Distortion of Reality in "The Glass Menagerie"

Essay by grif22kCollege, UndergraduateA, August 2008

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Tennessee Williams’s play “The Glass Menagerie” is a striking portrayal of an unusually anxious yet charming young girl and her family, specifically her mother, who imposes onto her normalcy and gender ideologies that she is not equipped to handle. This play is a tragedy and as it progresses the plight of each character comes to its pinnacle at different but equally crushing moments. One theme of this piece is that of the convolution of truly accepting the world and oneself honestly. Reality can be harsh and disappointing and it is uncomfortable to watch as Laura, the fragile protagonist, is pushed into a position that could, and does, end up causing her to suffer.

Frightened of social interaction, Laura looks to her collection of glass animals as a place of secure acceptance in an imaginative world that seems colorful and enticing. The sad reality is that it’s a world of fragile fantasies.

Laura will not shake the fear that she is weird and crippled, and then she herself aggravates the reality of it by escalating her illness. An example of this would be upon Jim’s arrival at the Wingfield home. Laura hears the door and immediately panics, begging her mother to answer it. Amanda asks her directly why she cannot do it herself and Laura replies, seemingly without hesitation, “I’m sick!” (Williams, 1070). By using her health problems as a crutch to distance herself from others she is denying her own value to the world and to herself.

Tom, on the other hand, relies on self-denial to justify his concerns and feelings of insecurity. By making himself believe that he is a righteous man, son and brother, he justifies his selfishness. He puts his desires and needs before those of his family, which happens to contain only members of what was considered the weaker sex. He retreats often to the fire escape, which is really not an escape at all, but is instead is a platform giving the illusion of separateness while being firmly anchored to the apartment. In his final monologue, Tom describes how he never severed the connection he feels with Laura. He says “Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!” (Williams, 1089).

Even the less central characters exhibit this refusal to see the truth. Amanda, the Wingfield matriarch, employs a sort of frantic denial in order to reject reality. She fills the void with the memories of her past. She often digresses to a point in her life when her only problem was which of her many suitors to devote her attention as she attempts to give Laura encouragement. Even the normal, nice character Jim uses the memories saved by Laura to briefly ease the ache of life’s weight. He is stuck in a crappy job so he uses his past as motivation for future success. Laura’s approval feeds his need which contributes to his inability to realize the damage he has inflicted on the fragile girl.

Reference: Williams, Tennessee. "The Glass Menagerie". New York: Random House, 1945.