Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby utilise narrators Tom Wingfield and Nick Carraway respectively to explore how the past can limit an individual. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald employs peripheral narration, which allows the audience to capture detailed recounts of Nick’s past. This enables Nick Carraway to communicate from a position of authorship, vividly detailing the defining moments of his life, which he does with “an inclination to reserve all judgment”.
This is in stark contrast to The Glass Menagerie, where Tom recounts his past with great agony and remorse. Being a central narrator, Tom recollects his past strictly from his point-of-view, admitting that his memory is “tainted” and that “…the scene is memory and therefore nonrealistic”, further stating that “it is truth in the disguise of illusion”. This is evident in the greatly sensationalised “memory scene” of the Glass Menagerie, where Tom recounts the “fiery” altercation between him and his mother, Amanda whose domineering personality traps her children Tom and Laura in a life of “desperation”. This is conveyed through the “pretentious rosy glow” lighting the scene, raised voices, and the “ominous shadows cast on the wall”.
Contrastingly, in the Great Gatsby, the use of peripheral narration allows Fitzgerald to portray Nick as an observer, narrating merely the events that he sees. This is evident in Nick’s recollection of Jay Gatsby’s death, where despite not being physically present, he describes the event with great detail, signifying the effect of Gatsby’s death on his own life. Comparatively, in scene 3 of the The Glass Menagerie, despite not being physically present, Tom recounts the “fiasco” between Laura and Amanda with exceptional detail.
However, due to his absence, Tom’s recount of the scene may not be as accurate, as it is conveyed to the audience through his “tainted” memories. Similarly, the authors Williams and Fitzgerald convey the impact of the past on the narrators Tom and Nick respectively through their concluding dialogues. In The Glass Menagerie, the play closes with Tom saying, “I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!”, solidifying his the continual internal conflict to suppress his guilt of leaving behind his sister Laura to pursue an independent life of his own.
This is also evident in The Great Gatsby when Nick contemplates about his past and concludes by saying “looked around wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of the house, just out of reach…”, signifying how his understanding of his reality is largely consumed by this devastating nostalgia. Thus, Williams and Fitzgerald utilise the narrators Tom Wingfield and Nick Carraway as conduits to explore the impact of the past on an individual.