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Laura Wingfield is a young, fragile girl that shares a passion for her figurine collection. She is daughter of Amanda Wingfield and Tom Wingfield’s sister. With a slightly crippled leg, her fragility and vulnerability is enhanced. Her terrible shyness makes her very breakable and weak when it comes to social interactions, as well as challenges. Very detached from society and very much inside her shell, Laura spends most of her time alone at zoos or with her glass figurines. However, she shares a very special connection with Jim, who she is able to communicate and interact with like nobody else. She is a special girl with a compassionate heart and this is shown in her actions towards her family and her desire for happiness (sort of innocent of her).
"I couldn’t go back there. I – threw up – on the floor!"
Laura’s fragile nature and inability to deal with social problems because of her lack of interactions is embodied in her response to social pressures and ultimately results in both psychological as well as physical consequences.
: Ability to be sensible and perceptive
: Lack of grasp of reality, physically (crippled leg) and socially (lack of social interactions) handicapped.
Tom Wingfield is a young man in the midst of a painful internal conflict. Though he feels obligated to care for his mother and especially his sister, he yearns for independence. Tom works at the warehouse practically from dawn to dusk. To escape from the pressures at home, Tom goes out every night to the “movies.” Going to the movies is Tom’s favorite activity, for it allows him to experience adventures and clear his mind of the constant, nagging voice of his mother. Tom, being the narrator of the story and ultimately the figure through which Tennessee Williams expresses his own emotions and experiences, is somewhat unreliable because the play after all is a recollection. Tom is a character who cannot control his emotions; sometimes he cannot hold in his frustration and lashes out at his mother and sister. He is an emotionally unstable man and does not respond well to adversity, but Tom is deeply loyal to his sister, making him a likable character.
“I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” (Scene 1) Tom is a man who lives a double life. He wants to be a loyal brother and needs to show his mother that he is living a happy life, which is the illusion he successfully creates. No one would expect the deep, violent longings he feels to escape his family. He is only revealed through his monologues.
Amanda is Laura and Tom’s mother within the play. Within the play she is revealed to have been a very popular woman when she was younger.Receiving many requests from suitors and she wishes for her daughter to be the same. She could be trying to extend her youth by living vicariously through her daughter. With her family in a poor state, with money and relations with each other she wishes for her daughter to receive the best in life. As a mother trying to do her best, she persuades her son to bring one of his male friends to the house and starts the fateful meeting between Laura and Jim.
Within the text she wishes upon a star and tells Laura to wish upon one as well, and Laura turns to her questioning what it is that she should wish for. Amanda turns and says “Happiness! Good fortune!” (Scene 5, p.49) showing that she truly wants to go up from where she is. She wishes for her daughter to break out of her shell and become her good luck charm.
: very optimistic, tries to break Laura out of her shell.
: Self-centered, her positivity makes her oblivious to certain things.
Throughout all of high school, Jim O’Connor was nothing less of a “big shot.” Jim was athletic, handsome, and smart; he had it all. However, as Jim reached his adulthood, his success seemed to fade away, and six years after high school graduation, Jim started to work in the same shoe warehouse as Tom. Jim is evidently very outspoken, honest, and kind hearted. Jim’s significance in The Glass Menagerie is the fact that he has a “good” flaw. He sincerely wants to please everyone such as Laura, Amanda, Betty, and even Tom. Unfortunately, this good characteristic defeats his entire purpose as Jim breaks Laura’s heart when informing her of his imminent marriage. Jim says, “No, Laura, I can’t. As I was just explaining, I’ve got strings on me” (89). This quote accurately describes Jim’s character as he tried to please Laura but was already engaged to please Betty. Another key aspect is how Jim represents the harshness of reality. He has character traits that make him seem so sincere, honest, and generous. However, these traits do not cut it in the real world as he unfortunately lives off of such a mundane job in a shoe warehouse despite his loving and kindhearted spirit. Jim O’Connor’s strengths include being well spoken, social, sincere, honest, and kind. His kindness and sincerity are also his weaknesses as he tries to please everyone in which he simply cannot do.
