Symbolic illustration of Laura's hands holding a glass unicorn

The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams

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Student Question

Analyze the theme of consumerism in The Glass Menagerie.

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The play is set during the Depression, as is explained in the introduction with the quote, "that quaint period, the thirties." The author notes that the characters were facing "a dissolving economy." From these phrases and the general description of Amanda, it is clear that the family once had money and occupied a higher socio-economic status than they do now. In fact, in discussing her suitors when she was a girl, Amanda even says that

There was young Champ Laughlin who later became vice-president of the Delta Planters Bank. Hadley Stevenson who was drowned in Moon Lake and left his widow one hundred and fifty thousand in Government bonds. There were the Cutrere brothers, Wesley and Bates. Bates[']... widow was also well provided for...

Amanda is not only yearning for her lost youth and beauty and the many boyfriends that she had; she is also musing about the money and comfort that could have been hers had she married a different man. Thus, the theme of money and its absence is presented throughout the play.

When Amanda worries about Laura's future, she is not only concerned that Laura will be alone. She is also concerned that Laura will not have money with which to support herself. Amanda knows from first-hand experience how difficult it is to support oneself. For this reason, Amanda enrolls Laura in a business school where she will learn basic office skills that will enable her to get a job. When Amanda learns that Laura has not attended classes but merely walked around in town during school hours, Amanda is extremely upset. She then tells Laura that some girls marry, implying that marriage is another way for Laura to secure her financial future.

The theme of money and its absence is also seen in the way Tom spends the funds that were intended to be used to pay the electricity bill. He uses this money instead to further his dream of registering in the navy, escaping his home and family, and seeing the world. When the lights go out, it as both a figurative and literal closure of one world, as Tom prepares to transition into a different one.

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