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Analysis of “The Glass Menagerie”
“The Glass Menagerie” is a play that falls under the genre of memory plays. The action in the play is drawn from the memories of the main character who narrates the story, Tom Wingfield. It is a play about coming of age. The maturity of Tom is demonstrated by his ultimate decision to leave his family, comprising of his mother, Amanda, and sister, Laura. The decision is a hard one to make, but he makes it anyway, especially being aware of the inevitable clash between reality and illusion, between action and reaction, and between what life has given him and what he can control.
The main character Tom is a determined young man. Against the wishes of everyone else in his family, he decides to quit his job at the factory. He considered this job both dismal and unfulfilling. He lays his hopes on a chance at the Merchant Marines, which involved running off. Tom had been hesitant to do that because it is the same path his father took, leaving his family to fend for themselves. In the recent years, he (Tom) had emerged as the central family breadwinner. His situation in the play is symbolic of the status of so many young people in the contemporary society; young men and women who are underprivileged but want to move. Young people who hope for better things but are afraid because their options seem to lead to bleak futures. They are scared of taking the leap of faith because others have taken it and failed to meet their dreams. Tom is the epitome of the average modern youth, with a desire to pursue own dream and a more adventurous life but are held back by circumstances beyond their control.
At the start of the play, Tom is a responsible man who works at a shoemaking factory and warehouse to fend for his family. He pays the rent and other bills as well. He dislikes the job and only does it to provide for the family since he is their breadwinner. He supports everyone in the house financially. His responsibility to cater for his family was thrust upon him by his father who had abandoned the three of them and disappeared to Mexico (Tom 656). Tom had to learn to be a responsible man at a very young age. As a result of the obligations for his family, he never gets to enjoy his childhood and teenage-hood.
Tom is an adventurous person. He has a passion for adventure. His adventurous nature is spurred on by his highly active imagination. He has the desire of going out to see the world, to have fun, and to live on his own without having nagging obligations and responsibilities. He wants a chance to be successful in life and is ready to leave the family to explore more possibilities.
In the play, Tom is apparently an amiable and likable character until he reveals a bad side of him. He failed to pay the electric bill with the money set aside for it. This shows that he is somewhat selfish. He also loses his patience with his mother and decides to pursue his dream, thereby disregarding his mother’s wishes. He seems to hurt his family intentionally. He uses up all the money, including on items that are not entirely necessary. He neither quits smoking nor stops going to the movie to save money to help the family out of the financial woes.
Tom reveals that he is weak. He tries to justify his weakness by blaming it on his father. He insinuates that he inherited the irresponsibleness from his father. Just before he abandons his family, he talks snidely about his father upon his father’s portrait. “”I’m like my father. The bastard son of a bastard! See how he grins? And he’s been absent going on sixteen years!” With his statements, he seems to want to disown his irresponsibleness, something he logically cannot. He justifies his lack of obligatory feelings for the family by insinuating that he gets the irresponsibleness naturally. However, it seems as though in real sense, Tom is using the notion that he is like his father to run away from a probable reality, the reality that he is worn out by the constant need to keep providing for his family. He might have already started feeling the usually overwhelming nature of having to be the sole breadwinner of a family. He is seemingly feeling suffocated as he cannot even have money to spend on the things that the youth usually cherish, such as leisure activities. In this light, he might just be using his father as a pawn to cover for these undesirable feelings.
It is apparent that Tom is tired living with his mother and sister. He feels like he has no space, no freedom and no privacy to himself. He wants to get away, and he regards it as a blissful escape. He makes it his personal objective to get away. His sudden transition from a responsible man to a man ready to shirk his responsibilities can be linked to his stressful early childhood and the overbearing responsibilities in his early childhood. It is natural for people to become very stressed and stressful while having big responsibilities. Stressful people begin to either breakdown, recover, or start drinking. Tom choses to indulge in alcoholism in a bid to control the buildup of stress and to fight the onset of desperation and despondency. He drinks to get away from everything. He seems to not want to keep his mother out of his mind. He wants to feel good while at the movies and he wants his imagination at the peak.
His desire for adventure is rooted in his lack of adventure in childhood. He never really had an easy or adventurous childhood. He had to work quite early in his life in order to support his family. He spent time working instead of playing with other children. He sweated from working in the warehouse instead of sweating from playing games and sports with other children. It is natural that he would get tired of the monotony of working and would desire to have the fun he has never really had. He wants an adventurous life and career and realizes that his job at the warehouse will not give him that (Tom 668). He desires to see the rest of the world. He is ready to abandon his family to explore the world and search for adventure.
Tom is inconsiderate. He is willing to leave his mother and sister to fend for themselves, just as his father did. He knows his mother will struggle with her low-paying job of selling magazines over the phone in a bid to make ends meet. Despite all these things that he should consider, Tom still desires to abandon his family.
He turns out to be a selfish man. He prioritizes his personal enjoyment over the fundamental financial needs of the family. He gets drunk every night and goes out to the movies. He seems not to care about the essential needs of his sister and his mother. If he cared for them, he would cut down his unnecessary spending and stopped going to the movies. He instead goes out to the movies every night. Despite his apparent selfishness, he still has feelings for his family. He is selfish because he does everything that he wants. Instead of paying the light bill for the household, he chooses instead to pay his dues to become a member of The Union of Merchant Seamen. He knows he is the only support, yet he is adamant about his desire to leave the family. He exposes them to risks including being rendered homeless. His sister gets crippled and his mother has trouble doing her job because of her advanced age. Tom wants to leave his family and risk making them homeless so that he can pursue some wild dream.
His family is dysfunctional. He plays his role as the breadwinner but gets tired and wants to stop. His mother cannot find a stable job because of her advanced age. The family is embroiled in conflicts mostly because of Tom’s selfish interests and his desire to leave the family to pursue his personal dreams.
The play is replete with symbolism. Diverse symbols are used to represent some form of a difference between reality and illusion. In the first scene, a fire escape is presented. It represents the “bridge” between the world of reality and the illusory world of the Wingfield family. The bridge is multidimensional but seems to represent a one-way excursion with different directions for each of the three leading characters. For Laura, the fire escape is a path into her world and a way to escape from reality. For Tom, the fire escape is a way out of the world of her mother and sister. The play also uses symbolism to present the physical, emotional, and social state of the three leading characters. Laura is presented as a very fragile young woman. This is represented in her glass menagerie, specifically in a little unicorn within the menagerie. The symbolism of the glass menagerie is the most important in the play.
Williams, Tennessee. The glass menagerie. New York: New Directions, 2011. Print.