The Glass Menagerie
A Tennessee William’s play based on the depression decades of the thirties. Set in a small cramped apartment of St. Louis. A simple four characters whose lives seem to consist in avoiding reality more than facing it. Where each characters escape clearly defined by the aura of the ‘memory play.’ This is so because every one of them changed their difficult situations into shadows of truth. None of the characters is capable of living entirely in the present. All retreat into their separate worlds to escape the brutality of life.
I believe the playwright has done remarkable use of symbols, tensions, and irony. He uses all of these components to express to what I think is the main theme of the play, of the hopeful desire followed by unavoidable disappointments. All of the characters have dreams, which are destroyed by the harsh realities of the world. As the narrator admits in his opening of the play, “since I have a poet’s weakness for symbols,” symbols merely used to express a particular theme, idea or character. One which is I think is the major symbol is the fire escape, which has a separate function for each characters. This fire escape provides a means of escape for Tom from his cramped apartment and nagging mother. Therefore the fire escape for him represents a path to the outside world where dreams are. For the gentleman caller Jim the fire escape provides the means through which Jim can enter the Wingfield’s apartment an entrance to their lives. For Amanda, Tom’s mom, the fire escape allows Jim to come into the apartment and prevent Laura from becoming a spinster. For Laura, Tom’s sister is that it is her door to the inside world in where she can hide. It is ironic that when Laura does leave the security of her apartment she falls. This symbolizes Laura’s inability to function properly in the outside world.
Another major symbol as the title is the glass menagerie, which represents Laura’s hypersensitive nature and fragility. Laura is just as easily broken as a glass unicorn and just as unique. When Jim accidentally bumps into the unicorn and breaks it, the unicorn is no longer unique. As well like when Jim kisses Laura and then shatters her hopes by telling her that he’s engaged. She becomes broken hearted and also part of that innocent which made Laura so unique is now lost. Both Laura and her glass menagerie breaks when they are exposed to the outside world represented by Jim. When Laura gives Jim her broken unicorn as a souvenir, I think it symbolizes her broken heart that Jim will take with him when he leaves and I think it also provided her with a new confident. Now the unicorn is no longer unique like her but rather as common as a horse like him. Therefore she gives the unicorn to Jim. Just as she gives Jim a little bit of herself to take with him and leaving him behind a little bit of himself with her shattered hopes.
The Glass Menagerie also uses rainbow which I think also symbolize hope and each mention of rainbows in the play it is associated with a hopeful situation. Like when Tom talks about his rainbow colored scarf that he got at the magic show. He talks about how it changed a bowl of goldfish into flying canaries and just like the canaries Tom hopes to fly away too, to escape from his imprisonment of himself and his family. The chandeliers that which create rainbow reflections at the dance hall, foreshadow the dance between Jim and Laura, which also gives hope within her. At the end when Tom looks at pieces of colored glass like bits of a shattered rainbow he remembers his sister and hopes that he can blow ‘her’ candles out. Basically though the rainbows seemed to be positive signs but it all end in disappointment. As shown mostly through the narrator Tom, “maintains distance between himself and the pain of the situation through irony,” and also explains, “For the artist, irony is a device that protects him from the pain of his experience so that he may use it objectively in his art.”
The play itself focuses on the apartment life that Amanda, Laura, and Tom Wingfield share in the city and it is among many dark alleys with fire escapes. Tom and Laura do not like the dark atmosphere of their living conditions even though their mother tries to make it as pleasant as possible. An apartment that had only two small windows in the front and in the rear rooms and a fire escape blocked the smoky light from a back alley. A home that is a lower middle class neighborhood, which seemed disgusted. Amanda a typical Southern belle who fantasizes about her seventeen gentlemen callers back in Blue Mountain. In reality she depends on her son’s income to support Laura and herself and she does regularly attend D.A.R. meetings. Which is an important outlet for her activities. Amanda believes that Laura needs to have some gentlemen callers visiting their apartment because she does not want Laura to be an old unmarried spinster, which is like her. This comes from her selfish concern of Laura but also from her being unattached.
Tom is trying to support his mother, sister and himself with his work at a shoe factory, which he does not want to have a career to where he has to do it all his life. Instead he wants to be a writer and spends most of his time working on poetry. Amanda constantly criticizes Tom’s wishes, and she pressures him to bring home a gentlemen caller from his work to introduce to Laura. Amanda explains to Tom that she knows that he wants to leave them but he should at least be responsible enough to take care of his sister’s future destiny before he departs. Tom and Laura do have a close relationship, and he obliges with Amanda’s request to bring home a gentlemen caller for his sister.
For Tom movies were always exciting for him another avenue of escape into the world and destroy. In the play Amanda constantly questions Tom about his daily leaves to the movies. Tom tries to explain that he loves the movies so much, but Amanda does not believe that his evenings are so innocent. While, Laura is very shy and does not want to be involved with the world outside of their apartment. She collects tiny glass animals and she treasures them more than actually participating in daily contact with the public. It comes to where Amanda enrolls her in a business school so that Laura will have some sort of trade which she will be able to support herself in the future. But Laura is so shy that she does not attend classes and is eventually dropped from the enrollment.
