The Glass Menagerie

by: Tennessee Williams

Scene Seven

Amanda calls Tom in from the kitchen and accuses him of playing a joke on them. Tom insists that he had no idea that Jim was engaged and that he does not know much about anyone at the warehouse. He heads to the door, intending to spend another night at the movies. Amanda accuses him of being a “dreamer” and rails against his selfishness as he leaves. Tom returns her scolding. Amanda tells him that he might as well go not just to the movies but to the moon, for all that he cares about her and Laura. Tom leaves, slamming the door.

Tom delivers his passionate closing monologue from the fire-escape landing as Amanda inaudibly comforts Laura inside the apartment and then withdraws to her room. Tom explains that he was fired soon after from the warehouse for writing a poem on a shoebox lid and that he then left the family. He says that he has traveled for a long time, pursuing something he cannot identify. But he has found that he cannot leave Laura behind. No matter where he goes, some piece of glass or quality of light makes it seem as if his sister is at his side. In the living room, Laura blows the candles out as Tom bids her goodbye.

Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!

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Analysis

As Scene Seven begins, Laura’s face is made beautiful by the new floor lamp and its lampshade of “rose-colored silk.” Williams marshals the force of metaphor through the accrued weight of symbols. The delicate light represents Laura, and the rose represents Laura, whom Jim used to call “Blue Roses.” The glass unicorn that Jim breaks accidentally is yet another symbol that points to Laura. Like the unicorn, Laura is an impossible oddity. Jim’s kindness and kiss bring her abruptly into the normal world by shattering the protective layer of glass that she has set up around herself, but this real world also involves heartbreak, which she suffers at Jim’s hands.

Though Jim is an emissary from a very different world, he also shares some fundamental qualities with the Wingfields, each of whom is somehow unable to connect to the world around him or her. Jim seems to be well integrated into the outside world, to accept its philosophy of life, and to have latched onto a number of things that keep him afloat: public speaking, radio engineering, and Betty. But his long-winded speeches to Laura reveal an insecurity that he is fighting with all his might. He has somehow strayed off the glorious path on which he seemed destined to travel in high school. Lacking an inherent sense of self-worth, he is scrambling to find something that will give him such a sense. Jim talks as if he is trying to convince himself as much as all the others that he has the self-confidence he needs to succeed.

Each character in The Glass Menagerie is trying to escape from reality in his or her own way: Laura retreats into her imagination and the static world of glass animals and old records, Amanda has the glorious days of her youth, and Jim has his dreams of an executive position. Only Tom has trouble finding a satisfactory route of escape. Movies are not a real way out, as he comes to realize. Even descending the steps of the fire escape and wandering like his rootless father does not provide him with any respite from his memories of Laura’s stunted life and crushed hopes. Yet, in one way, he has escaped. A frustrated poet no longer, he has created this play. Laura’s act of blowing out the candles at the play’s end signifies the snuffing of her hopes, but it may also mark Tom’s long-awaited release from her grip. He exhorts Laura to blow out her candles and then bids her what sounds like a final goodbye. The play itself is Tom’s way out, a cathartic attempt to purge his memory and free himself through the act of creation.

Even so, when one considers the trajectory of Tennessee Williams’s life and writings, one senses a deep ambivalence in the play’s conclusion. The rose image continued to show up in Williams’s writings long after The Glass Menagerie, and the ghosts haunting Williams would eventually lead him to drug addiction and a mental hospital. For Williams and his character Tom, art may be an attempt to erase all pain. But although Williams’s world includes some survivors of deep pain and torment, they invariably bear ugly scars.