Free Glass Menagerie Essays: The Characters

Free Glass Menagerie Essays: The Characters

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The Characters of The Glass Menagerie


Generally when some one writes a play they try to elude some deeper meaning or insight in it. Meaning about one's self or about life as a whole. Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" is no exception the insight Williams portrays is about himself. Being that this play establishes itself as a memory play Williams is giving the audience a look at his own life, but being that the play is memory some things are exaggerated and these exaggerations describe the extremity of how Williams felt during these moments (Kirszner and Mandell 1807). The play centers itself on three characters. These three characters are: Amanda Wingfield, the mother and a women of a great confusing nature; Laura Wingfield, one who is slightly crippled and lets that make her extremely self conscious; and Tom Wingfield, one who feels trapped and is looking for a way out (Kirszner and Mandell 1805-06). Williams' characters are all lost in a dreamy state of illusion or escape wishing for something that they don't have. As the play goes from start to finish, as the events take place and the play progresses each of the characters undergoes a process, a change, or better yet a transition. At the beginning of each characters role they are all in a state of mind which causes them to slightly confuse what is real with what is not, by failing to realize or refusing to see what is illusioned truth and what is whole truth. By the end of the play each character moves out of this state of dreamy not quite factual reality, and is better able to see and face facts as to the way things are, however not all the characters have completely emerged from illusion, but all have moved from the world of dreams to truth by a whole or lesser degree.

Tom Wingfield makes a most interesting transition. He changes twice during the course of the entire play. One change occurs at the end of the memory part of the play, then he is changed again sometime between when the actual play took place and the time that he returns after serving in the merchant marines. In the beginning Tom Wingfield, the main character and the narrator of the play, feels trapped like a caged animal who needs to be set free which some times causes him to seem to be without pity or remorse (Kirszner and Mandell 1806).

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As a result of this he is often very frustrated and one of the only ways he can get the slightest sense of freedom is by going to the movies, which he later expresses his discontent for (Book Summary - The Glass Menagerie). The thing that frustrates Tom the most is the fact that he reduces himself to a slave working at the factory to support his mother and sister, yet his mother says to him that all he thinks of is himself, she says this because he desires to have some freedom in his life (Kirszner and Mandell 1817). Things continue in this direction for Tom and it lasts quite a while. Yet Tom tries to cope with it and even obeys his mother in some of the things she asks him to do. However her persistence about Tom's selfishness continues and finally comes the last straw when Laura's gentleman caller turns out to be engaged. Amanda believes that Tom brought him home as to play a joke on them, of course Tom had no way of knowing, and as a result of this Amanda accuses Tom of being selfish (Kirszner and Mandell 1854). This is where Tom's first transition takes place. Up until this time Tom had merely been dreaming of a future doing what he wanted to do, simply dreaming of putting all of his miseries behind him and being free. He had not taken any real definite steps in the direction of achieving his goals, sure he paid his dues to the merchant marines, but until he were to actually join, this is the equivalent of taking out a magazine subscription. But now, now he is making his dream a reality, for when Amanda played down the last straw, accusing him of being selfish when he was only doing what she asked him to do in the first place, so plain and clear, now he decides to put it all behind him. A few days later he leaves his family all together in search of a better life as a merchant marine (Kirszner and Mandell 1854). Now that he has left home, he has also left behind a world of illusion, illusion of being trapped without escape for when he did escape it was no longer an illusion, it became reality. Yet what he did not fully understand was that the world he was escaping from, the world of illusion, he was merely trading for another world of illusion. This time instead of illusion of being trapped, it was illusion of being free. He was not free, for it is said in Tom's final speech in the play that he was forever haunted by the memory of Laura where ever he went, and he could not shake that memory (Kirszner and Mandell 1854). When he comes back to their apartment it is seen that sometime between when he was last seen and now he has undergone another transition. This time he leaves the world of illusion all together, and completely accepts reality. He now realizes that there is no escape from misery and suffering, and that the only way to be free of it is to do something that solves the problem. This is shown in his final speech when he is pretending to talk to Laura. He tells her that he is sorry for leaving her behind and that he should have helped her out of her situation before he himself left. Then he asks her to blow out her candles (Kirszner and Mandell 1854). When he does this he is asking her to forgive him so that he can finally be set free from his memory, for there is no escape there is only, freedom which must be given by forgiveness.

