Dysfunctional. Codependent. Enmeshed. Low self-esteem. Emotional problems of the modern twenty-first century or problems of the past? In his play, The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams portrays a southern family in the 1940's trying to deal with life's pressures, and their own fears after they are deserted by their husband and father. Although today, we have access to hundreds of psychoanalysis books and therapists, the family problems of the distant past continue to be the family problems of the present.
The three family members are adults at the time of this play, struggling to be individuals, and yet, very enmeshed and codependent with one another. The overbearing and domineering mother, Amanda, spends much of her time reliving the past; her days as a southern belle. She desperately hopes her daughter, Laura, will marry. Laura suffers from an inferiority complex partially due to a minor disability that she perceives as a major one. She has difficulty coping with life outside of the apartment, her cherished glass animal collection, and her Victrola. Tom, Amanda's son, resents his role as provider for the family, yearns to be free from him mother's constant nagging, and longs to pursue his own dreams. A futile attempt is made to match Laura with Jim, an old high school acquaintance and one of Tom's work mates.
Jim is very self-assured and attempts to help Laura with her problems of self-esteem and shyness. Laura seems to be responding to his efforts of help when he unexpectedly announces his engagement to be married. Of course, this brings an end to the well-planned evening. At this point, there seems to be a wake-up call for these characters. A...
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... yet, escape into their own, personal cocoon of fear and insecurity.
In conclusion, nothing really changes from beginning to end. Laura is still dependent, very shy, and lonely. Tom still has no real future, even though he runs away to fulfill his dreams. Amanda has no job and continues to relive her past. We really don't know what happens to Jim. In an effort to free themselves, these characters become more entangled in their problems. The ending is sad, without hope. However, The Glass Menagerie is timeless. Many of us can relate to these characters in some way. Most of us struggle in some way with fear, insecurity, dysfunction, codependency, and the complexities of life. Yes! The problems of the past continue to be the problems of the present.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. New York: New Directions Publishing, 1999.
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