Describe each character's world in "The Glass Menagerie".

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that you might be better set to provide a bit more background into your question, but I think I can attempt to articulate a vision of Tennessee Williams' characterizations.  I think a good way to begin this would be with how Williams, himself, describes the world of his characters:

"There are no 'good' or 'bad' people. Some are a little better or a little worse but all are activated more by misunderstanding than malice. A blindness to what is going on in each other's hearts. Stanley sees Blanche not as a desperate, driven creature backed into a last corner to make a last desperate stand - but as a calculating bitch with 'round heels'.... Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see each other in life." (Tennessee Williams in Elia Kazan's autobiography A Life, 1988)

In many ways, this statement identifies much about the world in which Williams' characters live.  They are immersed in their own sphere of reality, which prevents them from fully embracing another.  Essentially, he sees his characters as individuals who are engaged in their own monologues, precluding them from embracing any hopeful or constructive dialogue.  I believe there he is hopeful that his characters are able to step out of their monologue based world and into another, but also understands that this might be tempered by a desire for social conformity.  I think Williams pits the issue of social conformity against this notion of hearing other characters and feels that society's desire for human beings to "be normal" plays a role in why we are unable to step outside our own monologues.  This might be motivated from his own experiences with his sister's mental illness and his parents' approach to "normalize" her.  Williams is credited with the line:  "Too rare to be normal."  The natural inclination for human beings to exist in their own spheres of reality coupled with a socially driven hope for mainstream acceptance combines for worlds where monologues and preclusion of real dialogue exist.  A part of these characters' worlds is this blindness to others, the inability to listen to another person's suffering.  We can sense these themes in much of Williams's work. Examine the relationship between characters in his prominent works such as Glass Menagerie, Streetcar, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Where do we see blindness to one another or the inability to hear another person?  Where do we see characters immersed in their own predicaments, unable to step outside of them?  Perhaps, through his works, Williams is trying to get us, in our own worlds, to sense "what is going on in each other's hearts."

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The three principle characters in The Glass Menagerie are Amanda Wingfield, Tom Wingfield and Laura Wingfield.

Amanda, the mother of Tom and Laura, world is defined by her past experiences when she was a girl in the Blue Mountains. Amanda clings to the past, particularly to a story that she tells over and over about how she had 17 gentleman callers one Sunday afternoon.  Her life is dominated by her memories of a past that is probably exaggerated and the fact that she is an abandoned wife.

Abandoned by her husband years earlier, Amanda raised her two children alone in an era when there was no government support, no welfare programs, no food stamps.  She more than likely had to depend on the generosity of family and whatever little jobs she could get in order to survive financially.  Now, her son Tom pays the bills in the household, and Amanda is consumed with the idea of getting Laura a husband.

Amanda's world is dominated by her concern for her children, now adults, Tom is 22 and Laura 24, and what there future will be, particularly Laura's since she is slightly crippled and has no prospects for a husband and has no job.

Amanda's preoccupation with her children also shape their world, particularly Tom's world.  Tom, an angry, bitter, young man, who both admires and resents his absent father, is miserable.  He works in a shoe factory warehouse to support his family, while dreaming of becoming a writer.  Tom is also eager to escape the confining apartment where his mother constantly instructs him on how to live his life.  She is controlling, demanding and is driven by the terrible thought that Tom will turn out like his father.  Tom's world is rounded out with his nightly trips to the movies, a habit that his mother despises.

Laura's world revolves around her glass collection, or glass menagerie.  Laura is a young woman who is totally content to stay in the house, or apartment, and simply listen to the old record player that her father left behind and polish her glass figures.  Laura is terribly shy and is lacking in self-confidence.  Her mother takes the lead in trying to shape her future, first by enrolling her business college in an attempt to help her get skilled enough to secure a job so she could support herself, and then when that fails, Amanda puts all her efforts into finding Laura a husband.

Laura's shyness is more of a handicap than her physical disability that is barely noticeable.  She is easily dominated by her mother, less resistant than Tom.

Read the study guide:
The Glass Menagerie

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