Taming the Harshness

Eszter Forvith

“Human kind / Cannot bear very much reality.” — T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

It is a quite thought-provoking statement, but after thinking about it we quickly realize that it holds a lot of truth.

The more people feel the toughness of life, the more they try to escape reality. Many people tend to escape reality by developing a “live in the moment mindset,” which often creates the illusion of a mostly problem-free life. However, this is just one way of escaping reality; there are many others, and some of them are nicely represented in Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie.

Amanda, a single mother of two children, often seems optimistic about her daughter’s future even though her daughter, Laura, sees things the opposite way. Amanda often wanders back to the past when she was Laura’s age and had a lot of gentleman callers, in Mississippi, where she was a young beauty; that time could easily be called the highest point in her life. “Amanda: Why, I remember on Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain. Tom: Again?” She sometimes seems to be stuck in that imagination which enables her to escape from the reality of rapidly changing things and growing tension between her and the kids, especially Tom.

Tom, the younger sibling, works at a warehouse, which we can say is not his dream job. Since their father left a long time ago, Tom has become the breadwinner and thus cannot afford to fulfill his dream of traveling and discovering the world, which frustrates him. Tom often goes to the movies, which causes his mother a headache, but this is Tom’s only freedom, his only chance to witness real adventures. Later we discover that Tom often goes to the bar to drink, which is an obvious way of escaping reality. Not long after a failed attempt of finding a husband for his sister, he gets fired and finally decides to leave and travel as he always wanted. He follows in his father’s footsteps and goes from place to place, discovering the world. We would think that Tom was satisfied, now that he could achieve his dream, but it appears that he cannot be truly satisfied, since his sister often appears in front of him, reminding him of the life he left behind; this also appears as a sort of pullback to reality, a sign that his life is still not and probably will never be the way he wanted it. “Oh Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind, but I am more faithful than I intended to be.”

Laura, the older sibling, had a chance to get a good education, but she dropped out of school, and now her only hope is to get married, but she doesn’t really have any faith in that either; rather, she spends her days taking care of her glass animals and living in her own isolated world, which is not really to her mother’s liking. In the play she appears rather insecure and shy, but at the end, with the help of a young man called Jim, she discovers that even though we fail sometimes it doesn’t matter, because we can try again and one failure will not determine our whole life. That gives Laura confidence and a gateway to jump back to reality, making her the only character with a rather big and positive character development. “Jim: Aw, aw, aw. Is it broken? Laura: Now it’s just like all the other horses. Jim: It lost its— Laura: Horn! It doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.”

Escaping from reality is something that all of us do. Some people practice it more often than others. Similarly, we unintentionally remember the good that happened to us but try to forget the bad in order to stay balanced. Our mind tends to tame the harshness of reality to protect us.