In The Glass Menagerie, does Williams present a realistic portrait of family life or is it an exaggeration?
The play was never intended to be realistic. In fact, at the very beginning of the play Tom, in his role of narrator, says, " The play is memory....it is not realistic." He also remarks, "I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion." Since all of the stage action comes from Tom's memory, we see things from his perspective. This can be misleading because we are told Laura walks with a limp. But since Tom hardly noticed the limp, it is barely visible in the play. Tom also has a specific message he wants to bring to the audience. He tells us his message or symbol is "the long delayed but always expected something that we live for." Events are exaggerated because of the importance Tom gives them and we can never be sure we are seeing the entire truth. But the both the play and its message are intriguing and so "The Glass Menagerie" has become an audience favorite.
Williams presents The Glass Menagerie as a "memory" play. In Williams' stage directions for Part I, he wrote, "The scene is memory and is therefore nonrealistic. Memory takes a lot of poetic license." He then makes it very clear the play is is not staged in a realistic manner: "[Memory] omits some details; others are exaggerated . . . ." The only view we have of the Wingfields is the family dynamic as Tom remembers it. It is through Tom's selective and emotional memories that Williams develops his themes of isolation, loneliness, and longing.