Accept the Reality or Distract Yourself, Escape It?

Viktória Wilujeng Botka

“She lives in a world of her own – a world of – little glass ornaments…” – Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie

Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie, first performed in 1944, has an interesting storyline, featuring the narrator as one of the main characters (Tom Wingfield), who has a mentally disturbed mother (Amanda Wingfield) and a timid and confidence-lacking older sister (Laura Wingfield). The Wingfields aren’t a rich family; Tom works to support his family in a shoe warehouse, which he doesn’t enjoy, because his real dream is to be a poet. He goes to the movies almost every night, so frequently that his mother becomes suspicious of him doing illegal things. The movies back then were cheap, as it was after World War 1 and during the Great Depression. As people had lost loved ones in the war and jobs at home, they went to the movies often to distract themselves. Tom went to distract himself, just as other people did.

TOM: I’m going to the movies!
AMANDA: I don’t believe that lie!
[Tom crouches toward her, overtowering her tiny figure. She backs away, gasping.]
TOM: I’m going to opium dens! Yes, opium dens, dens of vice and criminals’ hangouts, Mother. I’ve joined the Hogan Gang, I’m a hired assassin, I carry a tommy gun in a violin case! I run a string of cat houses in the Valley! They call me Killer, Killer Wingfield, I’m leading a double-life, a simple, honest warehouse worker by day, by night a dynamic czar of the underworld, Mother.
— Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie

Tom doesn’t like his mother very much (although at some level he loves her). Amanda grew up in Blue Mountain, Mississippi. Like Tom, she has her own way of distracting herself. She lives in the past, reliving her memories of when she was young, when gentlemen callers used to come to visit her. Her husband was—as Amanda says repeatedly—a charming man, who visited Amanda frequently in her youth, married her, and eventually abandoned her, which resulted in the Wingfields’ poverty.  Amanda always imagines that one day her daughter will marry a rich man, because it would help get rid of their financial problems. She keeps on retelling her story of the gentleman callers and their father, hoping that Laura will have the same experience, which is a bit too optimistic, as Laura is very shy and isolates herself from the outside world.

When she was still in high school, Laura  had an illness called pleurosis, which caused her to limp. This is one of the reasons why she is very insecure and spends most of her time alone or at home. In fact, she is so timid that she drops out of business school. She had a crush on Jim O’Connor when she was in high school. Jim had a nickname for Laura, “Blue Roses.” He called her that because he misheard Laura saying pleurosis when he asked why she had been absent. Laura has her own world of imagination. She has animal-shaped glass figures, which she spends most of her time cleaning and watching. The unicorn glass figure, which was the one that represented her, stands out with its horn among the horses, like Laura with her limp.  She also plays the Victrola obsessively, which is another way for her to distract herself, apart from watching her glass figures.

The different people are not like other people, but being different is nothing to be ashamed of. Because other people are not such wonderful people. They’re one hundred times one thousand. You’re one times one! They walk all over the earth. You just stay here.
— Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie

Jim O’Connor is a young man who works at the same warehouse as Tom. He is invited for dinner by Tom one day, at the request of Amanda, who hopes that he and Laura will be a perfect match and get married. It doesn’t work out in the end, because Jim iss already engaged to another girl, Betty. He is the most “normal” character in this play; he gives Laura some advice and helps her gain some confidence.

I think that we need to accept reality; sometimes it’s hard to do so, but trying to lie to yourself is just as bad as lying to others. If you can’t accept things that have happened, you will need to live your life inside your head, convincing yourself that your version of the story is the right one, and people will start thinking that you’ve lost your mind, which can actually become true if you continue lying to yourself.