1st DRAFT Heinz Rachut 10/30/01
All of the characters in The Glass Menagerie have specific symbols in the play representing
themselves. Some of the symbols for Tom are the Merchant Marine and the magicians nailed coffin, while Amandas are the yellow dress and her membership to the Daughters of the American Revolution and some of Lauras are the unicorn and blue roses. Tennessee Williams play has a simple face but the meanings behind the countless and increasingly complex symbols make the play enjoyable the tenth time read. Through the narrator, Tom, we are giving a glimpse into Tennessee Williams life as his autobiographical character survives the depression era in St. Louis. I shall explain some of the more obvious symbols and deeper meanings to the key points of this play.
Survival is a great word does use when describing both Tom and Laura. As critic Eric P. Levy puts it, he Tom inhibits a world of his own …Lauras escape is the glass menagerie…both persons are prisoners of the mirror. These two have made a world of loneliness to themselves. The mirror Levy speaks of is a mirror of judgment that love creates. This dysfunctional love is the product of the manipulative Amanda, their mother. In this way he is strongly linked to his sister. Jim and her mother abuse her inferiority complex. They use her as a mirror to see their won self-defined worth. Jim uses her when he starts chatting about Lauras confidence. Instead of speaking strictly of her, he uses the opportunity to glance at himself in the mirror and say everybody excels at something. Some in many!
He then continues try straighten his tie and comment I guess you think I think a lot of myself. His actions are purely self-motivated. Lauras mother uses her as a link to the past and her own current narcissism. She uses her daughter in the same way. She makes her self-the standard with such remarks as “seventeen! –gentlemen callers”, and since Laura cannot fulfill those expectations, she is crippled. Even her appearance is subject to Amandas standard when Jim arrives. When Amanda compliments her daughter, she uses the opportunity to give herself a bigger compliment mirroring Jims actions.
Next is the our narrator, Tom. Their apartment is Toms nailed coffin. He yearns to be free of this love, the mirror, and for adventure such as the Merchant Marines. Tom has a need for companionship like every other human being, but his need for loneliness is greater. Tom and his sibling share this. His mother says “Go to the movies, go! Don’t think about us, a mother deserted, an unmarried sister who’s crippled and has no job! Don’t let anything interfere with your selfish pleasure!”. This is his mother using the mirror against him. Tom is a grown man who pays the rent of their dwelling. Although Tom should hold some power in the household he is constantly being held in check by being made to feel guilty. Eric P. Levy notes that Toms smashing of the glass after his mothers declaration is symbolic of Toms mirror and his urge to smash it. Not only is this symbolic of his mirror, but it is another link to his sister when her glass menagerie breaks. Tom and Laura are nailed into dysfunctional love with their mother. Toms smashing of his mirror and them leaving foreshadows Lauras possible future leaving when her mirror breaks. A similar episode occurs in scene four when Amanda tempts Tom to join the Merchant Marines by crying out then leave, good-bye! And me with the bag to hold. This way of thinking comes from her experience with abandonment form her husband. Amandas manipulation and narcissism is in part fueled by a stockpile of insecurity.
Finally, Amanda is a woman who feels the most secure when she is in her own world of skewed history. The likelihood of one woman having 17 gentlemen callers in such a short period of time is very likely to be exaggerated. She uses these old stories to comfort and convince herself that she deserved more than a drunkard. As she puts it, I could have been Mrs. Duncan J. Fitzhugh, but mind you!