Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is “a very realistic human story” that many people across the world can easily relate to (Mazer). In many plays the story is made or broken by the relationships between the characters; The Glass Menagerie is no different in this respect. Though many different and well-developed relationships exist in The Glass Menagerie one person’s relationships shine above the rest. Laura Wingfield, “so paralyzed with terror” of the real world all around her, is the centre of William’s The Glass Menagerie (Mazer). Her relationships with both her mother, Amanda Wingfield, and her brother, Tom Wingfield, and the “gentleman caller”, Jim O’Connor set the mood for this play and are the centre of action from beginning of the play to the end.
Laura Wingfield’s relationship with her mother is one of acquiescence. Laura’s overbearing mother, Amanda Wingfield, has planned every move of Laura’s life to the minutest detail. In scene two, Amanda discovers that Laura has not been going to business school. Amanda is completely distraught. “All of our plans – my hopes and ambitions for you – just gone up the spout, just gone up the spout like that” (Williams 1260). Amanda isn’t concerned at all as to the reasons behind Laura’s departure from the school. She’s only concerned that their plans have been ruined. Elizabeth Cobbe says that “an ignorance brought on by her intense enthusiasm” is the reason that Amanda can’t see the hurt and pain behind Laura’s persona (50). Amanda is so overwhelmed with the mission to get Laura a solid position in life that she can’t see anything else.
From scene four to the end of the play, Amanda’s main goal is to get Laura married so that she doesn’t end up like those, “little birdlike women without any nest” (Williams 1261). This is when one can really see the “aggressive manner of manipulation” that Amanda so fully embodies (Cobbe 50). Amanda demands that her son, Tom, finds a “clean-living” man, one that “doesn’t drink,” at work and “ask him out for [his] sister” (Williams 1270). Laura must dress-up and the house must be made perfect for the arrival of their “gentleman caller” (Williams). All of this, of course, is to happen under the direction and complete control of Amanda. In the last scenes of the play when Laura and Amanda’s hearts are both broken and their prospects lost, it is easily seen that their relationship is one of intense love. However, because of this deep love they are ignorant to the fact that they are hurting each other inside.
A second, very important and strong relationship for Laura in The Glass Menagerie is that between her and her younger brother, Tom. Tom Wingfield is an “itinerant dreamer” and is “trapped not only in a monotonous warehouse job but also by responsibilities to his mother and his sister” (Falk). To escape his dull existence Tom goes to the movies every chance he can get. In scene four Laura asks Tom, “Where have you been all this time? All this time at the movies?” (Williams 1266). From these lines one can easily see that Laura, though she loves Tom deeply, doesn’t completely understand him. She doesn’t see why he must always go to the movies or why he must always be in opposition to their mother. In her mind, Tom should just “make up with” mother, or in other words: be just like Laura and allow Amanda to rule his life. Tom, however, cannot allow this to happen. At the end of the play, after he has left Laura and Amanda, Tom says, “Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!” (Williams 1297). Tom loves his sister, but that love was getting in the way of his dreams; presumably just like it did his father’s. Tom thought that he would forget Laura when he left, but he underestimated the great strength of their relationship. Probably one of the strongest and least understood relationships among the characters in The Glass Menagerie is that of Laura and Tom Wingfield.
The final and most important relationship, as it is the pivotal point of the play, is that of Jim O’Connor, the gentleman caller, and Laura Wingfield. Laura has secretly admired Jim ever since her high school days, when he used to call her Blue Roses. Bert Cardullo points out that, in equating Laura with a blue rose he [Jim] unwittingly recalls that [German] Romantic symbol of longing for the infinite, of unrequited yearning for absolute emotional and artistic fulfilment, die blaue Blume, or the blue flower” (161). Jim knows that Laura is different from the other girls he’s met. “Other people are […] one hundred times one thousand,” but Laura is, “one times one” (Williams 1293). Laura is completely lost in love for Jim. She doesn’t see that his intentions are not romantic. She believes that her “white knight,” as it were, has finally come. When Jim finally realises Laura’s love for him he, “pops a mint into his mouth [and] bluntly explains that another girl has strings on him” (Falk). At this point Laura is completely destroyed. She realises that no man will ever see past her frailties to find the real her. Jim, as Tom said in the beginning of the play symbolises, “the long delayed but always expected something that we live for” (Williams 1256). Now that the moment Laura and Amanda have been living for has come to pass they have nothing else to live for. Jim O’Connor and Laura’s relationship ends with Laura “blowing out her candles” and thus ending any hope of her ever marrying.
Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie is a play about relationships. Most important of all relationships in this play are those between the other characters and Laura Wingfield. For Laura and her family, there is “no longer [any difference] between what is real and what is only fantasy” (Thierfelder 285). This shows in their complex relationships with each other. At the end of the play, when all hopes are shattered for Laura, her relationships with members of her family become very important. Without her family and their tight relationships, there would be no resolving action to the play. Laura would not have “blown out her candles.”
Cardullo, Bert. “Williams’s The Glass Menagerie.” Explicator 55.3 (1997): 161-163.
Cobbe, Elizabeth C. “Williams’s The Glass Menagerie.” Explicator 61.1 (2002): 49-51.
Falk, Signi. Tennessee Williams. New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1999.
Mazer, Cary M. The Glass Menagerie. 7 May. 2003 http://www.english.upenn.edu/~cmazer/glass.html.
Thierfelder, William R. III. Williams’s The Glass Menagerie.” Explicator 48.3 (1990): 284-285.