The Glass Menagerie: Analyzing Tom's Character
The Glass Menagerie, written by Tennessee William, among the finest American tragedies, is an autobiography of the author that reveals several of the playwright's flaws as well as his strengths as an individual. Tennessee William uses the form of a memory play to intertwine illusions and reality; therefore, the reader can only captivate the truth of human ideals and dreams acted out within an illusionary world. Memory excludes details, or exaggerates certain events that are meaningful for the narrator; in this case, all the events are seen through Tom's memories. Thomas L. King makes a significant statement about this play "we see not the character's memory of them - Amanda and the rest are merely aspects of Tom's consciousness" (86). Given that it is a memory play Tom, the narrator, attempts to draw the reader into the floating state of memory, past images and dreams; hence, he is imbued by his memories, which has caused him to illustrate each character based on his own personality aspects. According to PhD Darryl E. Haley, "If these descriptions are elements of Tom's personality, as well as of characters in the drama, Tom has five-part personality." Therefore, Tom has projected characteristics of his persona to the five characters in the play: Amanda, Laura, Mr. Wingfield, Tom and Jim.
The character of Laura has also been drenched by Tom's memories. Laura is emotionally and physically crippled. She is a fragile woman incapable of facing the real world; instead, she chooses to escape reality by living a world of illusions and dreams. These are facets which the narrator - Tom Wingfieeld - constantly goes through. Benjamin Nelson once described Tom as "the protagonist in the story [who] possesses the romantic soul of a dreamer." Although he is a dreamer, Tom's inability of fulfilling his dreams has emotionally destabilized him, causing him have a low-self steam and to create mechanisms of defense in response to his failure. Furthermore, Tom has been emotionally damaged by the abandonment of his father. As a result of all the frustrations Tom has gone through, he could be considered to be physically crippled as he has too, decided to escape the reality of his failure and has come to live a world delusion. Tom has infused Laura as an emotionally and physically crippled person; thus, this could too describe the emotional state of his own character. "she lives in a world of her own"(66)
Although Jim is "the most realistic character in the play", he too, has been imbued by Tom's memory; However, Tom did not infuse this character with qualities of his own self, instead, Jim represents the idealized character Tom would like to become. Jim is a nice and young man, who is able to bring hope into the Wingfield family. Jim has high expectations of life, he does not bewail unfulfilling dreams or remains in his past glory but instead, he seeks for potential opportunities to expand as an individual. Most importantly, he is able to bring Laura out of her floating state of unreality; for once, he is able to make her feel secure and loved. These are the idealized personality aspects, Tom Wingfield, would like to attain. The character of Jim is the different of Tom's character.
Tom has projected many of his personality aspects to Mr. Wingfield, as he has too abandoned his family. Mr. Wingfield is the character that the narrator -Tom-- uses to indicate his selfishness, impulsiveness and irresponsible part-personality. Mr. Wingfield manages to escape reality leaving his family behind while each member is capsulated in illusions and emotionally damaged, mainly because of his abandonment. Mr. Wingfield was "a telephone man who fell in love with long distances; he gave up his job with the telephone company and skipped the light fantastic out of town". (23) Mr. Wingfield loves long distances, more than what he loves his family, a man whose only desire is to fulfill his dreams, in spite of the wellbeing of the family. Mr. Wingfield left with no explanations, forsaking the family and rejecting the responsibility of a father. Tom, too, possesses these personality traits. "I'm planning to change. I'm right at the point of committing myself to a future that doesn't include the warehouse and Mr. Mendoza or even a night-school course in public speaking". (79) In a similar way, Tom decides to be a "selfish dreamer" (114) and follow his father's footsteps by leaving Amanda and Laura unprotected.
Despite the narrator, Tom Wingfield, has projected characteristic of his persona to the five characters in the play: Amanda, Laura, Jim, Tom and Mr. Wingfield.
The characters in the memory play exist only in relationship to the narrator-protagonist. They may appear to him to be weak or strong, heroes or villain; but the point of their interest is not what they are but what they are to the narrator Paul T. Nola (148).
As a memory play, The glass Menagerie is not necessarily a play that accentuates the importance of other characters; rather, it is Tom's perspective of each one of these characters-- as he has infused his own personality aspects to these-- that makes this play a significant American tragedy. Paul T. Nola said "The play is his memory, and his memory--not a rational analysis of it-is his evidence."