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Amanda, Laura and Tom Wingfield are living in a rundown apartment, struggling to make ends meet and seemingly with few contacts to the outside world. They each take refuge in a world of fantasy and imagined fulfillment in order to escape the harshness of reality. These worlds to which they retreat all very different, reflecting their differing natures.
Tom’s form of escape is to go to the cinema. He seems to do this very often, which annoys Amanda. However, it is the only place where he can find the kind of adventure he so craves. During his quarrel with Amanda he lashes out by casting himself in a series of lurid personas obviously borrowed from the movies, as a ‘hired assassin’, and 'a dynamic czar of the underworld', and so on (scene 3). However, by the end of the play, he admits that he’s tired of this pastime and instead goes off to seek adventure in real life, by running away to sea. It does seem, however, that he never finds the fulfillment he dreamed of in this kind of roving life; he continues to feel guilty about deserting his family. He never quite escapes reality of his family situation, therefore.
Amanda, meanwhile, takes refuge in her visions of her past, when she was a lively and popular girl in the South. Although she knows that that time has ‘gone completely’ (scene 6) she incessantly recalls it. It seems she needs these memories to sustain her, as her present existence is lonely and dreary. Her constant chatter about her youth, and in particular the memory of an afternoon when she had no fewer than seventeen gentlemen callers, exasperates Tom. However, she is not entirely lost in her memories. She also faces up to the practicalities of running her present household, trying to earn more money, and in particular planning her daughter’s future.
Of all the Wingfields, it is Laura who appears to be most entrenched in her own fantasy world – a strange and fragile world of glass. She seems to spend her days literally doing nothing more than tending to her glass menagerie and playing music, and whenever she does have to venture into the outside world, she suffers acutely. Amanda complains that it’s no ‘life .... for a girl to lead’ (scene 4) but Laura seems perfectly satisfied with it. She has apparently withdrawn from the real world on account of being slightly crippled from childhood. However, we can see ifrom her scene with Jim that maybe all she really needs is someone to pay attention to her to draw her out of herself. Unfortunately, though, none of the Wingfields really seem capable of establishing connections in society.
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