Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Glass Menagerie: You can run, but you cant hide.

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“You Can Run, but You Can’t Hide”

If one chooses not to face reality, it will soon become a “slap in the face” in many ways, which is a major theme portrayed in The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams. The play was published in 144 and was originally titled The Gentleman Caller. The characters in The Glass Menagerie each have another life they want to lead, yet none but one could actually go face to face with reality and step out into the “real world.” There were attempts made by other characters, but they always came back and couldn’t adapt to change. It seems that Williams believes that many American families suffer from this fear of change. He hints this idea throughout the play with various symbols. Many of the symbols used in the play lead to some form of escape or difference between reality and illusion.

The Glass Menagerie takes place in an old apartment in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Wingfield apartment is in the rear of the building, one of those vast hive-like conglomerations of cellular living-units that flower as warty growths in overcrowded urban centers of lower middle-class population and are symptomatic of the impulse of this largest and fundamentally enslaved section of American society to avoid fluidity and differentiation and to exist and function as one interfused mass of automatism.(I,i,48)

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Across the street from the old building a nightclub called “Paradise Dance Hall.” The family’s apartment could be considered the exact opposite of “paradise”. The actual apartment the Wingfields live in faces and alley way, symbolizing their isolation from the rest of the world. It is entered by a fire escape, a structure whose name is a touch of accidental truth, for all of these huge buildings are burning with the slow and implacable fires of human desperation.(I,i, 48) The family who occupies the apartment is not wealthy, and the members of the family want to be somewhere else; their own “paradise.” Even the set location in Missouri is a hint of how the family lives. Missouri sounds like misery.

The first symbol, presented in the first scene, is the fire escape. This represents the bridge between the illusory world of the Wingfields and the world of reality. This bridge seems to be a one way passage. But the direction varies for each character. For Tom, the fire escape is the way out of the world of Amanda and Laura and an entrance into the world of reality. For Laura, the fire escape is a way into her world; a way to escape from reality. Both examples can easily be seen Tom will stand outside on the fire escape to smoke, showing that he does not like to be inside, to be a part of the illusionary world. Laura, on the other hand, thinks of the fire escape as a way in and not a way out. This can be seen when Amanda sends Laura to go to the store; Laura trips on the fire escape. This also shows that Lauras fears and emotions greatly affect her physical condition, more so than normal people. Her fears make her condition worse. She won’t allow herself to heal.

The main characters in the play are the Amanda, and her grown-up children Tom and Laura. They are the three that live in the apartment. Amandas husband, Mr. Wingfield, left his family for the military. We find this out by reading the text before the first scene begins.

A blown up photograph of the father hangs on the wall of the living room, to the left of the archway. It is the face of a very handsome young man in a doughboy’s First World War cap. He is gallantly smiling, ineluctably smiling, as if to say “I will be smiling forever.” (I,i, 4)

Tom is working at a warehouse earning eighty-five dollars a month. He hates his job, but has to earn money to support his mother and sister. Hes not happy with his life, and would rather do something completely different. He dreams of going from a slow paced, gentle life to a fast paced life like his father’s. Tom doesnt like to stay at home. He goes out every night drinking and to the movie theater. Tom doesnt like the way Amanda always tells him what to do. All he wants is for his mother to leave him alone.

Laura is a very shy young woman. She is disabled because of a limp when she walks, and because of that, she has no self-confidence whatsoever. She cant see how any decent man would like to marry her. The most important things in Lauras life are some old records that belonged to her father, and her collection of glass figures. Laura is depressed due to her inability to change her life. Shes afraid to go out in the real world alone, and she doesnt dare to talk to other people. Her way of escaping is to listen to all the old records and play with her glass figures. She was supposed to go to business school to attempt a new life, but when she got there, she couldn’t handle the drastic change. Instead of going to school she would go to the zoo and observe the animals. She enjoys places like the museum and the zoo because they can not hurt her; they aren’t judgmental or harsh like human beings in society. Laura relates to the animals in that she and her family are caged in just as they are because of poverty.

Amanda, their mother, is not happy about the way her life turned out to be. When she was young, she had “gentleman callers” coming over every day. She loves to tell stories from her youth. She was a prosperous young woman who believed shed live happily for the rest of her life. But fate wanted it different. The man she chose left her, and she had to take care of the children all by herself. Now the only thing she wants is for her daughter to get married. She wants Laura to live the life she wanted for herself. Amanda always believed her life would turn out well, but it didnt. Her way of escaping real life is to think about and to tell stories from her life as a young girl, when everything seemed possible.

Amanda recalls, “One Sunday afternoon in the Blue Mountain�your mother received�seventeen!�gentleman callers! Why, sometimes there weren’t chairs enough to accommodate them all. We had to send the nigger over to bring in folding chairs from the parish house.” (I,i, 50)

Amanda wants Laura to get married, but no “gentleman callers” seem to come her way. Amanda talks Tom into inviting one of his colleagues home for dinner to meet Laura. Jim OConnor, Tom’s friend and co-worker, says yes to the invitation and shows up at the Wingfields apartment for dinner. What Tom and Amanda dont know is that Laura and Jim went to high school together, and that Laura had a crush on him back then. When Jim arrives, and Laura sees who it is, she doesnt want to talk to him because she is embarrassed in a way. Jim doesnt recognize Laura at first, but when they start talking, it comes to him who she is.

