In the play, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, appearance versus reality is one of the main themes. Each main character lives in their own fantasy world, where they forget about reality, and it reflects on their appearance. While they do not belong in society, they have very different views on how life should be. Firstly, Laura does not feel she belongs in society and often is isolated from reality.
Secondly, Amanda believes that her daughter, Laura, should focus on finding gentlemen callers, for it is the most important part of life, but what Amanda does not realize is that the world is not the same as it was when she was growing up. Thirdly, Tom tries hard to ignore the reality of his life and make his life seem more interesting by dreaming of his own life adventures and leaving to go to the movies to find adventure. Laura is separated from reality, and has a hard time adjusting to modern society.
The world she lives in holds the comfort and meaning that the real world does not provide for her, and it consists of her imaginary friends, the glass menagerie. She brings her glass animals to life, and gives them a personality where they have their own feelings and can tell her what they like and what they do not like. When Jim is over he noticed her collection and asks her about it. Jim: Unicorns – aren’t they extinct in the modern world? Laura: I know! Jim: Poor little fellow, he must feel sort of lonesome.
Laura: Well, if he does, he doesn’t complain about it. He stays on a shelf with some horses that don’t have horns and all of them seem to get along nicely together… Put him on the table. They all like a change of scenery once in a while! (Williams, 83-84) Laura’s glass menagerie collection is very important to her. It provides her an alternative life in which she can live separated to reality. Not only is she separated from reality, but she also has a hard time fitting in with modern society. Laura dropped out of her college after a few days of being there.
The day she dropped out was the day after her hands could not hit the right keys on her first speed test. Also that day she had a bad stomachache where she almost could not make it to the washroom on her own. When her mother realized that she dropped out, many months later, she questioned Laura about it and she replied that she was just out walking. At first her mother did not believe her. Amanda: Laura, where have you been going when you’ve gone out pretending that you were going to business college? Laura: I’ve just been going out walking…
Amanda: From half past seven till after five every day you mean to tell me you walked around in the park, because you wanted to make me think that you were still going to Rubicam’s Business College? (Williams, 14-15) After her bad day at school, Laura felt she did not belong in college so she did not make another attempt at it and just dropped out of school. She went back to her own world and wandered the streets, simply walking nowhere. She does not think about the future and lives for her own fantasy world. When her brother invites over a gentleman caller for her she is too scared to answer the door.
It reveals how her shyness can sometimes make her seem immature, and stuck in the past not moving on or growing up. Laura also tends to live in the past, but more importantly she lives among her sterile, unchanging glass animals, where unicorns, “extinct in the modern world,” still remain, and where any change (such as a broken horn) requires banishment. Laura’s shyness represents an emotional and social immaturity, just as her small bust suggests a lack of physical development. (Berkowitz) When Laura tries to move forward, she often finds herself back in the same spot she was to begin with.
Society cannot be a part of her, for she simply does not fit in. The world that surrounds her is replaced with her own world where glass animals talk, and nothing changes. As Laura fails to belong in society, she forgets the modern world and lives in her own. Even though the reality of modern day life has changed in the past years, Amanda believes that gentlemen callers should be an important part of her daughter’s life. What Amanda fails to realize is that Laura’s life is not like hers and that modern society has changed.
Amanda’s main focus for her daughter is gentlemen callers. It seems as if it is one of the few things she ever thinks about. She constantly tells her children about the stories of her past, where she had many gentlemen callers of her own. Sometimes, she likes to believe that Laura will soon have company and that they will have to entertain them. Amanda: It’s almost time for our gentlemen callers to start arriving. … How many do you suppose we’re going to entertain this afternoon? Laura: I don’t believe we’re going to receive any, Mother.
Amanda: What? No one – not one? You must be joking! … Not one gentleman caller? It can’t be true! There must be a flood, there must have been a tornado! Laura: It isn’t a flood, it’s not a tornado, Mother. I’m just not popular like you were in Blue Mountain…. (Williams, 10) What Amanda does not realize is that Laura is not at all like she was in her younger years: popular, full of life, and always entertaining her gentlemen callers. Some nights she would wish on the moon, hoping one day Laura would marry and live a happy life on her own.
