The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

Often ones do not realize how much love they have for their family until thinking back on past memories of them. The play was written by “Tennessee Williams” called “The Glass Menagerie” is a typical example of a young man regrets leaving his family at a time when they needed his emotional, as well as financial support. “The Glass Menagerie” is a play that is described from the memory of the main protagonist, Tom Wingfield, which features his sister Laura and their mother, Amanda (Williams). The play takes place in the Wingfield apartment, where each scene brings out a new personality of the Wingfield’s and the story behind their missing father whose pictures remain hanged in the walls (King). Since their father abandoned them, Tom has to work to support the family, an undertaking that does not resonate well with him. His ambitions are far beyond the Wingfield apartment. Amanda is nagging and complains about everything, and longs for her past life, the period when she felt she was living. Laura, her daughter, on the other hand, is socially and physically handicapped (Bluefarb). This leads Tom to invite his friend Jim to the dinner as Laura’s suitor upon complaints from his mother.

The whole play is centered around the Wingfield family’s lives based on recollections of Tom’s (King) memories. From such comprehensions, the reader is exposed to a number of themes that include accepting reality/living in an illusionary sphere, unrelenting power of memory, and filial piety. Besides, various symbols have been used to enhance the major topics in the play.

One of the dominant themes that have been successively brought out by “Williams” in the play is the difficulty of accepting reality. “Williams” has developed this subject through the depiction of the notable characters of the story living in an illusionary world that is far from reality. For example, despite Mr. Wingfield, Tom’s father, disappearing and never returning home, his family has hanged pictures of him in the house. Through the presence of the photos on the wall, the viewer/reader is made to feel that Mr. Wingfield is a present member of the family. However, he has abandoned his family and gone for “telephone adventures (McDonald).” “Catherine Blencowe” argues that even though Laura is the most accepting in the family, she refuses to accept the reality that her father is not coming back (7). Additionally, the family still holds dear to objects that remind them of him, a clear indication of the fact that they are living in a world that Mr. Wingfield is part even though he never visited the family.

Apart from the whole family, finding it difficult to accept the absence of Mr. Wingfield, each individual character is faced with an illusionary world of his or her own. For example, Tom is not happy at the family’s apartment and his work at the shoe store. Because of failing to accept the reality about the family, he drifts into a private illusion, through spending time at night away from the family, which gives him comfort and meaning that the real world does not provide. For this reason, Tom prefers to retreat into the imaginations delivered by literature and movies and the apathy offered by drunkenness (Green).

Amanda, on the other hand, is unable to accept the reality that she is no longer young and withdraws into a private illusion of her days as a young lady in her prime. She longs and yearns for her past life and the joy it brought her given the many suitors that came calling at her place. The fact that Amanda does not accept reality makes her unhappy with the life she is presently living. Laura, on the other hand, is socially and physically handicapped, an aspect that makes her find solace in animal glass menageries that she often polishes without desiring contact from the real world.

The unrelenting power of memory is another significant subject that “Williams” seeks to demonstrate and portray through his characters in the play. The fact that the memory is persistent on Tom’s mind to the extent that he decides to recount it in great detail to the viewers is a clear indication of the inexorable and persistent power of memory: he is unable to take off his mind from this reminiscence. The relentless power of memory is developed through the character of Amanda. According to “Glenn Man”, Amanda constantly thinks about her gentlemen callers, and based on such thoughts, she holds on to the illusion of her past life. Thus, Amanda recounts her maiden days when she believed her life was joyful from the numerous suitors that came calling (Bluefarb). She is unable to bring her concentration to her present life and bases her existence in the past.

When Tom’s dad abandons the family, he is charged with the responsibility of taking care of the family. He is not happy with his new role, and this is what makes him find solace in spending his night away from the family watching movies. “Amanda chastises her son for not doing his part as the proverbial man of the family” (McDonald). Additionally, she requires his son to behave decently when he is at home and also requests him to stop drinking as a way of protecting the family name and his job at the shoe store.

