Symbolic illustration of Laura's hands holding a glass unicorn

The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams

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Elaborate on the concept of the American dream in The Glass Menagerie.

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The concept of the American Dream in The Glass Menagerie is presented as somewhat mythical and therefore unattainable. Amanda wants both her children to fulfill the American Dream, which is to work hard and become successful, but they're unable to do so, largely because the Dream has been imposed on them by their mother. Her dreams and theirs don't match up.

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The American Dream is a perfectly valid, commendable goal. Working hard and becoming successful is what most people, American or otherwise, want for themselves, and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie is no different. She wants both her children to be successful in life, in a way that she herself has never been. Just like those men who fail at sports and then try to live out what might have been by hothousing their kids to achieve sporting stardom, Amanda is effectively pushing her dreams on her children.

But this is a big mistake. Tom, for his part, is simply not cut out for the kind of life his mother envisages for him. He's much too artistic, too sensitive to make his living in the cut and thrust world of American capitalism. Instead, he wants to make it as a writer, which is much more in keeping with his talents and sensibilities.

As for Laura, it's utterly ridiculous to expect such a painfully shy, withdrawn young lady to achieve the American Dream when she won't even set foot outside of the house. Yet Amanda, flying in the face of overwhelming evidence, still believes that Laura will one day snag herself a rich, successful man and live out the American Dream.

In both cases, Amanda is imposing the American Dream on her children, neither of whom, for different reasons, are able to achieve it. For Tom and Laura, then, it is nothing more than a myth, unrealistic and unattainable in equal measure.

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The essential concept of the American Dream touches the lives of many characters in The Glass Menagerie. The idea that the opportunity to achieve one's aspirations is within reach of all Americans is, Tennessee Williams suggests, more of a myth than a reality.

Though Amanda Wingfield believes that her son and daughter can rise in society and become self-supporting and successful, her thinking is delusive. Laura is too psychologically and physically frail to become independent. Tom Wingfield does not buy into the idea that becoming a successful businessman will be proof of a successful life; he is an artist who wants to pursue his passion for writing, which is unlikely to bring the kind of success associated with the American Dream.

Another aspect of the American Dream is having a close and loving family. The Wingfields' relationships, however, are dysfunctional. The father left the family years before, and Tom resents the responsibilities that his mother tries to foist upon him. Laura is pathetic and a burden to both her mother and brother.

This memory play set in the 1930's captures the desperation of the years of the Great Depression, a period of America's history in which achieving the American Dream was particularly unlikely for most people.

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Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie has many themes, and one of them certainly concerns what is known as the "American dream."  This is the belief that in America one should be able to do or be anything.  In this play, many characters fail to live up to their potential, but only one is bold enough to take any real action toward his goal.

Amanda is a southern lady who finds herself as single working mother struggling to make ends meet.  She has two jobs and is able, with Tom's help, to provide for her family.  This is not what she envisioned as her the American dream.  In her world, gentlemen callers come to visit, daughters make suitable marriages, and all material needs are met.  None of that happens for Amanda in the end.

Laura is a fragile girl who is certainly bright enough to learn a skill and have a career, but she doesn't have the temperament to do so.  She will probably never marry and achieve anything through that relationship; nor will she find satisfaction in any kind of work.  Laura will live her life essentially unfulfilled.  No American dream for her.

Jim talks as if he's actually going to be what he sees himself being one day, but his reality is far less productive.  He had everything going for him in high school, but years later he's simply another warehouse worker who has hopes for something bigger than he will probably achieve.  His American dream is not particularly fruitful.

Tom is the only one who is utterly dissatisfied with his life.  He's weary of his demanding (and annoying) mother; he's weary of working in a warehouse; he's weary of getting little personal benefit from his earnings; he's weary of having to "hide" his creativity; and he's weary of staying where he has always been.  He wants nothing more than to escape, to travel, to write, and to be free.  That's his dream.  At the expense of the people he loves, he does pursue that dream.  He does escape, he does travel, we presume he is able to write--but we're fairly certain he's not really free.  In the final scene of the play, as Laura blows out the candles, Tom is still connected to his past and we know he will never be totally free. His American dreamhas only partially come to fruition.

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The concept of the American Dream is evident in both Tom, the protagonist, and Jim, the former high school hero.

In Tom the American Dream is evidenced in his inability to settle down, make a concrete living, establish himself as a family man and just set a safe anchor towards "making it" for the future.

In Jim, the American Dream seems to have faded in his past, when he was a promising football player, and was thought to be the student with the most promising future at school. 

Since the story develops in post-depression America, we can see why the dreams of both men seem to have left them, and how they had to make due of whatever they had. America had changed in front of their very eyes, and their futures dropped with the drop in the economy. Their American Dreams will have to wait.

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