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The Characters' Weaknesses and Strengths in The Glass Menagerie
In an interview, Tennessee Williams once said, "I have always been more interested in creating a character that contains something crippled... They have a certain appearance of fragility, these neurotic people I write about, but they are really strong." In Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, the strengths and weaknesses of the characters is the focus of the play.
There have been several critics who have raised interesting points concerning this subject. Critic Judith J. Thompson takes the stance that Amanda's "embodiment of 'The Great Mother'" is blinded by her weakness of an unrealistic world (p. 17). She states that Amanda's character is made up of "the Good Mother, the Terrible Mother, the seductive young witch, and the innocent virgin" (Thompson 17). She supports her theory with the incident in which Amanda says that she had seventeen gentlemen callers in one day. Thompson goes on to say that the "exaggeration of the number of Amanda's beaux recalls fairy tale and legends of romance in which the princess is beleaguered by suitors until the ideal knight or prince returns" (17). Here, Thompson shows that Amanda's weakness is living in a sort of dream world which overwhelms her intentions of being a "Great Mother" (Thompson 17).
A second critic, Joseph K. Davis, takes the stance that Laura's weakness overpowers her ability to be sensitive. Davis divides the dramatic pattern of The Glass Menagerie into two parts. Part of the pattern is "the dramatization of men and women by a display of their fragmented, tortured psychologies" (Davis 192). He states in his analysis of The Glass Menagerie: "His [Tom's] sister Laura tries to live in the present, but her crippled body and grim prospects in the secretarial school overcame her fragile sensibilities" (194). Davis implies that, like Amanda, Laura's weakness consumes her ability to live in reality and her sensibility, her one strength.
A third critic, Tom Scanlan takes the stance that Tom's weakness is overcome by his strength. Tom is easily entrapped and persuaded into situations that he may or may not want to be which weakens his character but his strength is greater than this weakness. The critic states that "the reappearance of Tom as narrator force the reader back to the present" (Scanlan 99). He shows the reader that Tom's strength is the ability to keep in touch with reality.
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In The Glass Menagerie, Amanda, Laura, and Tom are characterized as having both strengths and weaknesses. Amanda lets her weakness get the best of her while it overpowers her strength. The physical weakness of Laura does get the best of her, but her strength of sensibility does shine through at the end of the play. Tom's weakness of entrapment seems to be beating him, but his enduring strength prevails in the end. Though crippled physically or non-physically, each of the characters possesses a different strength which either helps or is overwhelmed by their strength which either helps or is overwhelmed by their handicap.
Critic Judith Thompson argues that Amanda's weakness is too powerful and drowns out her strength. After considering all the facts, Thompson's theory proves to be a valid one. Amanda is a very weak person. She pretends that Laura can do everything she can do, as when she refers to the issues of gentlemen callers. Amanda says that she must always be ready because there is no telling when a gentlemen caller may show up (2115). She also believes that Laura is able to get a lot of gentlemen callers at anytime (2116), and she denies that Laura is a cripple and does not allow that word to be used in the house, although Laura does at the end of the play (2113). These examples show how Amanda lets her dream world mix with reality to create her weakness.
The argument that the sensibility of Laura is overtaken by her imaginary world of glass and that her physical handicap, for the most part, is all in her head is a valid one. It is evident that she has made out her physical handicap to be something more than it really is. Throughout the play, no one actually tells her that is crippled except for herself (2133). This supports Davis' theory that she is not sensible and that she does not have strength in her sensibility. The problem with this is that she is sensible because, if she were not, she would deny her problem just as her mother does. She does recognize that does have a disability even though it may not be as big of a problem as she thinks it is. Laura also recognizes that she is not like her mother and will not receive any gentlemen callers (2116) which is a sensible thing to do. There is clearly a case against Davis' theory of Laura's lack of sensibility.
Tom has an evident weakness but is overpowered by his strength of reality. This is also argued by critic Tom Scanlan. It is clear that Tom does have a weakness and that weakness is his entrapment. He is bound to care for his sister and mother because his father left them, and this prevents Tom from living the action for himself and being in the movies (2139). Amanda drives Tom crazy by over criticizing him no matter what her does. One example of the criticism occurs when Amanda tells Tom, "You smoke too much" (2140). This must push Tom too far because he decides that he is going to leave. When Tom leaves Laura and Amanda, he shows that his strength has triumphed over his weakness.
From these criticisms, it is easy to see why this subject is an important one. The characters' weaknesses and strengths are not the same, but they o either help or hinder themselves. All three critics are in agreement with the main idea of the subject. One has a slightly different view than the rest but not everyone sees everything the same way. The important thing is that they support the idea that ,though crippled physically or non-physically, each of the characters possesses a different strength which either helps or is overwhelmed by their strength which either helps or is overwhelmed by their handicap.
Thompson, Judith J. Tennessee Williams' Plays: Memory, Myth, and Symbol. New York: Peter Land Publishing, Inc., 1987.
Davis, Joseph K. "Landscapes of the Dislocated Mind in Williams' The Glass Menagerie." Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Ed. Jac Tharpe. Hattiesburg: Heritage Printers, Inc., 1977. 192-206.
Scanlan, Tom. "Family and Psyche in The Glass Menagerie." Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Glass Menagerie. Ed. R.B. Parker. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983. 96-108.
Williams, Tennessee. "The Glass Menagerie." Concise Anthology of American Literature. Ed. George McMichael. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1985. 2112-2156