Example term paper on The Glass Menagerie:
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. In The Glass Menagerie Tennessee Williams uses many themes to develop the characters in the play. Disintegration of a family, loneliness, and illusion and reality are three of the many themes portrayed in The Glass Menagerie.
The Glass Menagerie is the story of a slow and remorseless destruction of a family. There is nothing melodramatic about this destruction. It is gradual, oblique and laced with pathos and humor, but it is inevitable. The Wingfields are trapped in a situation from which there is no exit. The father has deserted them, the daughter is crippled and painfully introverted, the son has been forced through circumstances into a job that is stifling all aspiration sin him, and the mother is desperately attempting to hold them all together by using every means of which she can think. The tragedy is that instead of helping and bringing the family closer together, her efforts only hurt and divides them. She alienates Tom by trying to push him on his job, and she harms Laura irrevocably by first trying to launch her on a business career and then by attempting to find her a husband. But the original conditions are not entirely of her making. She is as trapped as Laura and Tom, trapped I the final analysis by an existence which offers no possibility of self-fulfillment. The struggle of the Wingfields is a kind of rear guard action against a malignant and implacable fate(Nelson 18).
The loneliness theme is particularly prevalent in the plight of Laura, but it is also manifested in Tom and Amanda as well. Laura is unable to achieve some kind of meaningful communication with another human being. Both circumstance and her introverted character prevent her from any kind of contact with anyone outside her immediate family. In the relationship with Jim, she is given one brief moment when she is able to emerge from her glass world, like a moth out of a cocoon. But once again, circumstance and character combine to close off this possibility of a new, meaningful relationship, and Laura is left in the end more alone than she has ever been. This theme is manifested in Amanda and Tom also. They have private grievances and are unable to communicate them or share them, even with the people they care for the most. According to Rowland Amanda is a lonely, deserted woman trying to seek fulfillment in her family but trying so hard that she only succeeds in alienating herself from her children. At the conclusion of the play, she too is lonelier and more broken than she was at the beginning. Tom is desperately lonely, unable to talk with his mother, and also unable to establish any worth while relationship with his co-workers. When he finally leaves home, he has escaped an intolerable situation, but his loneliness has become intensified. In the needs, desires, and frustrations of Laura, Amanda, and Tom, Williams expresses this theme of human loneliness and isolation very thoroughly. This condition, Williams seems to suggest, is one of the root conditions of humanity and will become one of the dominant themes in all of the playwright’s work (Nelson 63-73).
Illusion and reality are very important themes in The Glass Menagerie; each character fully manifests this theme. Every Individual in the play uses illusion to protect himself from a reality which is oppressive and ultimately destructive. Laura makes the most obvious use of illusions in her creation of a world of glass which becomes more real to her than the “real” world outside the glass menagerie. The world of glass figurines will always be beautiful, delicate, and tender. She will always find comfort in it from the chaos of everyday life. At the end of the play, Laura returns to this glass world from which Jim almost took her. She will never let the outside world impinge on her or hurt her again. She too will become a fragile piece of glass, lost forever in the illusionary world she has created. Unlike Laura, Amanda is never wholly lost in her illusions; rather, she uses them to fight a world which is closing in on her in the form of light bills to pay, rent deadlines to meet, and children to care for. Amanda’s illusionary world is in the world of her youth, seen now in her middle age through rose-tinted glasses. It is a world of gentleman callers, rides in the country, banquets, and balls; a world of gracious living and gallant sentiments. This illusionary world is used as a kind of respite for Amanda whenever reality becomes too overpowering for her. It is a world that once did exist, and Amanda has never quite recovered from the shock of losing it. But she is never completely lost in her reveries of it. She knows what the present offers, she is aware of the desperate and even sordid struggle her life has become; and she addressed herself to this struggle in a way in which Laura cannot. Amanda’s illusions, like Laura’s, are a kind of defense mechanism, but unlike her daughter’s, they are never as totally paralyzing. Tom Wingfield who is painfully aware of the illusionary lives of his sister and mother, is also aware that her leads one too. Reality, in the form of a destitute and dependent family, and a stifling job in a factory, is too much for Tom to bear. So, he creates an illusionary existence for himself in daydreams and motion pictures. In his dreams and in the movies he attends almost nightly, he shuts out the hell of his real life and lives a vicarious romantic and adventurous existence. Ironically, when he finally leaves his family and the shoe factory for what he hopes will be a life of adventure; he finds that is illusions are not enough. The reality that he left behind a struggling and pathetic mother and a crippled sister will oppress him for the rest of his life. Like his mother and sister Jim too, needs illusions to make reality more bearable. He is six years out of school and is still literally nowhere in his chosen career. So his illusion becomes the dream that the cycle of democracy will catapult him to success; all he has to do is somehow catch on. His talk bubbles with confidence, but it is a confidence born of anxiety and depression. The great dream of opportunity is an illusion; the Depression which is blocking Jim’s hopes is reality. In the final analysis, he is the fourth of a quartet caught between illusions and realities, attempting to use the former to stave off the crushing finality of the latter. (Bloom, p.20)
The Glass Menagerie is built upon more than the poignant plot of illusion and frustration in the lives of little people. Williams has given the drama further significance by deepening the losses of individuals and pointing to social and even spiritual catastrophe. The life of illusion is not confined to the Wingfields alone. As Tom says ,” The huge middle class of America was matriculating in a school for the blind.” What he calls the “social background” of the play has tremendous importance. Amanda’s anxieties are in large part economic and there is money behind many of her illusions.
The Glass Menagerie exhibits several of William’s strengths as a playwright. The great strength of the play is the delicate, sympathetic, yet objective creation of meaningful people in a meaningful situation. William captures a decisive and desperate moment in the lives of four individuals and given it illumination and a sense of profound meaning. His characters are not equally realized. While Amanda, Tom, and Jim are complex, multiple dimension characters, Laura seems to exist on a single dimension, that of sympathy. Tennessee Williams uses disintegration of a family, loneliness, and reality as themes to show the slow destruction of a family in The Glass Menagerie. Although The Glass Menagerie is essentially a tragic story, it is shown through the three themes that the play is an excellent piece of literature that shows the gradual and oblique destruction of a family.
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