go back to what I was saying before.
Excerpt 5 continues through:
It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it, and the monosyllable of the clock is Loss, loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition.
Compare the passage in which Tennessee Williams describes the falsehood of “the public Somebody” with the sentiments expressed by Emily Dickinson in the poem, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” (260), available from EDSITEment-reviewed Academy of American Poets. Describe each writer’s attitude toward fame. Do they come to the same or different conclusions about how to deal with it? Explain.
Summative Writing Activities
After working through the previous excerpts and questions (and/or writing activities), follow your teacher’s direction in reading these articles, and respond to the following prompts:
*Note to the teacher: This exercise aligns with Common Core State Standard English Language Arts exemplar text for grades 9–10. (Appendix B.)]
The questions posed in this Launchpad align with the following CCSS individual grade ELA standards for Reading: Informational texts: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8 and CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3. Each follow-up writing activity aligns with one of these CCSS individual grade ELA standards for Writing: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1 and CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3.