Tennessee Williams was known to draw heavily on his own life and family experiences in his works, and his breakout play, The Glass Menagerie. The work highlights many of the tumultuous and labored decisions he himself felt as a young man. The play delves into family dynamics that many can sympathize with, including obligations that sometimes keep us from following our dreams. In addition, it also explores the real pressures of societal expectations, especially on young women during the earlier part of the 20th century. Some of these expectations may seem very foreign to students today. The play also examines the themes of the power of memory, and dreams and expectations in life, as told through Tom’s narration which is riddled with guilt.
Amanda is constantly nitpicking at Tom: he eats too fast, he smokes too much, he doesn’t care about his appearance enough. After Amanda throws out some of Tom’s books that she finds questionable, Tom finally flips out on his mother. She claims that she thinks his “going to the movies” excuses are lies; Tom knows he does plenty for the family and he feels stuck, so he calls Amanda an “ugly witch” and storms out.
MAN VS. SELF
Tom feels trapped with his sister and his mother. He is 21, but he is the sole income for their family, and his sister does not seem able to get out of her own mind enough to make a life for herself. He wants to become a merchant sailor, to travel and see the world, but he knows that if he leaves, he will be abandoning them like their father did.
MAN VS. SOCIETY
Amanda has many ideas about where a young woman should be at a certain stage in her life. By this point, Laura should be married and starting a family; however, Laura is very shy and quiet. She enjoys her glass animal collection and playing the phonograph. She has no real interest in following a career path because she is too scared. She is not living up to her mother’s or society’s expectations for a woman her age.