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The Glass Menagerie is a beautiful and appealing play written by Tennessee Williams in 1944. The story provides an insight into one unhappy family, in which each member feels lonely and wasted upon. Among the main topics involved are the beauty and its vulnerability, the balance between social obligations and personal freedom, parental authority, memories of long ago, and escaping from reality.
The most notable feature of the play is its symbolism, which is demonstrated by the author in a variety of ways. The glass is the most important symbol, as the name of the play suggests. Laura’s glass collection represents fragility and beauty, but it has no practical point. The broken piece stands for the broken heart of the girl. Another symbol for Laura’s ephemerality is her nickname “Blue Roses,” which Jim gives her in the following words, “They are common as – weeds, but you – well – you’re – Blue Roses!” (Tennessee 87). Laura strongly depends on her family and lives in isolation like a ghost. The fire escape symbolizes getting away from reality, and the narrator’s monologues take place there. Finally, the act of blowing out the candles probably means the end of all hopes for Laura and the end of the old life for Tom.
Amanda Wingfield used to be the reigning beauty of a small town, but now she is an abandoned spouse living on the memories of long ago. Amanda can hardly accept her present position, and as a devoted mother, she is fully committed to her children. However, her efforts to make them succeed in life turn to unbearable pressure for both Laura and Tom.
Laura is timid and unsocial due to physical disability. The outside world frightens the girl, and her way of escaping from reality is the glass collection. However, she is not dead inside and has feelings towards a young man.
Tom is committed to poetry, but he has to work in a shoe warehouse to support his family. He feels imprisoned both at work and home. “I know I seem dreamy, but inside — well, I’m boiling!” he exclaims (Tennessee 62). Night movies are his escape. Amanda wants Tom to demonstrate “Spartan endurance!” (Tennessee 32), and to find a husband for Laura. Once her future is safe, he may have a chance to start a new life. Finally, Tom chooses freedom and leaves home. As abandoned Laura and Amanda could die in poverty, it must be a tough decision.
Jim is the long-awaited potential husband for Laura. He is vivid, enthusiastic, and charming, but not willing to marry. After making advances to Laura, he confesses that he is engaged. The girl is hurt, of which the play hints: “Glass breaks so easily. No matter how careful you are” (Tennessee, 86). Maybe the engagement does not exist, but it makes an excellent excuse for Jim.
One more character is the absent Amanda’s husband, who left his family years ago looking for freedom and life pleasures. However, he seems still to belong to the family, which “struggles against hopelessness that threatens their lives” (Nalliveettil and Sobhi 201). The ex-husband remains an authority for Amanda and influences her decisions.
None of the characters in the play is completely good or bad, and the author managed to avoid any black and white coloring. That is why the heroes really seem living and appealing, and one can easily associate himself with any of them. Amanda is tough, but she is a devoted mother, while nice and pretty Laura is a burden to her family. Although the plot and the characters of the play reflect the social background of the middle of the past century, the problems raised by the author are supertemporal and remain challenging for many people in the contemporary world.
Nalliveettil, George, and Mahmoud Sobhi. “Discourse Analysis of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.” Advances in Language and Literary Studies, vol. 7, no 3, 2016, pp. 201–10.
Tennessee, Williams. The Glass Menagerie. New Directions, 1999.