Dreams and Aspirations
Tom Wingfield is a man who aspires to be a writer and become independent. Because of his hopes to leave his family, he creates conflict with his mother, sister, and even with himself, for he feels obligated to care for Laura (who is disabled).Tom’s mother, Amanda, also has aspirations of her own. In her youth, Amanda explains to laura that she was beautiful and always had gentlemen callers lined up at her door and wants her own daughter to have the same popularity with men. Though Amanda gloats about her past, we can see that her popularity has fled and she is now a divorced woman.Laura too has ambitions but they do not meet eye to eye with her mother’s. In Scene Two, Amanda discovers that Laura had dropped out of business school. When her mother asks for an explanation, Laura tells her mother that she would much rather go to the museum, walk through the park, visit the “big glass house” and go to the zoo than to school. Her mother responds by saying “fifty dollars’ tuition, all of our plans- my hopes and ambitions for you- just gone up the spout” (14) and continues to mock Laura about her glass menagerie, the only thing that truly give Laura joy and comfort. Laura’s dreams are constantly being prohibited by her mother (who wants her to look pretty for a gentleman caller so he can take care of her). In reality, Amanda contradicts herself because she also wants Laura to be a smart, independent woman who can hold a job (as shown when she becomes frustrated when she finds out that Laura had dropped out of Business college). Even Jim O’Connor has goals; goals to become a public speaker. He not only wants to become a public speaker but he also strives to impress and charm everyone he meets. Jim’s kindness and gentleman attitude eventually backfires on him in Scene Seven, being when he unintentionally leads Laura on, even though he is engaged. The different aspirations each character holds is what makes this play so interesting. Through out the play, we can see conflict among these characters. They are constantly at war with what they want and what the people around them need.
“She married him on the rebound – never loved her – carried my picture on him the night he died! And there was that boy that every girl in the Delta had set her cap for! That beautiful, brilliant young Fitzhugh boy from Green County!" - Amanda (scene 1, line 29)
Unlike the view of marriage as a way of love and devotion, the Glass Menagerie displays marriage as way of achieving things. Amanda believes that in order for her daughter to be stable and live comfortably, she must be married to a man. This superficiality and lack of emotion contributes to the lack of length and meaning in the marriage. As seen in Amanda’s own marriage, the absence of the husband causes a dysfunctional and deteriorating lifestyle. However, Amanda fails to mention or recognize the wrongs in her husband’s actions as she turns a blind eye to them. This is again due to her belief that a woman is unable to succeed and be happy without a husband.
“ What right have you got to jeopardize your job? Jeopardize the security of us all? How do you think we’d manage…” - Amanda (pg 23. scene 3)
Within the Glass Menagerie, you see each character has a hope and wish of their own, making them each vulnerable in their own way. Aside from the vulnerability of the characters there is a vulnerability of the family. The stability is very off, each character is conflicting with another and as you see within scene 3, Tom and his mother (Amanda) have a fight. Tom is keeping the family afloat with the money he brings in and his mother is trying to lessen the burden by marrying off her daughter. Tom’s sister is extremely shy which dampens his mother's attempts in the long run, but this delicate balancing act Tom is doing is susceptible to tipping at any second. Trying to balance family, work, and his own personal desires is overbearing and you see a family falling apart. A mother who does not want to lose another member of the family, but to gain one. A daughter who fears the change that will always come and a son who wants more from life than what he is getting out of it. This theme of vulnerability carries from beginning to end, resulting in Tom leaving his family behind and leaving him to tell us this story of a family struggling to keep afloat.
Throughout the story in The Glass Menagerie, many expectations fall short of the actual reality that transpires within the play. The most obvious evidence for this theme is the relationship between Laura Wingfield and her mother, Amanda Wingfield. Amanda expects her daughter to follow the same footsteps as her mother. Amanda wants Laura to receive many requests from several different suitors and earn a degree in business. However, Laura falls extremely short of her mother’s expectations as she cares mostly about the glass figurines within her glass menagerie; Laura simply has no interest in what her mother expects from her, which greatly upsets her mother, Amanda. Another example of this recurring theme is the case of Jim O’Connor. Tom Wingfield talks about Jim O’Connor’s by stating, “He[Jim O’Connor] was shooting with such velocity through his adolescence that you would logically expect him to arrive at nothing short of the White House by the time he was thirty. But Jim apparently ran into more interference after his graduation from Soldan. His speed had definitely slowed. Six years after he left high school he was holding a job that wasn’t much better than mine”(50). Jim was athletic, handsome, and smart; he had it all and many felt he was destined for greatness. However, as Jim reached his adulthood, his success seemed to fade away, and six years after high school graduation, Jim became a shoe warehouse worker receiving very little pay. This incident mentioned in the play strongly supports the theme of expectations falling short.
(p1)- a collection of wild animals kept in captivity for exhibition.
