The Glass Menagerie as a “Memory Play”

Before entering a discussion concerning truth, one must first establish the definition of truth. For this, I offer the definition simply as reality. For example, we can prove that the existence of gravity is a truth using experiments, observations, and calculations. Truth is synonymous to reality. It can be proven through logical deduction, and should be predictable, or at the least traceable. Any deviation from this is a deviation further from the truth. Furthermore, total truth is unattainable. Since our reality is limited by what we can detect, we can assume that we don’t know the extent of what actually compromises our world. Therefore, truth is a goal that should be strived to achieve, but just like perfection, can never be attained. With that in mind, the value will be that the Glass Menagerie presents truth more than it undermines it.

Tom refers to the glass menagerie as a “memory play”. But just because it’s a memory play does not mean that it’s inherently untruthful, and the development of his narration is evidence of this. At the start of the play, he’s calm, sober, and speaking directly to the viewer, but as the play progresses, notice that Tom starts to drink. It’s clear to see that this memory is deeply traumatic for Tom. He simply cannot continue without the comfort of alcohol, forcing the memory from him and letting go of all inhibitions. When one drinks, they tend to tell more of the truth than if they were sober. They forget what their roles are, and have less concern of what others think of them. There is simply no motive to lie when one is drunk. Furthermore, towards the end there’s significantly more distance from the viewer, almost as if he is talking more for himself than for the viewer. There’s less eye contact which results in less connection and more distance. From here, we can make two opposing conclusions. A) That because he is doing this for himself, he is being untruthful so that he can live with his past actions, or B) That what Tom has told us is true. He feels guilty for leaving his family, and as such, would not tarnish their memories by portraying them in this light. Believing that Tom feels guilty is the only viable option, as he makes an active effort to bring out the truth, and had he wanted to trick the viewer, he would not have portrayed Amanda as a mother who, at the end of the day, cares deeply for her kids.

Extending the discussion of portraying characters, Tom portrays himself as a villain in his own memory. Not only does he seek vengeance upon characters for previous actions, but he also follows a personal utilitarianism philosophy, willing to make sacrifices at any cost for his own personal benefit. We see this over and over again, and one example of this is Jim and Tom’s private conversation on the balcony. Tom has just revealed his plans to Jim, who’s reaction is “You will regret it when they turn the lights off (Williams 67)”, to which Tom casually responds with “I won’t be here (Williams 67)”. Tom has no consideration for what happens to his family, and the state of the house has no impact on him if he isn’t living under its roof. Furthermore, he likens himself to his father, saying that he was “just like his father. The bastard son of a bastard! (Williams 68)” Just as Mr.Wingfield impulsively left his family with no consideration of consequence, so did Tom. Just as Mr.Wingfield fell in love with long distance, Tom fell in love with adventure. By likening himself to his father, Tom has shifted the hate the viewer may have for Tom’s father to Tom. This can only be truth, as there’s no reason to present himself as worse than he was, and because this memory is so personal to him, we can establish him as a reliable narrator.

Finally, look to the impact family has on Tom. Family is something special to humans, and Tom is no different. To start, he simply wouldn’t be recounting this memory if his family didn’t have a significant impact on him. Despite everything he says, the truth is that he cares for Amanda and Laura, and cannot get over his past actions. Note that throughout the entire play, the only things we learn about are Amanda, Laura, and the warehouse where he works, even though these are the very things he seeks to escape from. It’s a testament to his love, but also to his impulsiveness. Go further with the nation that Tom loves his family, and it can be argued that he reflects himself onto his mother. He is bound by guilt to his past actions, just as Amanda is shackled to the past by nostalgia. They both live in their own worlds, reflecting how Tom forces his own character upon Amanda.

It’s worth restating here that truth is unattainable, and that the claim is not that Tom is entirely truthful. But because Tom has shown characteristics of being a truthful person to the best of his abilities, the memory as a whole contains more truth than anti-truth. And as a memory play, it is certainly wading in the mud of nostalgia and perspective, but even through that veil of illusion, the truth shines through in Tom’s actions, from his narration to his reflection on the characters. It is as if he was a magician, giving you “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion (Williams 2)”.