Symbolic illustration of Laura's hands holding a glass unicorn

The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams

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What are the similarities between Tom and his father in The Glass Menagerie?

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The major similarity between Tom and his father is that Tom, like his father would like to leave his family. Amanda, his mother, suggests a number of ways in which his habits remind her of his father, but it is his hope to get out of the house and the city that mostly resembles his father. On the other hand, Tom is a thoughtful young man who writes poetry and reads D.H. Lawrence, which gives him an air of sensitivity that his father does not seem to have had. Tom has a sense of duty to his family as well, evidence by his agreement to bring his friend Jim to the house to meet Laura. The fact that Tom is bound by his family, like his father was, does not necessarily mean the reader should draw a moral equivalence between the two. It was his father's desire to break this bond that shackled Tom to his dysfunctional family. On the other hand, Tom is willing to make his escape, which he must have known would throw his family into turmoil, and indeed, he does leave at the end of the play. Presumably unlike his father, he has a few regrets, especially about abandoning his disabled sister:

I descended the steps of this fire escape for a last time and followed, from then on, in my father’s footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space. . . . I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something. . . . I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!

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The first reference to Tom Wingfield's father is a description of the photograph of him in the apartment; he is wearing a WWI soldier's hat. Immediately following that description, Tom Wingfield is described as "dressed as a merchant sailor." Both father and son have left home at some point in their lives to travel as a serviceman.

Tom Wingfield is desperate to leave the home of his mother and sister. He feels stifled by his job and the responsibilities of looking after his mother and a sister who may never be able to live on her own. Like his father, the man Amanda Wingfield describes as "A telephone man who - fell in love with long distance," Tom ultimately leaves Amanda and Laura behind to pursue what he really wants in life. At the end of the play when Tom once again addresses the audience, he acknowledges that he has followed "in my father's footsteps" and abandoned his mother and sister.

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Tom is like his father in that he wants to run away from his problems. He tries to escape through...

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drinking and movies. Of course, Amanda, his mother, is nagging and hard to please. She finds fault with Tom and possibly is the reason he wants to leave home.

Understandably, Tom is under much pressure. He has to support his mother and sister. In return, his mother complains and insists that he help her find a suitor for Laura. Tom does his best. He brings home Jim. Jim and Laura share an intimate moment before Jim reveals that he is engage.

Learning of Jim's engagement status, Amanda attacks Tom for not knowing that Jim was engaged. Tom has taken all he can take. He runs away from home. The play is his memory of his mother and Laura.

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Is Tom similar to Jim in any aspect of The Glass Menagerie     

At a first glace, it is tempting to jump to a quick conclusion and declare that Jim is a foil of Tom in that they are contemporaries but Jim is more stable and mature than Tom.

However, when you take a second look at the two men, there may be more than meets the eye. Maybe they have the same problems, but they deal with them differently. Yet, there may be more in common between them than we think.

First, although Jim was once a class leader, an athlete, and the most likely to succeed in hi youth, the economy made it almost impossible for Jim to reach the goals he may have set out in life. Moreover, Jim really does not accomplish much after high school. Could he be still living under the glitz and the glory of the past? Has he really made plans for his future? How come he ended up basically in the same spot as Tom who has experienced neither glory nor glitz in life. Ever!

Second, we know that Jim had at some point demonstrates his feelings for Laura. Yet, he is engaged to be married. He does not allow his obvious feelings for Laura to change the course of his life. Yet, it seems as if the only vestige that Jimmy has kept from his past is sticking to discipline rather than exploring himself as a person. He is the type of person meant to get things done.

Tom is the opposite in terms of discipline: He escapes reality, drinks and goes to the movies. He is the typical child raised without structure. However,  he too sees how life can shatter dreams, and he also lives somewhat in the edge. However Tom has never been as great as Jim. This means that Tom has less to lose in life even if he chooses not to move further on.

In the end, Jim demonstrates that he is the least conformist. He actually moves away from it all. Not even Jim could do this. That is a lot to say for Tom. It certainly makes him a quite courageous character.

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