(p3)- a number of different things, parts or items that are grouped together; collection
(p3)- An unconscious movement that may resemble simple repetitive tics or may be a complex sequence of natural-looking movements
(p3)- An open, crisscross pattern or weave.
(p3)- giving the impression that something harmful or evil is happening or will happen.
(p6)- a curtain hung over a door or doorway.
(p6)- strong, coarse fabric, chiefly used for heavy-duty lining or upholstery.
(p9)- (especially of a work of art) having a mournful quality.
(p18)- the quality of being attractively lively and animated.
(p20)- a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs.
(p53) - A cotillion is a patterned dance, that originated in france, that was made for four couples in a square formation. When this is used in the play is exemplifies Amanda's sociable personality.
(p53) - a type of natural medicine that has natural fever reducing, and painkilling, properties. This shows the energy Amanda had, even in her youth, for the side effects to this medicine were fatigue.
(p54) - Though you can gather from the text they are a type of flower, they are also known as Rush daffodils, they are native to Spain and Portugal but were grown other places due to their popularity.
(p57) - something done in an overbearing manner.
(p57) - a specific brand of phonograph.
(p60) - A roof-like shelter.
(p70) - Nomadic people, most whom originated from India.
(p70) - referring to a person of the Episcopal church.
(p77) - deeply respectful.
(S6)- to walk in a slow and confident way that makes people notice you
(p72)-a large branched candlestick or holder for several candles or lamps.
(p75)-an inflammation of the pleura, the lining surrounding the lungs.
(p77)-a short opera, usually on a light or humorous theme and typically having spoken dialogue
(p78)-lay siege to
(p79)-a loud, confused noise, especially one caused by a large mass of people
(p80)-an unrealistic feeling of general inadequacy caused by actual or supposed inferiority in one sphere
(p88)-someone who is extremely poor in making correct decisions
(p92)-a strong, sweet liqueur made from a variety of small bitter cherries
(p94)-a light cookie made with egg white, sugar, and usually ground almonds or coconut.
(p95)-strange or odd; unusual
(S1)- to become a student at a school and especially in a college or university
(S1)- not to be avoided, changed, or resisted
(S2)- money and support that is given to an artist, organization, etc.
(S3)- to move your arms and hands especially when speaking in an angry or emotional way
(p40)- not attracting or demanding a lot of attention : not showy or flashy
(p35)- a complete failure
(p39)- ready to take place
(p47)- the future; distant
(p51)- not attracting attention in a way that bothers you
(S6)- a person or thing that is perfect or excellent in some way and should be considered a model or example to be copied
Major Events and Important Quotes
Within scene 2 (from pages 11 to 15) Laura is caught looking at her glass menagerie as her mother comes through the door. Amanda (Laura’s mother), questions and tells Laura about her walk to her typing class. Within this escapade she learns that Laura has not been attending the class because she was so embarrassed and nervous that she threw up during the first class. Ever since then Laura had been going about the town, going to the zoo, and risking her health in frigid weather just to make her mother believe she was going to classes. Her mother, very distraught gets upset because she is unable to understand that her daughter is so anxious around people and scared of what they think of her. Laura’s fears can be described as social anxiety, and Amanda cannot understand that feeling because she is so socially able. This scene shows Amanda’s connection with her daughter, the bond they share, which is non-existent.
Within the text Laura states “It was the lesser of the two evils, Mother.” when referring to herself getting sick because she was trying to keep up with the facade that she was going to her business school. It’s such an important piece of the story because not only does it show how desperate Laura was NOT to go to school but it showed how much she wasn’t understood by her mother. She did not trust her mother enough to confront her about the problems she had in school, nor did her mother consider what she felt or thought. This scene overall portrays the frayed trust between Laura and Amanda, giving us insight on their daily social habits.
In Scene 3 of the play, Tom and Amanda have a fight about Tom readings and his escapes to the movies. It all begins with Amanda having taken Tom’s novel from him and leads to the argument about Tom going to the movies every night and coming home drunk. He says that the movies are a relief to him because he hates his job and despises having to go to work while he gives up his dreams and aspirations. He even says he would rather have his brains battered out with a crowbar than going to work every morning. The scene ends with Tom leaving as he yells to Amanda: “You ugly-babbling old- witch”(24) . Enraged and trying to put his coat on, Tom hits Laura’s figurine collection with the coat and breaks one of them.
