Tennessee William's The Glass Menagerie

Tennessee William's The Glass Menagerie

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Tennessee William's The Glass Menagerie

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.

-- Albert Einstein.

The most important theme in The Glass Menagerie is the difficulty people have in accepting and relating to reality. As a result of their inability to overcome this difficulty, the characters withdraw into a private world of illusion to find the comfort they can’t find in real life.

Out of the three Wingfield family members, Laura probably is the one living furthest away from reality. There are several symbols in the play that represent that in some way. Her glass collection that she carefully takes care of, is the imaginary world she lives in to escape the real live where she doesn’t finish high school, fails typing class, and doesn’t have any “gentlemen callers” like her mother expects her to. Another symbol for Laura’s personality is “Blue Roses”, the nickname Jim gives her in high school. Blue roses are, although beautiful, not real and can’t be found in nature, what refers to Laura’s uniqueness but also to her very own, special beauty that lies beyond her differentness and inability to live in reality. Overall, Laura is a very important character, because the whole story is basically about her (Tom tells us) and she also is the one who is most concerned with the play’s theme of withdrawing from reality.

At first sight Tom seems to be the only one in the Wingfield family who is capable of functioning in the real world, interacting with strangers, and holding down a job to finance his mother and sister. But he also, withdraws into his illusions to abscond the never-ending conflicts with his mother and his frustration about his monotone, meaningless life. During the play, Tom often mentions “the movies” he’s going to all the time, which represent his attempt to escape all this and to give him the illusion of adventure. The same goes for the fire escape to where Tom often withdraws whenever the “fire” of conflict and arguing with Amanda gets to hot.

Tom's attitude toward his sister puzzles the reader, since even though he clearly cares for her, he is frequently indifferent and even cruel. Not once in the play does he behave kindly or lovingly toward Laura, not even when he knocks down her glass menagerie. Laura on the other side is the only character who, despite the selfishness that characterizes the Wingfield family, never does anything to hurt anyone else.

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Instead she cries over Tom’s unhappiness, as described by Amanda. Although both Tom and his sister Laura build their own world of illusion to escape from their problems, it doesn’t satisfy them both the same way. While Laura overall is content with her (imaginary) life, Tom doesn’t and not even leaving home means true escape for him, because he senses that he harms his mother and sister by doing so and we clearly see the guilt he feels about doing so.

I think the whole theme of people building imaginary worlds of illusions to protect themselves from the hard reality still is very current and will probably always be because there are always people who can’t afford to be confronted with their lives. I know what I’m talking about, because I had the same problem some time ago. I was having a lot of trouble with school, parents, and some more things I felt I couldn’t deal with any longer so I began to play an online computer game, for hours every single day, escaping into this digital world where I was a mighty warrior, appreciated and valued by other players from all over the world. It made me feel better but in the end I had to accept that life isn’t a computer game and I worked myself out of that vicious circle. Real life may be hard sometimes, but – you just have to face your problem and solve it!
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