In Tennessee Williams’ play, Glass Menagerie, William’s channels his family life through writing it about the Wingfield family. Tennessee Williams based his character, Tom Wingfield on himself. Both are considered “traveling dreamers” (Falk 47). The Wingfields are a normal family just trying to get by. Their problems, branch from their failure to adequately communicate with each other. Instead of talking out their differences, they turn to frantic acts. The desperation that the Wingfield’s embrace has led them to create delusions in their heads and become hypocritical. Amanda, Tom, and Laura are caught up in a net of misery, disapproval, and betrayal from their father, and husband and it is this imbroglio that prevents them, as it would any family, from living productive and emotionally fulfilling their lives together.
Amanda Wingfield’s life has not ended up as she would have thought it would have. According to Delma E. Presley, “If Amanda appears desperate, she certainly has a legitimate reason” (37). Her daughter, Laura, that is dependent upon her for everything. She also has a son, Tom, who is distant and attends the movies almost every night, or so he says. Amanda understands that the “movies don’t let out at two A.M.” (Williams 29). When he finally does arrive home, Tom is “stumbling” and “muttering to [himself] like a maniac” (Williams 29). Amanda desperately fears that he is following in his father’s footsteps.
The desperation of her situation leads her to become overruling, and she takes this authority to an extreme. Amanda constantly barrages Tom with commands in almost every scene. She begins by reminding Tom how to eat correctly. First, he is pushing the food wrong and then he is chewing incorrectly. After they manage to finish dinner, she then criticizes him for smoking.
Amanda’s agony eventually leads her to denial. Amanda denies that Laura is different from other girls despite the fact that Laura “lives in a world of little glass ornaments” (Williams 82). Amanda obviously lives in her own world. Amanda entertains the fantasy that her crippled daughter is going to have gentlemen callers at her door waiting for Laura. According to Presley, “Laura’s role, as Amanda fantasizes it, is that of the southern belle” (35). In Laura’s twenty-six years she has never had a gentleman caller, but Amanda is so delusional that she believes only a flood or a tornado could keep them from coming, which has yet to happen. Every time one of her children mentions Laura’s disability, Amanda quickly yells back. Tom and Laura both accept the reality of Laura’s disability, unlike their mother who does not believe it.
While living in a world of desperation and illusions, Amanda becomes deceptive and also is subjected to deception. It seems as if Amanda is the character who “seems to reap the bitter consequences of deception” more than any of the other characters in the play (Presley 39). According to Presley, “the critical deception originated with the man she agreed to marry long ago” (39). While his reason for leaving is not stated, Amanda believes that it was his love for long distances. Her children were also deceptive to her. Tom forms a plan to escape and Laura drops out of business school. Not only did other characters deceive Amanda in the play, but she was also deceptive in her ways. She spared no expense in trying to lie to Jim, the caller. She gives the entire apartment a makeover. From new curtains to chintz covers on the chairs and sofa. She even bought a new dress for Laura and helped her put in the “Gay Deceivers.” These “Gay Deceivers” were “two powder puffs which [Amanda] wraps in handkerchiefs and stuffs in Laura’s bosom” (Williams 52). Amanda feels that “all pretty girls are a trap” (Williams 52). She is trying to make Laura look her absolute best in order to make Jim fall in love with Laura Her deception continues when Jim and Tom arrive home from work. In order to make Laura appear more capable, Amanda states, “You know that sister is in full charge of supper” (Williams 64). That statement is a flat-out lie. She also tells Jim that she “never could make a thing but angle-food cake” (Williams 64). Once Amanda starts to lie, she cannot be stopped. When Laura appears ill, Amanda blames the sickness from “standing over the hot stove” (Williams 65). Amanda is so desperate for Jim to fall in love with Laura, she will do as much as she can to hide the truth.
Tom, like his mother, is also entangled in the Wingfield net of despair. He is desperate to “extricate himself from his coffinlike existence” (Presley 51). He is harassed by the constant alterations from his mother and cannot continue to accept it. Tom is “starting to boil inside” (Williams 62). His problem, though, is his adherence to his sister. He knows that without his financial support Laura would not survive. He is in a dilemma, deciding what is best for him but also his sister. For a while, he tries to satisfy his need for adventure by attending the movies. After a while, he only is jealous of the actors. He feels that they are hogging and gobbling up all of the adventures. He realizes that the only way to “escape from [his] trap” is “to act without pity” (Williams XVIII). He loves his sister and does not want her to suffer because of his dreams, but he cannot stand his life at home. Tom decides to leave home. “The question also becomes one of the arguing whether Laura’s safety or sanity is sacrificed for Tom’s escape.” (O’Connor 145)
Tom also forms illusions instead of accepting reality. In several scenes, he exits saying, “I’m going to the movies” (Williams 24). He uses the movies to escape from reality. Tom, while he is living at home, is not able to be himself. By going to the movies, Tom can briefly live out his dream on the movie screen. Tom thinks that if he leaves his life in St. Louis, he is better off. What Tom does not realize, is that the movies are fake. Him attending the movies gives him an escape. When he has a problem at home, he resorts to the movies. Instead of speaking up about his problems, he runs off to forget them. After leaving his family, Tom realizes that he cannot escape the memories that are built in his mind.
