While observing the Wingfield family in “The Glass Menagerie,” it is quite apparent that all members of the family exhibit the quality of “crippled.” Amanda is a very demanding mother with a crippled sense of reality, Laura is a crippled young woman who is very fragile both physically and emotionally, and Tom is a young man full of crippling guilt and sorrow. The Glass Menagerie is full of instances where these troubled individuals face everyday responsibilities and it evokes the contrast of fantasy and reality. Author Tennessee Williams cleverly builds this contrast within the play right from the start, as the entire play is based on Toms memories that lead into complex characters and symbols.
Firstly, Williams is able to write a very dramatic and intimate play as the reader knows it is from the perspective of Tom Wingfield; the son of Amanda Wingfield and brother of Laura Wingfield. The very fact this play is based on Tom's perspective makes the contrast of fantasy and reality much more apparent, as the reader views this entire story unfold from a character’s dream-like memories. It is this type of writing that keeps the reader in the mind of Tom and allows them to see his life play out in what he would’ve seen, felt, imagined, and overall experienced. What he may remember might not be exactly how everything played out in the past but then again, the perspective shifts from past to present, so there must be a clear change in sentiments as he is very integrated into the story in some scenes and in others, very reminiscent of what occurred. In scene one, Tom states, “But I am opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion” (1396). What Tom is saying here is that these events did happen but that it may appear in the form of an “illusion” as he is well aware of the fact that it has been a long time since these actual events occurred. This means some aspects about each event or scene might be dramatized, giving the reader no real distinction to what is real and what is not real. However, the core of the story and each character are still ever present, just slightly dramatized.
Additionally, as the play progresses, we are given insight on very complex characters that give way to their own personal struggles which give more of a profound sense of fantasy and reality. As mentioned earlier, this family is crippled in some sort of specific manner but the best way to sum it up, is that they have a void in their life and need to fill it with something or someone else. Amanda is stuck in the past so she tries to have gentlemen callers come over for her daughter, Laura has a very crippled body and social life so she plays with glass figures, and Tom has to carry his absent father's responsibilities when he wants a life of his own, so he constantly goes to the movies to distract himself. The Wingfield family is so focused on what they want, when responsibilities and the real world hit them, they don’t know how to react properly. A prime example of this would be the character of Tom, who works diligently to provide money for his family, but constantly smokes and goes out to the movies everytime he is either stressed out from work or finished arguing with his mother because he wants to live his own life. This would amplify the contrast of fantasy and reality as we have characters, like the Wingfield family (Including the father), who want to live in a world they have made up but are hesitant to embrace the reality of it all, which entails hard work and responsibilities, aspects of life they all want to outrun but inevitably can’t.
Undoubtedly, the entire character of Laura symbolizes both reality and fantasy. This contrast is at its highest point when Laura is involved in a scene, most definitely scene seven. Up until this point, Laura has been so focused on her glass menagerie that she never really took the time to live in the real world. She, very much like the glass figures, are fragile and stiff which is why she prefers their company over anyone else’s, which is what concerned Amanda the most about her daughter. But with the help of Tom, Amanda arranged the gentleman caller Jim to arrive which is when Laura comes out of her shell to express herself to a potential husband. When Jim accidentally drops the unicorn figure, it loses its horn and Laura states, “It doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise” (1430). Jim's revelation that he was engaged with someone else after he had just kissed Laura was indeed a shock to the reader and Laura alike, but it is the breaking of this unicorns horn which makes it no different from the other horses, that symbolizes Laura freeing herself from her small glass world to the real world, where she no longer feels different from another woman despite her crippleness. This whole visit, despite it being an utter failure at getting a husband, was a blessing in disguise. Laura no longer needs her brother Tom to protect and look after her as she feels capable of doing so herself; She has become stronger. The heavily focused contrast of fantasy and reality, which was developed throughout the play, was most apparent in the character of Laura and the very dramatic, scene seven. After all, she blows her candles out at the end of the play as Tom says goodbye to his sister to pay off the fact she went from a very passive and fragile character to someone, through bad experience, has learned the harshness of reality and accepted it, unlike their father. Tom senses this and even though the house is now empty, he knows that deep down in his heart, his sister let go of her glass menagerie that night.
In conclusion, Williams is an author that wrote the play “The Glass Menagerie” knowing he could fit in contrasts such as reality and fantasy while making a very intimate and personal story full of dynamic characters such as Tom and Laura. It is this rich storytelling and great buildup of themes/contrasts from Williams that makes “The Glass Menagerie” a sorrowful play with a “blessing in disguise” as it discusses facing reality in both the right and wrong ways for many readers and viewers to take something from it altogether. The contrasts of the past and present are clearly presented in this play, as well as a person's right to be happy and their responsibilities but it was important to highlight a contrast that may have been underlooked, which is reality and fantasy. This contrast, ever so present within the play, is cleverly developed and used as a plot device and driving force within each of these characters to not only build a world for these characters but to give them personality and depth. While this isn’t as poignant as Shakespeare, “The Glass Menagerie’ is certainly able to tackle facing reality in a very realistic way, albeit in a fictitious world with fictitious characters.
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