“Human kind / Cannot bear very much reality.”
—T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets
This quote applies to all three main characters of Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie as they all try to avoid reality in one way or another.
Firstly, let’s look at Amanda, who used to be a rich southern girl living in a nice house, where young men would line up in hopes of getting her hand in marriage. Even though now she is a single mother with two adult children and an absent husband, she still clings to her old life. We can see that she keeps bringing up stories like this: “One Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain, your mother received seventeen! gentlemen callers! Why, sometimes there weren’t chairs enough to accommodate them all.” Not only does she live in the past, not only does she refuse to acknowledge that the world is changing, but she also sweeps her problems under the carpet. A good example is when she is not able to admit that Laura is in fact disabled: “Nonsense! Laura, I’ve told you never, never to use that word. Why, you’re not crippled, you just have a little defect – hardly noticeable, even!”
While Amanda sees life through rose-coloured glasses everything is worse in Laura’s eyes and this quote demonstrates it perfectly. “And everybody was seated before I came in. I had to walk in front of all those people. My seat was in the back row. I had to go clumping all the way up the aisle with everyone watching I” She felt insecure about the way she walked, even though nobody ever made fun of her (as far as we know). Her career was also restrained by her mental issues: “Her hands shook so that she couldn’t hit the right keys! The first time we gave a speed-test, she broke down completely – was sick at the stomach and almost had to be carried into the wash-room!” Everything new and slightly challenging frightens her, hence she escapes reality by doing the same old things every single day. Playing with glass animals and listening to the same records are the only things she finds comfort in.
Lastly let’s talk about Tom, who is an explorer, a poet at heart but is stuck in a tedious and low-paying job. Excitement is what he yearns for. The only way he can experience any kind of adventure is through movies. He goes to the cinema so often that even his mother doesn’t believe him: “I don’t believe that you go every night to the movies. Nobody goes to the movies night after night. Nobody in their right mind goes to the movies as often as you pretend to. People don’t go to the movies at nearly midnight, and movies don’t let out at two a.m.”
All three of the main characters are trying to ignore reality but in very variable ways. Many people today are becoming increasingly like them by using escapism to endure the real world.