Which comes to Amanda where she convinced Tom into inviting a nice young man from the shoe warehouse over for dinner at the apartment. When Jim O’Connor comes to dinner, Laura recognizes him as the boy that she had a crush in high school. After dinner, Amanda tells Jim to keep Laura accompanied in the parlor. Initially Laura is petrified but she begins to feel more comfortable around him as they reminisce over high school days. Jim dances with Laura and kisses her, only to reveal that he is engaged to another woman and must leave. Which I think is the downfall of the play. Amanda believes that Tom has purposely made them look like fools and eventually got Tom to leave just as his father had. At the end of the play, Tom realizes that he will never be able to forget the sister he left behind.
All the characters seem to separate themselves from the cruel realities of their lives. Their efforts to escape serve only to distract them from their problems. As Laura has come to such degree of self interest, dependent sad girl. Tom still faces a dead end life, though he runs away to find his dream. Amanda still has no means to support herself and Laura and remains beset by a past colored by fantasy. While Jim leaves the stage and we wonder if he ever leaves the warehouse.
The comical relief is when Amanda accuses Tom of going out drinking every night and Tom creates a humorous story about how “Killer, Killer Wingfield spends his nights in opium dens, dens of vice and criminals’ hangouts.” By agreeing with his mother and turning the argument into a form of exaggeration I think Tom wants to protect himself. Distancing him from the situation and the pain by turning it into a joke. Which he then makes a joke of his father’s abandonment, which he refers to his father as a “telephone man who fell in love with long distances,” to shield himself. He also talks of the last time he heard from his father with an ironic twist of humor of a postcard saying, “Hello” and “Goodbye.” It is also ironic that Tom’s last words in the play are the same as his father’s, “and so goodbye.”
The character Amanda also exhibits much irony in her character. She wants the best for her children but she spends so much time worrying about it that she fails to realize what is best for them. Amanda dreams backs to the time when she was a young girl and had seventeen gentlemen callers, “Those certainly were better days.” Though her past was wonderful, the present the reality is that she is now an abandoned wife with two children. From that she forces her ideas and opinions on her children and places them in bad situations. Especially her ideal and obsession views are still based from her time and when she used to be well off in Blue Mountain. Though Laura doesn’t want a gentleman caller, Amanda is concerned about Laura’s future. So she has Tom bring Jim a one image of a perfect southern hostess, honeysuckle manners and down home coziness. It does give her a past of lost youthfulness. Over her agitate of complaints lies a woman unwilling to age and unwilling to be left by an ‘adored’ husband. Only for brief moments does she ever admit that her daughter is ‘crippled’ and then she resorts back to denial. This of course ends in disaster as she finds out that Jim is getting married to someone else. She also wants Tom to be a successful, hard worker and as a result she pushes him so hard, that he leaves. The tension also unifies the theme of hopelessness and uselessness, as each character cannot fulfill their dreams.
The character Laura is a fragile daughter figure and finds herself escaping life at every turn. She induces sickness in her typing class and even as the ‘Gentleman Caller’ awaits her in the living room. She is unable to deal with those difficulties. Frightened of interacting with people, she looks to her collection of glass animals as a place of secure acceptance. Laura clings to the fear that she is strange and crippled though she herself irritates the reality of that. Magnifying her illness and denying her inner beauty to come forth is the way Laura hides from a, “world lit by lightning.” Laura had hopes that she would be with Jim and after he kisses her, she has a “bright, dazed look.” However, Jim merely calls himself a “stumblejohn” and informs her that he is engaged. To this Laura’s hopes are shattered and unable to fulfill her dream.
Tom character on the other hand, relies on self-denial to justify his concerns and feelings of insecurity. By making himself believe that he is a righteous male, he convinces himself that his needs take place to his family. But Tom also escapes into his world of poetry writing and movies. He cannot handle his meaningless job and his unsatisfying home life. His biggest dreams flash before his eyes on a screen in a darkened room yet, while in that little apartment he faces only the dimness. Even during his reflections on the ‘fire escape’ he is not really separating himself cause I think he is stuck in that metal frame, where he’s still anchored to the apartment wall. Tom dreams of being a poet and escapes to fulfill his dream at the end, but finds that he cannot forget Laura as he wanders around town aimlessly thinking of her. It comes to the end where Tom is trapped by his past.
Finally our ordinary nice boy Jim character uses his glorified old memories saved by Laura to find some relief. Even Jim is still disappointed that his future hadn’t turned out to be what he imagined in his glorious high school days, where he was that great man on the campus. Stuck also in the same warehouse job as Tom, he uses his past to project on his future success in TV, believing he will better himself. While he’s takes classes in speaking, hoping to recapture his good old high school days. Laura’s admiration gives his need and fails to realize what he done to the fragile girl. Each time a character feels as if he or she is moving forward, they only move backward. Though the characters are constantly trying, nobody moves forward and nobody escapes. Not even Tom and he left.
In the end I think the play is like our own lives, filled with possible escapes but sometime there is no escaping. The characters I believe just like so many of us try to find their ways but just like us we succeed in tangling ourselves in our own problems. As the audience the play makes us think at it all and knowing maybe in that position we could have change the outcome but it has been foreshadow their faith in the beginning. And it does make us wonder if we are all going through life and our faith is a failure unless we do something.