Tennessee Williams is known for writing female characters that exist in a reality separately from other people’s, usually as a defense mechanism. It is never truly revealed how much of Amanda’s romantic tales of life in the old South are factual, and how much of them are fabrications or exaggerations. It is certain that there is a degree of absurdity to the tenacity with which she clings to the memory, real or not, of her old lifestyle even though they are basically existing at the poverty level in a world that has most certainly left her fashions behind long ago. Her obsession with the old ways and its effect on how much she tries to control her adult children is a major theme of this play- as it is for many of Tennessee’s plays involving mother-child relationships.
Tennessee makes a very clever symbol out of Tom and his arguments with his mother in regards to his lifestyle. Tennessee’s real first name is Tom, and Tom Williams was openly gay. This angle sheds an entirely new light on Tom and his actions (and possibly his father’s as well). Tom is not simply a restless, selfish “bastard son of a bastard” who runs around at night to escape his drudgery. He is also escaping a world that cannot accept him for who he is. It can be reasonably assumed that Amanda subconsciously suspects that this may be the issue with him- after all, she can’t be so concerned about Laura marrying simply because of money- every mother of adult children wants grandchildren, and she never seems to bother Tom about bringing home any lady callers.
Laura truly did have a chance with Jim, had he not been engaged. He was a man who had, in his youth, grown accustomed to being the best at everything and carrying a great deal of respect and admiration wherever he went. But in the six years since graduating, he found that life outside of high school did not contain all the trophies he was used to. But Laura remembered him as he wanted to be seen, as the star of the school. She especially remembers his singing, which touches him in a very meaningful way. It is not simply a trick of flattery or politesse that Jim is so complimentary towards Laura. The way that she sees him makes him feel young and energetic again, which in turn makes her all the more beautiful in his eyes.
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Source for this summary and analysis of the play:
Williams, Tom “Tennessee”. The Glass Menagerie. New York: Random House, 1945. 21-115.