In The Glass Menagerie, what inner conflicts create tension in the family?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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It is Tom Wingfield's inner conflict that creates the major tension in the family and functions as the driving conflict in the play. Tom is torn between his responsibility to his mother and sister and his desires and dreams. Working at a mind-numbing factory job, Tom longs for a life that takes him into the world, far beyond the dingy walls of his family's Depression-era St. Louis apartment. His frustrations are reflected in his desire to write and his attempts to escape his reality by drinking and going to the movies. Tom does not suffer in silence; his restlessness and resentment poison his relationship with his mother and often frighten and distress his sister.

Amanda's inner conflict is less evident than her external conflicts with Tom and Laura. There is some evidence, however, that Amanda does not enjoy seeing Tom "held prisoner" in their home. She thinks a gentleman caller for Laura would be the means through which Tom can claim the life he wants. Her recognition of her son's needs conflicts with her fear of abandonment. Amanda functions in the mode of economic survival. Her absent husband's picture hanging in the apartment reminds her daily that Tom is the family's only financial support.

Laura's internal conflict exists between her fear of disappointing her mother and her inability to function in the world. The incident in which Amanda spends precious funds to send Laura to business school reveals Laura's emotional turmoil in this regard. Laura understands the sacrifice, but she simply cannot bear to do what her mother wants her to do. She drops out, but keeps her actions from Amanda, until the truth is revealed.

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