What ironies do you see in the title of the play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Willaims?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Certainly, authors select titles for their works with both the explicit and the implicit meanings in mind.  Tenessee Williams's play, The Glass Menagerie has a title replete with meanings, some of which establish incongruities between what seems to be and what is real, or ironies. 

  • On the surface, of course, the title is that of the collection of little glass wild animals kept by Laura as one of her forms of escape from the realities that threaten her; that is, as a form of illusion.  The implicit meaning of the title is that the members of the family, Laura, Tom, and Amanda, are themselves enclosed in the glass of illusion, an illusion that disguises the truth. Their enclosure is self-imposed, however.  Laura, for instance, shies away from being with the public; she cannot complete her course at the Rubicund Business School and retreats to the zoo and home. Tom, too, is unable to face reality; he dreams of writing and escapes reality by going to the movies. Amanda, the mother, lives for her children, but with her constant berating of Tom especially, she drives her son away.  Thus, for the characters of the play, Laura's and Tom's  truths of becoming something are disguised as illusions as are Amanda's memories of her past and all her gentleman callers. It is, therefore, ironic that the animals are held captive in glass when the family's enclosure of illusion is self-imposed.
  • And, although Tom feels that he strikes out on his own, he and Laura and Amanda, while enclosed in their illusions, are not a "menagerie"; instead, they are very much alike. Tom, also, proves that he is much like his father, as well, when he abandons his family. 
  • When he leaves the group and Tom looks through the screen of the stage directions, he is ironically yet part of the family--unlike the unicorn who has "broken" free--as he muses,

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.

  • While the glass unicorn has escaped physically, Tom has also, but, ironically, he cannot escape psychologically.

 

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