Explain the significance of one speech in The Glass Menagerie.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tom's opening speech that provides the background to the drama is significant in a couple of ways.  The first is that it establishes the drama's trajectory.  Being able to provide the guidance as a narrator figure, we are introduced to the Wingfield family through Tom's eyes.  It is significant that he leads us through this exploration.  He does not glorify himself in this process, but rather details a family whose internal struggle defines the emotional cruelty and interplay we are to witness:

I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it. The other characters are my mother, Amanda, my sister, Laura, and a gentleman caller who appears in the final scenes. He is the most realistic character in the play, being an emissary from a world of reality that we were somehow set apart from. But since I have a poet’s weakness for symbols, I am using this character also as a symbol; he is the long delayed but always expected something that we live for.

Another layer of significance is how the speech is constructed.   The first part of it is factual, almost undeniable.  There is a listing of characters and it is almost nonchalant in its description.  To an extent, Williams uses to this to represent the Wingfield family.  On face value, they seem no different than any other American family.  Yet, as the speech continues, the symbolic analysis emerges.  The discussion of "a world of reality" and being distant, as well as the notion of "something long delayed, but always expected something that we live for" become evident in this description.  This is significant because the speech makes a pivot from the literal to the symbolic, from what is true and verifiable to what is difficult to ascertain.  This parallels how the reader comes to understand the Wingfield family.  On surface, they seem quite typical.  As the drama unfolds, they will become more complex and more dynamic, representing the polarities of human emotional experience on an intimate level.

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The Glass Menagerie

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