How does religion relate to the major theme of the play The Glass Menagerie?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As an Expressionistic play, The Glass Menagerie is replete with symbolism and imagery.  Much of this imagery, such as the religious imagery, serves to underscore the theme of Appearance vs. Reality. Certainly, the characters exist in imaginary worlds throughout the play.  For instance, Tom imagines what his future can be, Laura retreats to the imaginary world of the glass animals, and Amanda romanticizes about her past and imagines the possibilities for Laura if she can only find a "gentleman caller" for her.

This idealistic solution of Amanda for her daughter is depicted by Tennessee Williams with the relgious imagery associated with the scene in which Amanda prepares Laura for the dinner to which the gentleman caller--a modern day savior--will come.  The set directions state that "a fragile, unearthly prettiness has come out in Laura."  Like the Madonna, Laura is detached from reality.  And, like the Madonna, she awaits the announcement that her savior is coming.  The music in the background is the Ave Maria as Amanda kneels before Laura, adjusting her dress "devout and ritualistic."  There is a radiance that emanates from Laura as she solemnly looks at herself, suggesting the illusions created in her mind.

After the lights go out because Tom--who refers to him as "El Diablo"--has not paid the light bill, candles are lighted in a candelabrum, suggestive of those on an altar.  Stage directions describe this part of the scene as "the climax of her [Laura's] secret life."  As Jim talks with Laura, she relaxes and enjoys herself; she has "a warmth and charm which lights her inwardly with altar candles."  But, the ceremonious moments end when Jim informs Laura that he is engaged,

The holy candles in the altar of Laura's face have been snuffed out.  There is a look of almost infite desolation.

The unearthly night is at its end.  Laura and Amanda and Tom are again faced with reality and Amanda accuses Tom, "You live in a dream; you manufacture illusions!" Tom escapes through the fire escape, and Laura blows out the candles, ending the play, and thereby also ending the illusions of unattainable dreams, as unattainable as the religious perfection of the Madonna.

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