6 November 2013
“The Glass Menagerie” is a play by Tennessee Williams about the lives of a troubled family the Wingfield’s who are living together under one roof in 1944 Chicago. The family consists of the mother, Amanda Wingfield, and her son Tom and daughter Laura, both whom are grown up and in their twenties. Amanda’s husband and Tom and Laura’s father abandoned them a long time ago. Along with the absence of the father in the family, there is a host of additional issues that each member of the family possesses. Amanda constantly is found clinging to the past and Laura and Tom both have problems progressing in their own lives and seem to have no direction or sense of purpose in their lives whatsoever. Critics Sam Bluefarb and Nada Zeineddine also take aim at families issues with reality and direct their attention at all of the members of the family having trouble living in the present and dealing with the realities of their lives. Moreover, in “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, Amanda Wingfield’s extreme inability to accept and adapt to reality has emotionally crippled her children and prevented them from growing and being happy in their own lives.
Throughout the story Amanda constantly demonstrates behavior that shows she can’t accept reality. Bluefarb asserts that Amanda is “incapable of inhabiting the present other than in terms of the past” and Amanda constantly is found reminiscing and telling stories from her past. It seems like she wishes she were still living in the past and doesn’t cherish or value the present. In the beginning of the story Amanda goes on about her “seventeen gentlemen callers” while Tom complains about Amanda constantly telling this story (Williams). It’s obvious that Amanda frequently brings up her past and how great things used to be. Amanda continually throughout the story attempts to “impose her obsolete Southern values on Tom and Laura” (Zeineddine). Amanda is constantly trying to mold her children the way that she envisions they should be without taking other elements of life into account. Tom angrily points this out by stating that his desires seem “unimportant” to her (Williams). Tom is trying to point out that Amanda truly doesn’t take into account what her children want and need and is only driven by her own ego and her own visions. Because Amanda is only driven by her own ambitions she was not capable of raising her children and was unable to help them overcome their problems.
Amanda has made it extremely difficult for Tom to find happiness in his own life. For example, Amanda insists that “most young men find adventure in their careers” and is upset by the fact that Tom is unhappy at his job (Williams). However, she doesn’t seem to care why he isn’t happy with his job or what Tom actually wants and is more concerned with him being successful. Tom even tries to explain to her that it isn’t in his instincts to be content working in the warehouse but Amanda still refuses to listen and claims that “only animals have to satisfy instincts” (Williams). Amanda isn’t able to accept the fact that Tom doesn’t want to work in the warehouse and instead she pries and pesters Tom and aggravates him to no end. Tom isn’t able to live a full and happy life because he “sees himself as paying the rent and making a slave of himself” (Zeineddine). Because of the way he is treated by Amanda, Tom is forced to find an escape through alcohol. Tom desperately seeks an escape through his trips to the movies and his drinking binges and this in itself shows the outcome of how Amanda has essentially trapped Tom. Tom needs an outlet to get away from the reality of his life and a place where he can picture himself diverging from “Amanda’s past and his own present towards a brighter future” (Bluefarb). It’s easy to see how badly Tom wants to follow his own path and breakaway from the emotional restraints his mother has created through her ignorant and selfish behavior.
Laura already had to overcome some large obstacles in her life without her mother’s bad influences so it’s not hard to comprehend why Laura still has so many emotional and social issues and was never able to overcome them. Amanda is so consumed by her own past that she has attempted to live vicariously through her daughter Laura. Bluefarb suggests that Amanda attempts to “superimpose her own past on daughter Laura’s future” (Bluefarb). However, Laura isn’t a normal girl and she is her own person, not a recreating of Amanda. Amanda doesn’t seem to grasp either of these truths. In fact, even though Laura has accepted the fact that she is crippled and that it very well makes her different, Amanda will not call her crippled and says she has a “little defect” when its more than that (Bluefarb). Amanda is not willing to accept her daughters defect and try to work with her to adapt, she would rather pretend like nothing is wrong and try to force Laura to do the same. Pretending and looking over problems is common by Amanda and it is due to this behavior that Laura still is unable to live a normal life. Amanda once again looks over reality when she attempts to put Laura through business school when she isn’t fit for it. Amanda forces Laura to be who she isn’t and ultimately her “attempts to launch Laura into a business career through sending her to college are met with failure” because by nature she was not made or destined to be businesswoman (Zeineddine). Amanda is too consumed with trying to make a perfect life for Laura that she has no sense of what is best for Laura. In fact, Amanda shows how much she doesn’t care about Laura because although meeting Jim may have been good for her and may have helped her overcome her shyness and social anxiety, Amanda is focused on “the effort, the preparations, all the expense!” (Williams). Amanda does not realize that Jim may have helped Laura’s “deep frozen fear” begin to “show signs of thawing” (Bluefarb). Amanda’s selfishness and need to live vicariously through her daughter made it too difficult for Laura to live a normal life.
In conclusion, Amanda’s ignorance toward reality and her need to relive her past created an environment for her children where they had no room to grow or to be themselves. Amanda may or may not be aware of her harmful behavior and how she is stunting the growth of her children but it’s obvious that she is the root cause for all of the family’s problems. Amanda is so stuck living in the past that she cannot see or comprehend the present. At the end of the story Amanda ironically tells Tom to “go to the moon-you selfish dreamer!” (Williams). Amanda finally and once again shows that she still after all that happened. Amanda will not face reality and will not come to terms with the fact that she is the one who is the selfish dreamer and she has only herself to blame for the unhappiness unfulfilled life she is doomed to live.