On The Glass Menagerie

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade April 2001

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Tom Wingfield as the Most Important Character In the Tennessee Williams play, The Glass Menagerie, Tom Wingfield is cast as the main character. The play is about Tom trying to escape his home which he sees as a trap. Tom is the most important character for several reasons. First of all, he is the narrator of the play and it stems from his memories. Secondly, he is the most important person in the family; if he leaves, then there is no one to provide for his mother and sister--Amanda and Laura. Finally, I believe that Tennessee Williams was trying to portray Tom as a symbol of the Americans who wanted to leave isolationism behind and move into a new world.

The play is shown to the viewer through memories, and it is Tom's memory that it is seen through; therefore, Tom is essential to the play's telling. The play is filled with snippets of bright and dim memories symbolized by the lighting in the play.

One has no way of knowing whether any of these things Tom shows us is true because he has total power over what we see. Williams shares Tom's importance when he says, "The narrator is an undisguised convention of the play. He takes whatever license with dramatic convention as is convenient to his purposes" (Production Notes Scene 1 P. 1707). This shows Toms strength in the family and the play in general; he is in control the whole time even when he feels that he is not. This makes him, by far, the most important character in the play.

Tom is the principal breadwinner for the family; obviously, if he were not around, the women would definitely suffer. Once again, Tom is proven necessary when Jim, the gentleman caller, is invited over for dinner and the lights go out because Tom has spent the money for the electric bill on his dues to the merchant marines. Amanda even knows that Tom is essential to the family's survival. In fact, Amanda comes right out and says, "What right do you have to jeopardize your job? Jeopardize the security of us all? How do you think we would manage if you were"¦" (P. 1717). Tom's necessity is shown throughout the play.

Finally, Williams shows Tom as a symbol of the Americans who wished to leave isolationism behind. Williams does this through Tom wanting to escape from his house and life. Williams uses this as a parallel of the United States. During the time that the play is set in, the world was gearing up for WW II. The Nazi's had their concessions and were preparing to roll into Poland. Some people in the United States wished to stay out of the war and keep our isolationist views. Amanda, who is obviously always seeking the past, symbolizes these people. Laura's crippledness, as well, shows how isolation is holding the United States as a country back. Tom, on the other hand, is excited with the possibility of adventure and excitement. His need to join the merchant marines and see the world is a symbol of the want and need of some Americans to leave the past behind and become a different part of the world. Tom, as a character, moves on in the world leaving the old and crippled women behind. This is like how the United States became involved in the war and left their old crippled views behind. Tom moves on without the women into the world that "is lit by lightning" and leaves Laura and Amanda in the dark. Tom says, "Blow out your candles, Laura - and so good-bye"¦" (P. 1754).

Tennessee Williams was definitely trying to say something about the past and the reader through Tom. It is obvious that Tom is the main character due to the attention that is paid him in the play. His strength, his being in control of his fate as well as that of the girls, and the fact that everything is seen from his point of view is all an example of how Tom is the most important character in the play.