In "The Glass menagerie", how does the kind of language Tom uses as a narrator differ from what he uses as a character?

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appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tom's mode of speech does display slight differences, depending upon whether he is playing himself in the action, or playing himself as a narrator. As narrator, he has a kind of omniscience, in that he knows what has already happened into the future. Physically, his placement on the stage can indicate his status. For example, in the first act, he stands apart from a scene with Amanda while she continues speaking to his chair as if he is seated there in the room.

Tom's words are more sophisticated and his sentence structure is more elaborate when he is the narrator. When speaking to his mother, he is often frustrated and angry, and speaks in short bursts:

I haven't enjoyed one bite of this dinner because of your constant directions on how to eat it. It's you that makes me rush through meals with your hawk-like attention to every bite I take. Sickening - spoils my appetite - all this discussion of - animals' secretion - salivary glands - mastication!

In this speech, Tom is also mocking his mother's rather pretentious and formal way of speaking; yet his own speech is formal and pretentious when he becomes the narrator. This suggests a dramatic parallel and also a similarity he shares with his mother: Amanda lives in a sort of fantasy world, reliving her youth and hoping her daughter will marry a handsome boy she knew in school. That fantasy world is embodied with lofty language. Amanda says Tom's father had "charm" and, like his father, Tom leaves Amanda and Laura behind.

As narrator, Tom criticizes his mother for pressuring Laura to follow a path she's not suited for:

After the fiasco at Rubicam's Business College, the idea of getting a gentleman caller for Laura began to play a more and more important part in Mother's calculations. It became an obsession. Like some archetype of the universal unconscious, the image of the gentleman caller haunted our small apartment.

Throughout the play, Tom also speaks of dreams and fantasies with the same sort of dreamy distraction his mother does. Tom, however, knows these dreams never amounted to anything and acknowledges his own shortcomings. When he says "And so, goodnight" at the end of the play, it's a way of closing the book on those dreams, but also understanding that Laura's daily existence was a peaceful one. She would wake up the next day and be as content as she had been before, once she let go of her mother's unrealistic expectations. Tom could not continue to live with his family; like his father, he sought escape. The images of night and day in the play reiterate this idea of daily life's reality versus the long-range hopes and dreams of a lifetime.

parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Tom addresses the audience, his speech is much more erudite and lofty than when he simply talks to Amanda, Laura, and Jim in the play. His age difference and his experience gleaned throughout the years easily account for this discrepancy. Although the exact time lapse is unknown, Tom is definitely a more mature man than he is in his role as a breadwinner living with his mother and sister against his will.

Form is also determined by function. Whereas the speech throughout the play is natural, spontaneous dialogue, Tom's language to the audience is more like 'a speech' or public address. The form Tom chooses is a deliberate one; he takes a certain poetic license when narrating the story. (The true "Shakespeare" in Tom finally comes out!) In the opening lines, he explains that unlike a magician, he is representing fact as a kind of fantasy, modulated and toned even as memory is never really an exact "replica" of the true event it represents.

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The Glass Menagerie

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