This scene is very significant in showing Tom’s unhappiness, ambitions, and frustrations. It shows the contrast between Tom’s desires and his responsibility to take over his father’s abandoned duties. Even though Tom’s job pays for the bills and sustains the family, Amanda still treats him like a boy. The ending of the scene, in which he breaks Laura’s figurine, foreshadows her broken heart and enhances her vulnerability and fragility. This shows Laura and Amanda’s dependability on Tom as well as the destructive consequences that his recklessness could bring upon all of them.
Amanda reproaches Tom for his behavior and tells him:
I think you’ve been doing things that you’re ashamed of. That’s why you act like this. I don’t believe that you go every night to the movies. Nobody goes to the movies night after night. Nobody in their right minds goes to the movies as often as you pretend to. People don’t go to the movies at nearly midnight, and movies don’t let out at two A.M. Come in stumbling. Muttering to yourself like a maniac! You get three hours’ sleep and then go to work. Oh, I can picture the way you’re doing down there. Moping, doping, because you’re in no condition (p23).
This embodies all of Amanda’s fears of Tom becoming a drunk and negligent man. Although her reproaches are annoying at times, such as the remark about Tom’s eating habits, the reader is able to empathize with her and the struggles she must bear as a single mother. Her accusations towards Tom are understandable considering that she knows the great consequences that being abandoned has. She fears Tom becoming like his father and not being able to support them financially anymore.
Scene: Jim dances with Laura and accidentally breaks Laura’s beloved glass unicorn.
In the middle of scene seven, Laura explains to Jim her profound love of a special glass figurine from her glass collection. This is a small glass unicorn that Jim takes and carefully sets on a table. Jim and Laura, then, start to dance but while they dance, they accidentally hit the same table that the glass unicorn was set on. The glass unicorn falls and breaks, having its glass horn detached from the body.
This scene is significant as it foreshadows Jim breaking Laura’s heart. Laura’s unique love for her special glass unicorn is much like Laura’s unique love for Jim, the only person whom Laura ever had interest in. However, the glass unicorn is broken by a bump from Jim, and later on in the story, Jim also breaks Laura’s heart as kisses her and then tells her that he will never see her again.
Jim: It’s lost its—
Laura: Horn! It doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.
Jim: You’ll never forgive me. I bet that was your favorite piece of glass.
Laura: I don’t have favorites much. It’s no tragedy, Freckles. Glass breaks so easily. No matter how careful you are. The traffic jars the shelves and things fall off them.
Jim: Still I’m awfully sorry that I was the cause.
Laura: I’ll just imagine he had an operation. The horn was removed to make him feel less—freakish!
There is a lot of significance in this exchange between Laura and Jim. Laura accepts that Jim made the unicorn a normal horse as she wants Jim to make her[Laura] feel like a normal girl. The unicorn’s horn is much like Laura’s disability. Jim accidentally breaks the unicorn’s horn off and makes it a normal horse just as for a brief moment, Jim makes Laura feel like an ordinary girl.
Toward the end of Scene 7, Amanda and Tom have a dispute about Tom’s selfishness. At this point, Amanda is furious with Tom for inviting a soon to be married gentleman caller to dinner for Laura.
“You live in a dream; you manufacture illusions”
“I’m going to the movies”
“ That's right, now that you've had us make such fools of ourselves…Go to the movies, go! Don't think about us, a mother deserted, an unmarried sister who's crippled and has no job ! Don't let anything interfere with your selfish pleasure I just go, go, go - to the movies!” (p96)
Tom precedes to leave, slamming the door on his way out and Laura screams out. The Glass Menagerie closes with a monologue by Tom. He explains he had lost his job because he was caught writing a poem on a shoe box lid and after, decided to leave St. Louis. He goes on to say he has “traveled around a great deal,” (p97) just as his father did, and spends his days roaming different streets of different cities. But try as he might, he can never escape the pull of the small apartment and its sad inhabitance.
The last lines of the play are as follows: “Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger -anything that can blow your candles out!
-for nowadays the world is lit by lightning ! Blow out your candles, Laura - and so good-bye.” (p97)
The lines above are from Tom’s ending monologue where he explains that he has left his family behind. We see that he has followed in his father’s steps, an act Tom most certainly wanted to avoid. Through these lines, Tom expresses his need to close the door on the small apartment, his suffocating mother, and his fragile sibling. In reality, Tom cannot because he will never be able to extinguish the memories of Laura, but forces himself to blow out the candles of her existence.