Laura feels she is fine without any men in her life, but Amanda still believes that it is not true and that every girl needs a man to be able to truly live. She tries desperately to get Laura a gentlemen caller so she can she how wonderful it could be to have one around. Tom: I thought perhaps you wished for a gentleman caller. Amanda: Why do you say that? Tom: Don’t you remember asking me to fetch one? Amanda: I remember suggesting that it would be nice for your sister if you brought home some nice young man from the warehouse. I think that I’ve made that suggestion more than once. Williams, 40-41) When Amanda convinces her son to bring Laura home a gentleman caller from work, he does just that. Though Tom does not tell him that it is for him to meet his sister, Amanda was still excited that a man is coming over. This reveals how important Amanda thinks a gentlemen caller is for her daughter. Almost instantly, she starts preparing for him by decorating the whole apartment where he is to visit. The gentleman caller that is being expected is named Jim O’Connor. He is invited over for dinner and has no idea what is in store for him.
In Sally Boyd’s essay on Tennessee Williams, she says, “Pinning all her hopes for the future on a marriage for her daughter, Amanda asks Tom to find a suitable young man among his friends at the warehouse… Amanda is so excited over the prospect of a gentleman caller for her daughter that she practically redecorates the apartment in preparation. ” (Boyd). The gentlemen callers coming over for Laura is unsuccessful. When everything seemed right for Laura, she finds out that he is already engaged. This upset both her and Amanda. Amanda thought she had it right but things are not the same as they used to be.
Things have changed and gentlemen callers are not as common. What Amanda fails to realize is that life nowadays is different, for she still believes that gentlemen callers are important in every girl’s life, especially her daughter’s. By creating life adventures and constantly leaving to go to the movies, Tom finds he can leave the reality of his life and make his life seem more appealing. His mother does not believe that when he leaves he goes to the movies. Tom goes much too often, and always comes home really late. Tom adores adventure, and feels he can never have enough of it.
If he is not working, he is out finding adventure or watching movies. Amanda: …Laura says that you hate the apartment and that you go out nights to get away from it! Is that true, Tom? … But, why – why, Tom – are you always so restless? Where do you go to, nights? Tom: I – go to the movies. Amanda: Why do you go to the movies so much, Tom? Tom: I go to the movies because – I like adventure. Adventure is something I don’t have much of at work, so I go to the movies. Amanda: But, Tom, you go to the movies entirely too much! Tom: I like a lot of adventure. (Williams, 33)
When Tom leaves the house, he does not go anywhere but to work or the movies. His life revolves around the two of them as well as his family, who he does not care for that much. Amanda tells him how selfish he seems when he cannot do something for the family as simple as paying the lighting bill. He uses the movies as a way to escape reality. When it comes to his job he would give it up to have more adventure in his life. Leaving his job would make him more separated from reality. Tom: … For sixty-five dollars a month I give up all that I dream of doing and being ever!
And you say self – self’s all I ever think of. Why, listen, if self is what I thought of, Mother, I’d be where he is – GONE! [talking about his father. ] As far as the system of transportation reaches! Don’t grab at me, Mother! Amanda: Where are you going? … Tom: I’m going to opium dens! … I’m a hired assassin, I carry a tommy gun in a violin case! … They call me Killer, Killer Wingfield, I’m leading a double-life, a simple, honest warehouse worker by day, by night a dynamic czar of the underworld, Mother. I go to gambling casinos, I spin away fortunes on the roulette table!
I wear a patch over one eye and a false mustache, sometimes I put on green whiskers. (Williams, 23-24) Creating adventure is how he separates himself from the real world. He uses it as an excuse to run from his life problems and it provides him with a more interesting life to live. He avoids what he does not want to be part of, failing to realize that he will have to face it all eventually. His life may seem more appealing, but it is not the life he is put on this world to live. To avoid Amanda’s questions and remarks, Tom threatens to go to the movies, his characteristic way of dealing–or not dealing–with unwanted responsibilities.
The movies are an escape from the grind at the shoe warehouse where he works and the problems at the apartment; both environments seem like prisons to Tom–prisons shutting him away from his true destiny as an artist. (Fordyce) As dull as his life may seem, having to work in a warehouse and having a family that does not belong into society, he tries to put it behind him and let adventure lead him. This never seems to work for him, as he stays with his family instead of leaving them. Even though Tom attempts to forget his life, he finds adventure in movies and pretends it is part of his real life just to make his life seem more interesting.
Appearance versus reality is the main theme of The Glass Menagerie. It is shown through Laura, Amanda and Tom––all the main characters. Laura has a hard time fitting into society, and finds herself separated from it. Amanda believes that her daughter should focus her life towards gentlemen callers, for they are the most important things of life, even though currently it is not. Also, Tom is always leaving home to go out to the movies, creating adventure for himself to forget his life at home and at his work. Even though the family appears to fit in society, they lack the knowledge of the true reality.