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A Theme of Failing to Accept Reality in The Glass Menagerie

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Is it conceivable to escape into your own charade of a world to ignore the everyday realities that we all must face? There is no doubt. Typical of human nature, we tend to find relief by dwelling in situations that reduce the stressful anxieties in one’s life opposed to those that arise from the unforgiving circumstances going on in one’s life. This idea is present in the Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, who uses the actions, character depiction, and the overall setting to further prove the theme of the difficulty of accepting reality.

In the play, each member of the Wingfield family struggles to overcome their own perception of reality. As a result, none of the characters seem to live in the ‘real world’, but instead in their own alternate realities. To elaborate, each withdraws into their own made-up world of illusions, that acts as a safe place where they can find solace and meaning. Reality has by far the weakest grasp on the emotionally and physically crippled, Laura. Laura withdraws to adolescent like imaginations and “lives in her own world”. The fragile reality in which she lives revolves around the old records left by her father and collecting glass menagerie. Her escape is composed of hiding inside the apartment, avoiding the outside world. Instead of facing the difficulties of her life, Laura escapes to a world of fantasy, a world as fragile as her glass menagerie. Laura’s escape from reality cuts her off from the rest of the world because the fantasy to which she escapes is totally unique. Unlike his sister, Tom Wingfield is seemingly able to function in the real world, his struggles lie within the home. Tom hopes for a better future as a means of escape from his current state of depression from having to endure his overbearing mother. He has a habit of going out to the ‘movies’ every night to experience the adventure he doesn’t have within his life. Tom retreats into the fantasy provided by literature, the movies and the careless act of drinking. When Tom is not at the movies he works at the factory, though he hates it he does it to provide for his sister and mother. Although his mother pushes for him to be a great factory worker Tom stresses the fact that he is not happy with that kind of lifestyle. Whereas Laura looks for comfort within the present and Tom in the future their mother, Amanda Winfield recollects on the past for solace.

Amanda is portrayed as a faded southern belle whose relationship towards reality is the most complex within the story. Considering it can be inferred that Amanda was brought up into a prominent southern family and is now struggling to come to terms with her new lifestyle. As she now suffers from a reversal of economic and societal hierarchy, she tends to deny her fruitless reality to escape back to the past. Unlike her children, she has no interest in real-world values and longs for financial and social success. However, these values prevent her from realizing the truths of her own life. For instance, due to her traditional upbringing, Amanda expects Laura to have many male callers waiting for her hand in marriage. Yet, it is known that Laura is not the typical prize for a suitor because of her shyness and inability to connect with the real world. As she does not accept Laura for who she is and is constantly trying to change her to make her more appropriate to others. Although the Winfield family is held together by the unique ways they cling to reality, the illusions they seek only hurt them. The main characters in the play neglect reality. The “characters believe in a future and a past which are not realistic…” that in fact affect their relationships with one another.

Many families in America suffered a great loss during the Great Depression and the Winfield family is an example of how many decided to cope with thier issues. Although each of them had their own perfect place to escape to, they all had the common goal of escaping the present. However, it is proven that their escapes from reality only pushed them further apart, or in Tom’s case away forever. With Tom leaving it proves that their innate desires to seek solace deep within their imagination could not pull them out the trenches of the real world. Perhaps Tennessee Williams wrote this play to portray the message that running away from one’s problems or ignoring them will only make them fester like an open wound until nothing is enough to heal it. Maybe the only escape in life is not running away from our problems but instead trying to solve the head-on. Thus, it can be said that the Glass Menagerie portrays the theme of failing to accept reality and its overall outcome.

Works Cited

  1. ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ Drama for Students, edited by David M. Galens and Lynn M. Spampinato, vol. 1, Gale, 1998, pp. 123-139. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 18 Feb. 2019.
  2. Weales, Gerald. ‘Williams, Tennessee 1911-1983.’ American Writers: A Collection of Literary Biographies, edited by Leonard Unger, vol. 4: Isaac Bashevis Singer to Richard Wright, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974, pp. 378-401. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 19 Feb. 2019.
  3. Presley, Delma Eugene. ‘The Pleasant Disguise of Illusion: A View of the Characters.’ The Glass Menagerie: An American Memory, Twayne Publishers, 1990, pp. 32-52. Twayne’s Masterwork Studies 43. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 19 Feb. 2019.
  4. Williams, Tennessee. “The Glass Menagerie.”

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