As already mentioned, Jim also works at the warehouse. He doesnt like his job either, but tries to make the best out of it. Hes taken classes in conversation, and has learned a lot about human psychology. He she represses herself from everyone else. He states, “You know what I judge to be the trouble with you? Inferiority complex! Know what that is? That’s what they call it when someone low-rates himself! I understand it because I had it, too. Although my case was not so aggravated as your seems to be.” (I,vii, 78) After listening to Jim for a while, Laura understands that it might make sense.

figure; a unicorn. Because the unicorn has a horn on his forehead, hes different from the other glass figures that are regular horses, which is why it is so special to Laura. While dancing with Laura, Jim accidentally bumps in to the table where the unicorn is. The unicorn falls off, and loses the horn. Now its just like the other horses. Jim is terribly sorry, but Laura doesnt seem to mind.

Jim tells Laura how special she is, and then he kisses her. Afterward, he apologizes for his behavior. He tells Laura that hes engaged, and the only reason why he accepted the dinner invitation was to be polite. Upon hearing this, Amanda becomes very upset at Tom for doing that to his sister. After Jim has left, she starts yelling at Tom because he didnt tell them, but he honestly did not know of Jim’s engagement. After a few minutes of his mother yelling, he threatens to go to the movies.

Amanda follows that with, “That’s right, now that you’ve had us make such fools of ourselves. The effort, the preparations, all the expense! The new floor lamp, the rug, the clothes for Laura! All for what? To entertain some other girl’s fianc�! 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! Just go, go, go�to the movies!” (I, vii, 84)

Another symbol, which deals with both Amanda and Laura is Jim OConnor. To Laura, Jim represents the one thing she fears and does not want to face which, again, is reality. Jim is a perfect example of the common man; an average person with no real outstanding quality. In fact, Jim is rather awkward, which can be seen when he dances with Laura. To Amanda, Jim represents the days of her youth, when she went frolicking about picking jonquils and supposedly having seventeen gentlemen callers on one Sunday afternoon. Although Amanda desires to see Laura settled down with a nice young man, it is hard to tell whether she wanted a “gentleman caller” to be invited for Laura or for herself.

The unicorn is one of the symbols used in the play. It represents Laura. Its her favorite glass figure because its one of a kind. Laura believes that since shes disabled, shes very different from everybody else just as the unicorn is from the horses. She also points out that the unicorn does not complain of being different, as she does not complain either. But after she finds out that Jim didnt take notice of the fact that she was disabled in high school, she realizes that she is not so different after all. She has shed some of her shyness and become more normal. This is the reason why Laura did not get so upset when the unicorn lost its horn. Neither one of them is really that special. The unicorn dropping to the ground symbolizes the reality of fantasy; that it is nothing but fantasy.

Tom never liked his job at the warehouse. Neither does he like the way his mother is always telling him what to do. He wants to run away, just like his father. But he doesnt at first. He goes to the movies instead. When he watches the movies, its like hes in another world. He forgets all the pain and misery that he has to face every day at home. Tom gets into the military as a Marine. He leaves the Wingfield home, but the home doesn’t leave his mind. When he finally leaves, he finds out that things arent getting any better. He feels guilty because he left Laura behind. He realizes that leaving is not an escape at all, but a path of even more powerful desperation. Tom wants so badly to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he can’t forget what he is leaving behind.

“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!

Laura bends over the candles.

For nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura�and so goodbye….”

She blows the candles out. (I,vii, 85)

This speech happens at the end of the play. What Tom is saying to Laura here is telling her how it is in the real world. He gets her to realize that she is living in a fantasy land. The candle is fragile; when it is blown out, its job I done. It becomes an inanimate object. When Laura blows her candle out, he life ends in a sense. She must now forget the past and adapt to a change. The glass, candle and Laura are all the same. They all symbolize the gentle, more fragile way of life. Unfortunately for the Wingfields, life doesn’t work the way it used to. Life is as fast as a bolt of lightening. Laura and her family will get run over in the real world if they continue on the way they are living. The reason they are doing so poorly financially and socially is because their lack of a grip on reality.

The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams is a memory play of dreamers and sleep-walkers. The characters in the play act as if they are just waiting for their death. They haven’t done anything with themselves out of fear of change and reality. Instead of confronting the present, each character consumes their thoughts with the past. What Williams wanted to say with this play, is that escaping the real life is not a good option. No matter how bad things seem to be, one should rather try to solve the problems and do something about it, than run away. It is impossible to hide from one’s problems forever. Especially in today’s world.


1. Williams, Tennesse. “The Glass Menagerie.” Understanding Plays. Milly S. Barranger. Needham Heights, MA. Allyn and Bacon, 14. Page 48.

. Williams, Tennesse. “The Glass Menagerie.” Understanding Plays. Milly S. Barranger. Needham Heights, MA. Allyn and Bacon, 14. Page 48.

. Williams, Tennesse. “The Glass Menagerie.” Understanding Plays. Milly S. Barranger. Needham Heights, MA. Allyn and Bacon, 14. Page 4

4. Williams, Tennesse. “The Glass Menagerie.” Understanding Plays. Milly S. Barranger. Needham Heights, MA. Allyn and Bacon, 14. Page 50

5. Williams, Tennesse. “The Glass Menagerie.” Understanding Plays. Milly S. Barranger. Needham Heights, MA. Allyn and Bacon, 14. Page 78

6. Williams, Tennesse. “The Glass Menagerie.” Understanding Plays. Milly S. Barranger. Needham Heights, MA. Allyn and Bacon, 14. Page 84

7. Williams, Tennesse. “The Glass Menagerie.” Understanding Plays. Milly S. Barranger. Needham Heights, MA. Allyn and Bacon, 14. Page 85

This website was also used for reference

8. Lichtenstein, Jesse. Sparknotes on The Glass Menagerie. 1 November 00. http//www.sparknotes.com/lit/menagerie . Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. 145

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