Various symbols have been used by “Williams” in the play to develop and advance the major subjects/themes that he wanted to portray to the potential audience. He, also use the glass unicorn to symbolically represent the personality of Laura, including her peculiarity (McMullan). The suitor Tom invited over for dinner notices his sister’s strange behavior as he toyed with her affections knowing he had a prior engagement. However, Laura finds the unicorn, a favorite piece of hers symbolically represents her idiosyncrasy in the form that she was physically and socially handicapped (Williams). As a result, the use of the unicorn as the favorite animal of Laura illustrates her inability to come to the present and accept the reality of her life and also highlights her lasting desire to live in a world that is already extinct.

The fire escape stems out as a major symbol that “Williams” has consistently used in “The Glass Menagerie” play. The fire escape leads out of the Wingfield’s apartment and has a landing, which is one of the characters favorite place to be near in many of the scenes in the play. The name that “Williams” utilized is representative of the ideology of an exit out of the fire and frustrations that consume the Wingfield family on a daily basis. Some of the fires that “Williams” intended to advance include the inability of the family to live in the present moment, an occurrence that highly heightens the fights and troubles that are experienced by this family consistently. “The apartment…is entered by a fire escape, a structure whose name is a touch of accidental poetic truth, for all of these huge buildings are always burning with the slow and implacable fires of human desperation.” (Williams). On many occasions, Tom is seen standing near the fire escape that offers him a temporary relive from the “fires” of the Wingfield’s family.

In addition, Tom lights a cigarette at the fire escape, which symbolically represents his desire to control things for himself, and not wanting the fire at the family to consume him. This allegory strengthens the idea that Tom is not contented with his real life. The fire escape gives him hope from the adventures he craves by going to the movies and reading many books (Green). As a result, the fire escape offers the family members, mainly Tom, an opportunity to leave the family and set out to the world and see what opportunities are waiting out there. In the final scene, Tom asks Laura to put out the lit candles. Putting off the candles is used symbolically by “Williams” to represent the exits of Tom from the family, maybe a presentation of the hard times the family is going to face due to his departure.

In conclusion, the play has rich thematic concepts that are related to difficulty in accepting reality and the subsequent withdrawal to an illusionary world, filial piety, and the unrelenting power of memory. Each member of the Wingfield’s finds it challenging to accept reality, an aspect that makes them live in unrealistic dimensions of life that offer them comfort. Also, the unrelenting power of memory is developed through Tom and Amanda, mainly Amanda, who finds solace in her days as a young woman. She continually repeats this to her two children. In addition, Williams has used various symbols such as the glass unicorn to represent the peculiarly of Laura, and subsequently advancing the theme of accepting reality. The fire escape represents the path out of the fires at the Wingfield’s that are brought about by the inability of the family to accept the truth.

Works Cited

  1. Bluefarb, Sam. “The Menagerie: Three vision of time.” College English, (1963) Vol. 24. No. 7, pp. 513-518. JSTOR, Accessed 19 Apr.2020. Blencowe, Catherine. Memories: The Lighting Design for “The Glass Menagerie” (2019)
  2. Dissertations Publishing, pp. 1-9, Retrieved from Scholarworks. 2020.
  3. Fambrough, Preston. “Williams’s The Glass Menagerie” The Explicator 63.2 (2005): 100-102 ProQuest Web. 18 Apr. 2020.
  4. Green, Alicia. “Tennessee Williams” “The Glass Menagerie.” A noise within, (2019) pp. 18-19, Accessed 27 Apr. 2020.
  5. King, Thomas L. “Irony and Distance in “The Glass Menagerie” Educational Theatre Journal,
  6. Vol. 25, no. 2, (1973), pp. 207-214. JSTOR, Accessed 19 Apr.
  7. McDonald, Robert L. “By instinct”: the problem of identity in “The Glass Menagerie” CEA
  8. Critic, Vol. 59, no. 3, (1997), pp. 58-64.
  9. Man, Glenn. “Memory as technique and themes in “The Glass Menagerie” and “Death of a
  10. Salesman” Notre Dame English Journal, Vol. 5, no. 2, (1970), pp.23-30.
  11. MacMullan, Hugh. “Translating The Glass Menagerie to Film” Hollywood Quarterly. Vol. 5, no. 1. (1950), pp. 14-32. JSTOR, Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.
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The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. (2021, Apr 24). Retrieved May 24, 2024 , from

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