A Psychological Criticism of Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams is an excellent piece to approach psychologically. The Glass Menagerie is a play based upon the memories of Tom Wingfield, a main character in the piece, and ironically a major theme of the play is the power of memories: how they affect our actions and shape our futures. Other themes include lost sense of reality and the allure yet impracticality of escape.
The Wingfield family experience great difficulty in trying to accept their lives as they are and make the best of it. Amanda Wingfield, as a mother, sets a poor example for her children. She is constantly badgering her daughter Laura because she does not live up to her mothers standards and is not a parallel of the young woman Amanda was. She constantly resurrects memories of her past, which is clearly gone, and doesnt even realize how much she negatively affects Lauras attempts to grow into her own person. I believe that if Laura didnt have the constant irritating comments from her mother she could have had a chance to build her own independent life, rather than repress her feelings and be forced to continue her unfulfilling life of being reminded that she is not adequate in her mothers eyes. It is ironic that Amanda is constantly nagging Laura because in reality, Amanda is not happy with herself. What helps get Amanda through her days is the memories of her past, they hold her life together like glue. The reality is that Amanda is unhappy with the way her life has turned out and would give anything to go back to her youth that she is so proud of. Amanda cannot confront and accept her own issues and projects her own inadequacies onto Laura and she is then forced to live with feeling inferior.
As a result of losing their grasp on reality, the Wingfield family has developed their own ways of escaping their responsibilities and hardships they face in their lives. The epicenter of Toms Wingfields desire to escape can be found within the obligations he had been chained to. He is bound to a home where there is no structure, where he is forced to reside with an unstable mother and sister. Toms job at a warehouse brings him no joy or sense of fulfillment. As a consequence of feeling utterly unsatisfied with his life, Tom escapes through movies; watching how the lives of other people turn out, instead of attempting to repair his own. Tom represses and denies his emotions which creates even more tension in his relationship with his family, and himself, and ultimately leads to his flee from home. Laura Wingfields escape is found through her collection of glass figurines. These figurines are an image of herself: they are delicate and if not handled carefully and properly, they can be broken beyond the point of repair and they will never be the same. Laura has no male suitors or job, and has dropped out of the school that her mother has sent her to, and consequently of having no positive affection or motivation from her family, she turns to her glass menagerie to attempt to make her feel like she is doing something appreciated and worthwhile. The favorite of her glass figurines is her glass unicorn. Unicorns are similar to unicorns but have some differences. Laura, too, is different from others and is often misunderstood. While Laura and a male suitor are dancing, he kisses her, and by accident the unicorn falls off the shelf where her figurines are on display, and its horn breaks off. This represents a major turning point in the play. Laura, for the first time in her life, is experiencing what is like to be normal. With this budding normalcy, some of Lauras unusual quirks will disappear, and similarly, the vanishing of the unicorns horn makes it appear to be a normal horse.
The unparalleled power of memories is the foundation of The Glass Menagerie. The entire play is an account of the memories of Tom Wingfield. Every event, no matter how miniscule it may have seemed at the time, had a profound effect on Tom and was an important piece of his life and was a necessary component to tell the story of his past. Amanda is unable to find true happiness in her life because she believes that her life can never be as satisfying as the memories she constantly reminds herself of. She lived a childhood and adulthood that she was extremely pleased with and she never allowed herself to find a sense of purpose in adulthood because, in her mind, nothing could possibly parallel the security and satisfaction she experienced her past. If Amanda had attempted to live in the present, she most likely would have been able to find contentment, and in turn she would have been able to provide her children with a more positive and supportive environment to grow up in, and Laura and Tom would have been able to confidently pursue their dreams and not live in silent suffering.
The Glass Menagerie is a play full of a family of static characters, who are bound by agony and the repression of true feeling and fear. Although the characters are unsatisfied with their lives and the circumstances surrounding it, these factors of unhappiness are what supports their weak relationships, and binds them to one another.