What are some of the themes of The Glass Menagerie?
One of the major themes of this play is that of illusion. All the major characters live in some kind of illusory world, in order to escape from painful reality. Amanda reminisces endlessly about her gilded youth in the South, Laura takes refuge in her world of little glass animals and old records, and Tom harbours romantic notions of running away to sea.
Even Jim, who appears more in touch with normal reality than the Wingfield family, basks in glowingly naive visions. Having seen an exhibition which showcases technological advancements, he waxes lyrical on his own prospects and those of the country as whole:
Gives you an idea of what the future will be in America, even more wonderful than the present time is! (scene 7)
Jim is actually not much better off than the Wingfields in terms of social and financial success, and the play continually stresses the grim economic conditions of the time and the ominous threat of world war looming on the horizon, but Jim shows no awareness of such things, or perhaps chooses to ignore them.
Another important theme is that of the family, with its attendant notions of family responsibility and conflict. The tensions within the Wingfield household, and particularly the conflict between Tom and Amanda, dominate almost every scene. Tom resents the burden of family responsibility placed upon him; he has to sacrifice his own dreams to financially provide for the family, and also has to help Laura get settled, which is not easy as Laura is so shy. Amanda, too, is constantly pre-occupied with trying to ensure her daughter’s future, and lashes out at Tom for not doing more to help all of them.
There are also frequent reminders of the absent father, who deserted his role as head of the household; and Tom is finally driven to follow in his footsteps, although he can never shed his family memories and sense of guilt at abandoning his sister.