In order for Tom to escape from his prison-like existence, he must be ambiguous. Tom is shown off as “a poet with a job in a warehouse” (Williams XVIII). His fantasy does not include working in a warehouse. He abhors his job and would “rather somebody picked up a crowbar and battered out [his] brains—than go back mornings” (Williams 23). His escape seems to be imminent. He starts the playoff saying, “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve” (Williams 4). It is known from the start, Tom is a misleading character. He gets into an enormous argument with his mother and relies on alcohol to make him forget what happened. When he stumbles home, Laura greets him at the door. He is bent down looking for his keys and Laura begins to investigate him. Even though she knows what happened, he says that he has “been at the movies” and that it “was a very long program” (Williams 26). He states that the “big stage show” included “Malvolio the Magician” (Williams XIII). Malvolio turns water into wine, wine to beer, and beer to whiskey. Toms knows he did all this because he gave out souvenirs (Williams XIII). Only someone as naïve as Laura would believe this lie. After talking to his mother, Tom learns that his only way out of his desperate situation is to somehow find a gentleman caller for Laura. Amanda gives him permission to leave as soon as he can find “somebody to take care of [Laura]” (Williams 708). Tom “knew that Jim and Laura had known each other at Soldan” and he had “heard Laura speak admiringly of his voice” (Williams 51). Tom plays matchmaker in his head and decides that Jim would be a good fit for Laura. When he invites Jim over for dinner, Tom does not mention Laura or his agenda planned for that night. If he told Jim why he was really there, Jim would have told Tom that he was already engaged. Tom also betrays his mother. He uses the money for the light bill to pay for the Merchant Marines. He seems so sure of his arrangement of Laura and Jim that he already has his escape plan ready.
Laura Wingfield is also enmeshed in this depressing existence. Her “self-destruction seems inevitable from the opening of the play” (Reser). Laura is so desperate to please her mother that she becomes dependent on her for almost everything. She is not capable of planning for her future or even choosing her own dates herself. It is Amanda that takes action to try and find Laura a husband. It is also her mother that sends her off every morning to Rubicam’s Business College. She even goes to her school and has a parent-teacher conference just like in grade school. Once Amanda finds out Laura dropped out, she decides Laura’s future should revolve around finding a husband. Laura sits back and lets her mother control her life. She “apparently is prepared to lead a life of dependency” (Presley 41). When Amanda tells her to make a wish on the moon Laura replies, “What shall I wish for, Mother?” (Williams 49). She cannot even dream without her mother’s approval. Without constant direction, Laura would adrift. Her “low self-esteem” and “lack of any confidence what-so-ever marks Laura’s descent into the emptiness of her own soul” (Reser). She has an intense fear of being in social situations, especially if she has to perform. At Rubicam’s Business College “her hands shook so that she couldn’t hit the right keys” (Williams 14). During the speed test, “… .she broke down completely—was sick in the stomach and almost had to be carried into the washroom” (Williams 14). If only she could be left alone with her glass she would be content. Laura spends most of her time cleaning her tiny figurines and her most prized possession of the collection is the unicorn. The unicorn is “fragile and different” just like Laura (Presley 42). Laura “accepts her lonely isolation and doesn’t complain about it,” just as her unicorn sits on the shelf and “doesn’t complain” about being lonely (Presley 43).
Laura falls into the same web of illusion that the rest of her family does. She is unable to handle her anxiety, so she does not understand what reality really is. She becomes so lost in her own world of glass figurines that she begins to think that they are real. She thinks they have feelings, and she suggests “they all like a change of scenery once in a while” (Williams 84). Laura uses the Victrola as another way to escape from her life. She becomes so frightened when it is time to acknowledge the door. The Victrola gives her “strength to move through” the room and answer the door (Williams 717).
Laura’s dieselization and her restricted illusions lead her to be false. Because she has such a great amount of fear of being in social situations, Laura contrives a detailed arrangement in order to hide that she has dropped out of school. From seven-thirty in the morning until five at night Laura drifts around town. She also goes to the “Jewel Box,” which is a big glass home where plants grow. She even took the chance of getting pneumonia just to deceive her mother. All she had was a light jacket to wear and it was in the middle of winter. This scheme went on for about six weeks. Laura is so distracted to adjust to her mother’s dreams that lying was her only option. She could not bear to go to school. According to Presley, “although Laura cultivates her illusions, she attempts no further deception after her mother discovers the truth about her short tenure at Rubicam’s Business College” (41).
Because of their lack of effective communication and their denial of reality, the Wingfield family falls apart. Amanda’s only job is to look back on the past and Tom’s happiness comes from the apprehension of his great escape. Laura’s life revolves around small glass figurines. These characters do not experience the true bliss that comes from an affectionate and respecting family. They distance themselves from each other by forming fantasies in their own heads. By acting so egotistically, this family falls apart. Tom descends “the steps of [the] fire escape for the last time” and follows “from then on, in [his] father’s footsteps” (Williams XIII). He too falls in love with long distances just like his father. Amanda only considers her point of view and Tom runs away from his problems.
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