The mother, Amanda Wingfield, was once the belle of the ball during her glory days of the Old South, but now she is fragile and struggling for survival (Kirszner and Mandell 1864). In the beginning of the play Amanda is totally immersed in her own little world of illusion. She is constantly reminiscing of her olden days in the south, and when she is not doing that she is worried about the survival of the family. This is why she enrolled Laura in business school, so that when Tom left Laura would be able to take care of both herself and Amanda. When Amanda learns of the news that Laura had dropped out of business college she is very disheartened and worried as to how they will survive (Kirszner and Mandell 1813). This is when she gets the idea that Laura should marry wealthy, and as to proceed with this plan she asks Tom to invite some one over for dinner (Kirszner and Mandell 1824). So when Tom does invite some one over Amanda becomes overly excited and wants to make sure everything is perfect for Laura, everything has to be perfect and she struggles to make it so in the only way she knows how (Kirszner and Mandell 1862). Amanda makes her transition from illusion to truth when she finds out that Laura's suitor turned out to be engaged. Unlike Tom who changes of his own free will, Amanda is jerked out of her world and thrown into reality. This is when she realizes that unless there is a major change on Laura's part, that Laura will never be suited for a business career nor will she be married. She also breaks her own rule by finally admitting to herself that Laura is in fact cripple (Kirszner and Mandell 1854). This realization prompts Amanda to deal with her distress in the only way she knows how, which is to take it out on Tom which causes Tom to leave. Tom's leaving in turn causes further distress for Amanda and Laura which is not covered in the play. When Amanda suddenly enters reality it causes her to explode at Tom which shows that she did not spend enough time in reality to know how to deal with distress. Unlike her children Amanda is in a state of illusion but convinced that she is not, this makes her flawed and responsible for the tragedy that befell them even though she didn't realize it (The Glass Menagerie Tennessee Williams Analysis of Major Characters).

Laura Wingfield, a romantic, who has a physical defect which causes her to limp slightly, and also fragile emotions which cause her to lose herself in a world made completely of dreams (Bert Cardullo). Of all the Wingfields Laura is in the greatest peril, because she lacks the strength of Amanda and the ability to escape like Tom (Mary Bromberg). Laura is so incredibly shy, so much so that she can't even compose herself for a business class at the local college (Kirszner and Mandell 1813). After she drops out she maintains herself in a world of fiction by not telling her mother that she dropped out and pretending to continue to go to school everyday while instead visiting the zoo and the Jewel Box (Kirszner and Mandell 1813). Both of these places representing places of illusion, dreams, and fantasy. Laura's change briefly into reality comes when Jim O'Connor arrives for dinner, or more precisely when Jim and Laura are talking after dinner. She completely opens up to him. She tells him of how she let her disability get in her way, she tells him of how she was, and still is for that matter, very shy and didn't have luck making friends, and she even admits to him that she liked him in high school (Kirszner and Mandell 1843-45). After they talk for a while Jim and Laura start dancing, this is where Laura starts to loosen up, she allows herself to be carried by Jim's moves, and she is coming out of the fake world she created for herself (Kirszner and Mandell 1844). Then Jim moves in to kiss her, he kisses her, now all of a sudden Laura has become a real person, she completely forgets about the broken piece of glass (Kirszner and Mandel 1844). She is seeing now what she could have if she would only come out of her shell, if she would come out of her world of glass, if she would come into reality. She is completely changed. But this is not enough. For when Jim breaks the news that he is engaged Laura looks in her hand at the broken piece of glass and then slips back in almost instantly forgetting about what just happened (Kirszner and Mandel 1844). She slips back into her world of beauty that she has created for herself, but in actuality she is unknowingly dwelling in a world of despair. Laura does go through a transition, she is shown a glimpse of what she could and can have, but almost as quickly as it came it left leaving her to reside with her glass.

The Wingfield family all existed in a state of fantasy or at least a false sense of reality. They could not easily differentiate between what was truth and what was fiction (W.R. Theirfelder III). All of the three main characters makes the transition from a world of dreamy illusions, to a world of truth, it affects each character differently according to how they perceive and encounter truth. Truth does not always bring happiness, in fact few people really like to hear truth. But truth always, no matter how painful it is, benefits in the end.

Works Cited

"Book Summary - The Glass Menagerie". CampusNut. 2000-2001. 15 Apr. 2002. http://www.campusnut.com/book.cfm?article_id=801§ion=2

Bromberg, Mary., "The Glass Menagerie Tennessee Williams The Characters." Barron's BookNotes. 1985. 14 Apr. 2002. http://www.pinkmonkey.com/booknotes/barrons/glsmeng2.asp#chr

Cardullo, Bert., "William's The Glass Menagerie." Explicator 1997, Vol. 55 Issue 3, p161, 3p. EBSCOhost. Tomball Community Coll. Lib., Tomball. 15 Apr. 2002. http://harmony.nhmccd.edu/rpa/webauth.exe?rs=ASP

Kirszner, Laurie G., and Stephen R. Mandell, eds. Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. 4th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt, 2001.

Boxill, Roger. "The Glass Menagerie." Kirszner and Mandell. 1864.

Kirszner, Laurie G., and Stephen R. Mandell, eds. Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. 4th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt, 2001.

Evans, Jean. "Excerpts from Two Interviews with Williams." Kirszner and Mandell. 1862.

Kirszner, Laurie G., and Stephen R. Mandell, eds. Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. 4th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt, 2001.

Williams, Tennessee. "The Glass Menagerie.": Kirszner and Mandell. 1805-54.

"The Glass Menagerie Tennessee Williams Analysis of Major Characters." SparkNotes LLC. 1999-2002. 14 Apr. 2002. http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/menagerie/canalysis.html

Theirfelder, W. R. III., "William's The Glass Menagerie." Explicator, 1990, Vol. 48 Issue 4, p284, 2p. EBSCOhost. Tomball Community Coll. Lib., Tomball. 15 Apr. 2002. http://harmony.nhmccd.edu/rpa/webauth.exe?rs=ASP
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