Symbolic illustration of Laura's hands holding a glass unicorn

The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams
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In Tennesse William's The Glass Menagerie, how do Tom's explanations and comments about his family life affect you? Describe.

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This is a question asking how you (I assume) feel about Tom (in Tennessee William's play, The Glass Menagerie) and his family life, based on his comments and descriptions.

To answer this question, you need to review Tom's interactions with his family—to some extent about Laura and his absent father, but primarily with regard to Amanda, Tom's mother. I would think about Tom's frustrations, his dreams and his responsibilities—and how he responds to them: for they very much involve his family. 

Tom has dreams, but caring for his family keeps him from pursuing them. He says to his mother:

You think I'm crazy about the warehouse? You think I'm in love with the Continental Shoemakers? You think I want to spend fifty-five years down there in that—celotex interior! with—fluorescenttubes? Look! I'd rather somebody picked up a crowbar and battered out my brains—than go back mornings!

Tom's sense of frustration at his inability to pursue his dreams is also relayed in the quotation above. The fact that he continues to go to that job shows that however unwillingly he does so, he is assuming responsibilities for the family.

I would think you might also want to consider Tom's description of the ghost—the "specter"—that haunts this unhappy family. Amanda is concerned that her daughter marries. Her desire to see this happen hovers over their apartment all the time.

...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.

This introduces a sense of "unreality," a devoutly hoped-for wish. In responding to how Tom's life affects you, I would include addressing the need for wishes that show little evidence of ever coming many things in Tom's life, it would seem. And while this is not one of Tom's dreams, it is something that greatly affects the quality of his life.

And last, I would address how Tom might feel with his father gone. The father worked for the phone company. The "sad joke" is that he "fell in love with long distances" (a pun on long distance phone calls) and travels, but no one knows where. He has been gone sixteen years. He abandoned the family, and Tom has had to take his place as the provider. Tom's feelings about his father and/or his mother's perception of him as his father's son are harshly expressed:

I'm like my father. The bastard son of a bastard! Did you notice how he's grinning in his picture in there? And he's been absent going on sixteen years!

To fill out your perceptions of Tom, you might want to explore his concerns, as he expresses them to his mother, about Laura. Or you might want to revisit his farewell to Laura in his lines at the end of the play.

Only by studying Tom's world can you offer your opinions of how these things make you feel. I would also suggest that you read the character description of Tom. (The link is listed below.) Your personal response, based upon Tom's feelings, will provide the basis for your thoughts about the play's narrator.

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