Issues of Social Concern
Failure to Provide
Within the text, there is a societal problem that recurs within the family. Amanda cannot provide for her children on her own, and in fact, spends time at home rather than at a job while Tom supports both her and Laura. Even so, while Tom tries to provide he fails in doing so in the fact that he cannot carry his family sufficiently enough and eventually he abandons them even though Amanda depends on him so heavily. Essentially leaving his sister and mother to fend for themselves with what little they have.
These actions show how tough it was for families to become successful as a whole and how hard it was especially so for a single parent trying to raise two kids. If a person in another country were to read this and eventually develop an opinion on Americans based off of this, they would believe that Americans have little to no family relations. A person from France who spends most of their time talking at the dinner table about their day and have actual family communications would find it rather weird that a country so big and so defined for its “hopes” and “dreams” to have family abandoned by people for those things.
This novel really wakes America up to the reality that is lack of communication between family members and families in modern times. The fact that hard work won’t guarantee anything because if you have one person working to help two, it won’t work. That mothers couldn’t have a job because they were women, and that girls had to be married to live happily and somehow “successfully”. It shows that america had so much focus on being able to provide what they couldn’t that they lost communication in the process, and the connections they needed to provide to be able to thrive.
Though it is not directly apparent in the text, it is implied that Tom Wingfield is becoming somewhat of a drunkard throughout the play. At times when Tom is stressed and needs to escape the pressures of his mother and reality itself, Tom rushes out to the movies, or the bar.
“'But, why - why, Tom - am you always so restless? Where do you go to, nights?'
‘I - go to the movies.’
‘Why do you go to the movies so much, Tom?’
‘I go to the movies because - I like adventure. Adventure is something I don't have much of at work, so I go to the movies.’” (Scene Four)
Tom is constantly going out at night to the so called movies. The only activity that lets Tom rid himself from responsibilities is drinking but tries to deny the fact when confronted by his mother, for she does not want Tom to be unsuccessful and eventually abandon her and his sister, just as their father did. From the societies perspective, alcoholism is highly frowned upon. People who are alcoholics are perceived to be failures and are unable to take care of themselves. Alcohol creates an illusion, an escape from reality but what alcoholics fail to understand is that the momentary “high” will not make their problems vanish. People who read “The Glass Menagerie” may jump to conclusions and say any American who faces conflict cannot handle it and will use alcoholic substance as a crutch to get through their lives.
The entire Wingfield family has been abandoned by the father figure when he physically leaves them. However, each member is also abandoned in different metaphorical ways. Laura is abandoned by society and falls back into her little bubble of fantasy and escape from reality. Tom is also abandoned by society and is left alone to support the family despite his dreams which causes him to run after his desires and abandon his family instead. Additionally to being abandoned by her husband, Amanda is abandoned by her expectations of a husband and her beliefs of women depending on men.
The idea of abandonment, especially of family, is frowned upon by society. Bringing this topic up in the novel causes a great impact on the reader and the social dynamics in America. This affects the reader by showing the impacts that our actions have on others and the consequences they bring. It also discusses the struggle between following one’s dreams versus performing one’s duties. It makes the reader question the extent to which one must be compromised by the other.
This affects the way America is viewed by portraying Americans as selfish beings searching their own happiness without regarding others. Tom leaves his mother and crippled sister to satisfy his desire. This is very shocking and it shows Tom as a heartless and egocentric character, who is unwilling to sacrifice his preferences in order to benefit his family that desperately needs him. The actions of the men in the novel, such as the father, Tom, and Jim enhance the negative image a capitalist nation, such as America, has in the world’s eyes.
The Definition of Success
Throughout The Glass Menagerie,success can be seen differently. To individuals such as Amanda Wingfield, success has a lot to do with money and social status, which is the exact reason why Amanda wants her daughter, Laura Wingfield, to go to business school and find a husband. This idea of success is still very prevalent throughout the United States today. Many see this as the social norm, and conformity provokes the majority of the population to follow in this naive belief of greed and false happiness.
It is obvious that this societal view of success is very materialistic and does not focus on true of aspirations of the individual. For example, individuals such as Laura do not care much for a high paying job or the attention of several male suitors. Instead success,to her, is maintaining and caring for her beloved glass menagerie. Tom Wingfield also has a different definition of success; success to him is expressing his thoughts in his passion of writing literature and poetry. Laura and Tom’s beliefs in success is very from society’s view of success. Society view success much similarly to earning money and gaining social status. Because of this, Both Tom’s and Laura’s aspirations are frowned upon if they do not provide a gain in wealth or popularity.
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