Symbolic illustration of Laura's hands holding a glass unicorn

The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams

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What are the main conflicts in The Glass Menagerie?

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Main conflicts in The Glass Menagerie include fantasy versus reality, Tom's desire to leave home versus his family's financial dependency on him, and the role middle-class women are trained for as dependents versus the reality of economic needs.

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A major conflict in The Glass Menagerie is that of fantasy versus reality. Amanda does not want to live in reality because it is too harsh for her to deal with, so she reverts to fantasies that buttress her damaged ego and help keep her hopes alive in a desperate situation. Laura also retreats into a fantasy world where she doesn't have to deal with her mother or her own sense of inadequacy as a "cripple."

Amanda was raised to marry, like most women of her era, and to depend on her husband to support her, but this path is shattered when her husband abandons the family. She has also been used to middle-class comfort, but this reality is shattered by the Great Depression and the lack of opportunities for an uneducated woman to make a living in this context. Her notion of what life should be is in constant conflict with the reality she is forced to face.

Another conflict in the play is Tom's desire for freedom from a dysfunctional family running up against the reality that he is the main financial support of his mother and sister. He wants to get away from his mother and the pressure of the past that is ever present living with her, but he knows this will leave the women in a terrible predicament.

A third conflict is the societal expectations placed on women in this period to be gracious wives and mothers, which runs up against the reality of economic needs. It is easy to fault Amanda for being a manipulative martyr who drove her husband away as she does her son, but we might also see her as a character in conflict with circumstances that leave her with few choices and unequipped for life.

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In The Glass Menagerie, what inner conflicts create tension in the family?

Tom's conflicts are perhaps the most obvious in the play, so a focus on the self-delusions of Amanda and Laura offer an alternate perspective on tensions within the Wingfield family.

In addition to her conflicted feelings about Tom's future (the maternal desire to see her son happy and fulfilled versus her fear of what his absence would mean for herself and Laura), Amanda is unable to accept the truth about herself: she is no longer the sought-after Southern belle she once was, if we are to believe her reminiscences. The truth is, she is a middle-aged, abandoned wife barely making ends meet who is a burden to her son and a pest to the people to whom she tries to sell magazines.  Her clothes are cheap and out of style, yet she tries to convince herself that she is popular, well-dressed, successful, and a model parent. Amanda lives a delusional existence conflicting with reality that also extends to her belief that she can marry off her daughter to a suitable "gentleman caller."

Laura's conflict is perhaps even more tragic than her mother's, and in some ways is similar.  She, too, exists in a state in conflict with reality.  She believes, briefly, that Jim O'Connor will see past her physical, social, and emotional handicaps and fall in love with her.  Their kiss feeds her short-lived delusion, which makes his ultimate rejection all the more tragic.  Her longtime devotion to high school memories centered around him is not honored, despite how she has preserved them in her mind.

The unrealized hopes of Amanda and Laura create tension between the two women and place a heavy burden on Tom, who has hopes of his own that he intends to pursue.

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In The Glass Menagerie, what inner conflicts create tension in the family?

It is Tom Wingfield's inner conflict that creates the major tension in the family and functions as the driving conflict in the play. Tom is torn between his responsibility to his mother and sister and his desires and dreams. Working at a mind-numbing factory job, Tom longs for a life that takes him into the world, far beyond the dingy walls of his family's Depression-era St. Louis apartment. His frustrations are reflected in his desire to write and his attempts to escape his reality by drinking and going to the movies. Tom does not suffer in silence; his restlessness and resentment poison his relationship with his mother and often frighten and distress his sister.

Amanda's inner conflict is less evident than her external conflicts with Tom and Laura. There is some evidence, however, that Amanda does not enjoy seeing Tom "held prisoner" in their home. She thinks a gentleman caller for Laura would be the means through which Tom can claim the life he wants. Her recognition of her son's needs conflicts with her fear of abandonment. Amanda functions in the mode of economic survival. Her absent husband's picture hanging in the apartment reminds her daily that Tom is the family's only financial support.

Laura's internal conflict exists between her fear of disappointing her mother and her inability to function in the world. The incident in which Amanda spends precious funds to send Laura to business school reveals Laura's emotional turmoil in this regard. Laura understands the sacrifice, but she simply cannot bear to do what her mother wants her to do. She drops out, but keeps her actions from Amanda, until the truth is revealed.

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