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?

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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