Individuality vs. responsibility is the dichotomy that the play explores. Tom and Amanda have different opinions on whether their lives should be controlled by individual rights or responsibility. Tom has been put in a position of caring for his family, and his job is the family’s means of financial support. He often thinks of running away and escaping his situation; however, Tom realizes that if he leaves, his mother and sister will not have anyone to support them. Amanda does whatever she can to remind Tom of his responsibility to the family; in terms of her own sense of responsibility, she seeks to find Laura an appropriate suitor who will take care of them both in case Tom ends up leaving the family. Tom is for the most part unhappy about his responsibility to Amanda and Laura and feels like he has not made something of his life because the ties to his family prevent him from seeking his individual freedom. So, the play seems to suggest that individual rights should come first.
Rights and responsibilities are intertwined to the point of there being no separation possible. Tom's right to a career and future of his own choosing must be balanced against his responsibilities to Amanda and Laura. Neither woman is capable of maintaining a life of their own; their both utterly dependent upon Tom.
Any person in the "sandwich" generation can relate perfectly to this situation. An adult child wants the freedom to life their life as they see fit. They work for the money they make. They take care of their own homes, children, and vehicles. When the child's parent becomes needy, whether it be for financial, emotional, or health reasons, the adult child feels the responsibility of parental care tugging from two different directions.
I've felt pity for Tom since first reading this play because of my own background. First-hand experience is a great teacher.