- Published: September 3, 2022
- Updated: September 3, 2022
- Level: Master's
- Language: English
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Escapism Doesn’t Work In Tennessee Williams’ play “ The Glass Menagerie,” the story is told of a small family. The father of the family deserted them many years ago and the rest spend their time trying to escape as well. The mother Amanda, brother Tom and sister Laura all have their own unique way of accomplishing this – one into a glorious vision of the future based on the past, one into a future away from the present and one into the comforts of the past as a means of hiding the present.
Despite his attempts to escape his past, Tom tells the audience at the end of the play that he followed “ in my father’s footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space. I traveled around a great deal … I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something” (VII, 237). That something turns out to be the images and sounds of the sister he left behind. While Tom is now a member of the merchant marine and an accomplished traveler, living out the internal dreams of his youth in a way he had never thought possible, this outward show of personal dream fulfillment is revealed as little more than an illusion of its own. In truth, Tom’s heart remains trapped within the small apartment he shared with his mother and sister.
Amanda attempts to live vicariously through her daughter and the future she envisions for her but is constantly disappointed. She indicates girls in her time “ knew how to entertain their gentleman callers. It wasn’t enough for a girl to be possessed of a pretty face and a graceful figure – although I wasn’t slighted in either respect. She also needed to have a nimble wit and a tongue to meet all occasions” (I, 148). She continues to encourage Laura to hold out hopes for a good marriage. This starts with her own recitation of the quality of her suitors, “ My callers were gentlemen – all! Among my callers were some of the most prominent young planters of the Mississippi Delta – planters and sons of planters” (I, 148). Yet this future based on the past will never happen.
Laura is the only character permitted to live almost totally removed from the real world through her glass figures and old records. Laura’s habit of escaping backwards into childhood can be traced as she first dropped out of high school because she “ made bad grades on my final examinations” (VII, 219) and then dropped out of business school: “ I couldn’t go back there. I – threw up – on the floor!” (II, 155). She escapes instead into a romanticized world of early childhood. Her options have become severely limited as a result which finally becomes clear to her when Jim, the only individual she ever thought of as a marriage possibility, announces that he is already engaged.
Thus, all three characters spend much of their time attempting to escape from the present into a world of the past or a future that will never exist. For Tom, the future provides no more escape than the past does. For Laura, the realization of her thwarted hopes and dreams from the past allows her to consider new ideas brought in by the very hero she envisioned, although not in the way she had imagined. For Amanda, the wake-up call doesn’t come until the end of the play, when she finally acknowledges the truths of the present.
Williams, Tennessee. “ The Glass Menagerie.” The Theatre of Tennessee Williams. Vol. 1. New York: New Directions Books: 1971.
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