Symbolic illustration of Laura's hands holding a glass unicorn

The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams

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The nature of the argument and the conflicting views on responsibility and selfishness between Tom and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie


The argument between Tom and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie centers on responsibility and selfishness. Amanda accuses Tom of being selfish and shirking his duties to the family, while Tom feels suffocated by his obligations and desires freedom. Their conflicting views highlight the tension between familial duty and personal aspirations.

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What sparked the argument between Tom and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie?

The Glass Menagerie is a memory play by Tennessee Williams. It premiered in 1944. The term memory play was conceived by Williams, and it defines a play narrated by the lead character from his or her own memory.

The play is set in St. Louis in 1937 and is narrated by aspiring poet Tom Wingfield. Tom works in a warehouse during the day. He lives with his mother, Amanda, and sister, Laura. Mother and son argue frequently.

In Scene Three things come to a head for Amanda and Tom. Their relationship has been tense for a long time as Amanda believes that Tom should not be out of the house as much as he is. Tom is angry that his mother doesn’t respect his privacy. The argument begins when Tom says he is going out to the cinema. He sees the cinema as a means of escape whilst his mother believes that he is out doing something shameful. In a rage he says that she is right, he is out gambling and smoking opium. He ends by calling Amanda an “ugly - babbling old - witch…”

Although mother and son have fought before, the seriousness of this argument in scene three signals a breaking point between them. He throws his coat across the room where it lands on and smashes Laura’s menagerie of glass animal figurines.

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What are Amanda and Tom's conflicting views on responsibility and selfishness in The Glass Menagerie?

Tom Wingfield realizes that he has a responsibility to himself and believes that in order to thrive as a man and artist, he must leave the stifling environment of the warehouse and his mother's apartment. Similar to his father, Tom desperately craves adventure and desires to experience the world, where he can create, explore, and express himself. He feels that he can no longer remain at home and must leave his mother and sister in order to live a fulfilling life. One can argue that Tom Wingfield's decision to abandon his family is an act of self-preservation rather than an egocentric, selfish escape.

In contrast, Amanda believes that Tom's responsibility is to provide for their family and find his sister a gentleman caller. She neglects to sympathize with her son's inherent desires to explore the world and continually criticizes his attempts to escape from his unfortunate, mundane reality. She finds Tom's decision to leave for the Merchant Marines selfish and believes that he must first ensure that his sister is married to a man who can provide for their family when Tom leaves. Overall, Tom feels responsible to himself while Amanda believes that her son's responsibilities are to herself and Laura.

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What are Amanda and Tom's conflicting views on responsibility and selfishness in The Glass Menagerie?

The conflict between Amanda and Tom in this masterful play centres on the way in which Tom feels drawn to, as his father did, seek his fortune and discover himself through venturing away from his mother and sister and leaving them. This is a tendency that Amanda recognises very early on in the play. However, from her point of view, she tries to make Tom realise that he has a responsibility to try and help Laura and find someone that she could marry before he leaves them in what is to her a selfish manner. Note the following quote:

I mean that as soon as Laura has got somebody to take care of her, married, a home of her own, independent--why, then you'll be free to go wherever you please, on land, on sea, whichever way the wind blows you! But until that time you've got to look out for your sister.

For Amanda, responsibility is looking after those who are dependent upon you. She finds Tom's attitude to life and his desire to follow in his father's footsteps as something that is deeply selfish and irresponsible. Of course, from Tom's perspective, as is shown by the way that he uses the money for the electricity bill to buy his ticket away from his family, his responsibility is to himself first and his actions from his perspective are therefore not selfish.

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