In Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie, what is the connection between the lights going out at dinner, the candelabrum, and Jim's realization? Also what do they have to do with...

In Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie, what is the connection between the lights going out at dinner, the candelabrum, and Jim's realization? Also what do they have to do with performance? 

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

On scene 7 of the play The Glass Menagerie we find the Wingfield's, Amanda, Tom, and Laura, hosting a dinner for Jim O'Connor; a former high school super star of whom Laura is quite fond, and for whom mother Amanda imposes upon Tom to bring to dinner in order to try to kindle a romance for Laura. 

It is interesting that, right as the lamp's "rose shades" cast upon the self-deprecating Laura a light that brought out her hidden beauty,  the lights abruptly go off in the house. 

The new floor lamp with its shade of rose-coloured silk gives a soft, becoming light to her face, bringing out the fragile, unearthly prettiness which usually escapes attention.

The lights go off because Tom did not pay the utility bill as he was supposed to. At this point, the Wingfield's finances are as weak and endangered as their inner dynamics. Amanda's histrionic behavior and Laura's extreme social phobia tax heavily on Tom who, as the only male in the household, struggles with the dichotomy of wanting to support his mother and sister and, at the same time, wanting to leave the household forever like his father did.

Jim's visit to the household is a welcome change after the tribulations of the family. To Amanda, however, it is her highest bet for her daughter finding a husband to take care of her. 

Many connections can be made from the interaction with the lights.

The first, is what was said before about the lights shining on Laura's beauty only to fade away almost instantly into darkness. In a similar way, Laura's only romantic moment in her entire life--that night with Jim-- would quickly fade and she will return to oblivion. 

The second connection is that, when Laura gives Jim the candelabrum, she tells a story that came with it. It was melted out of shape due to lightning striking the church where it was first used. Yet, Amanda is adamant that this will be another chance for Jim and Laura to strike conversation over candlelight. It somewhat works, for a while, Jim and Laura engage in deep conversation, dance, and even kiss.

Regardless of the outcome, their special moment was still happening under the fake environment of romance created by the candles: the romance that grows between Jim and Laura is as flickering as the lights of the candles; it will end, similarly, just as quickly. 

It all comes now to Tom's realization. After he finally leaves the family, he realizes that, no matter where he goes, the memory of his sister still lingers in his mind. He asks her to "blow off her candle", which is basically the same as asking two things: a) for something to remove her memory from his mind, and b) for her to wake up from her current situation, where her inner light and self-love are as weak and flickering as the lights of those candles.

Tom notes that this is a different world; 

- for nowadays the world is lit by lightning ! Blow out your candles, Laura - and so good-bye.

As you can see the main connection consists on the weak and uncertain way upon which candles shine their light, which is comparable to other weak things, namely, the dynamics of the Wingfields, Laura's entire being, and Amanda's hope for the future. All are sporadic and, like candlelights, go back into darkness. 

Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lights are definitely used very symbolically in Tennessee Williams's play The Glass Menagerie. Since the play is a "memory play," the whole set is dimly lit, as if lit by candlelight. For the most part, lights, particularly candlelight, symbolize longing for the past, since the past is merely seen by the characters as a glorified illusion.

We can clearly see Williams's use of candlelight to symbolize the illusions of the past when Amanda, the mother, makes light of the electricity going out, since Tom did not pay the electric bill, by making a joke about pretending they are living in the past, as we see when she says, "We'll just have to spend the remainder of the evening in the nineteenth century" (I.vii). What's more she still holds a flame in her heart for the husband that deserted and longs for her past girlhood; hence, the candles symbolize the past she yearns for.

When talking alone with Laura, even Jim mentions that "wonderful write-up" he was given in their school yearbook titled The Torch, a title representative of a stronger hand-held light than a candle, that said he was "bound to succeed in anything [he] went into" (V.vii). Yet Jim is not successful, not yet. Jim works in the same shoe factory with Tom though Jim has a higher position than Tom. Jim even admits he is disappointed with what he has done in the past six years. Hence, even for Jim, light, especially candlelight, represents his past illusions of hopes and dreams. Plus, Laura is a part of his high school past since they were at school together, and he was the only one Laura was on speaking terms with. Hence, when the lights go out, and Laura is lit by nothing but candlelight, Jim feels a connection between himself, Laura, and his greater past, which makes him realize that, as he says, Laura is different, "different from anyone else [he] knows!" He even calls her pretty and kisses her even though he is actually engaged to another woman.

But unlike either Amanda or Laura, Jim is ambitious and devotedly working on self-improvement through learning public speaking so that he might one day land a job in higher management or, as he hints to Laura, in television. So, even though he has just kissed Laura, he knows that he must continue working away from his glorified past, which was nothing but an illusion, towards the future. It is because he has an ambitious drive to create a better future that he is able to advise Laura to gain more self-confidence. He promptly leaves after kissing her because he realizes he must continue to pursue the future, not the past. Laura too, based on Tom's command in his final speech--"Blow out your candles, Laura--and so good-bye"--is also able to "blow" out her past and embrace the future due to her ultimately encouraging moment with Jim.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tennessee Williams' play, "The Glass Menagerie" is the story of a deeply flawed family, consisting of a mother Amanda Wingfield, who has been abandoned by her alcoholic husband, her emotionally frail and crippled daughter Laura, and her son Tom, the narrator of the play. Amanda is convinced that the solution to the problem of Laura's future would be marriage, and tries to persuade Tom to bring eligible men from work to dinner and introduce them to Laura. After resisting for some time, Tom invites Jim O'Connor, a friend from the shoe factory where he works. It turns out that Laura knew, and had a crush on, Jim in high school, and he vaguely remembers her. 

During dinner, the lights go out. Amanda thinks that it could be a fault in the fuse box, and sets up a candlelit dinner which she thinks is romantic. In many ways it recalls to her the old south of her youth, and allows her to perform her idyllic imagined past as a southern belle. The real reason for the lights going out was that Tom used the money intended to pay the electricity bill to sign up with the merchant marine so he could leave home permanently. Although he leaves, as he thinks back, he realizes that one cannot ever truly leave home because it is always with you in memory.

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The Glass Menagerie

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