The Glass Menagerie

by: Tennessee Williams

Illusions

1

[Tom enters, dressed as a merchant sailor, and strolls across to the fire escape. There he stops and lights a cigarette. He addresses the audience.] TOM: Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the 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.

Tom Wingfield acts as the narrator in the play’s opening monologue. Tom’s clothes foreshadow what will happen to him at the end of the play. His address to the audience reminds them that theater exists as a form of illusion, a series of stage tricks. Tom also claims that the play will reveal truth. The monologue introduces a major source of tension and conflict in the play—the complex relationship between illusion and reality. Illusions contradict reality, but they also make reality bearable.

2

[TOM:] Like some archetype of the universal unconscious, the image of the gentleman caller haunted our small apartment . . . [Screen image:A young man at the door of a house with flowers.] An evening at home rarely passed without some allusion to this image, this specter, this hope . . . Even when he wasn’t mentioned, his presence hung in Mother’s preoccupied look and in my sister’s frightened, apologetic manner — hung like a sentence passed upon the Wingfields!

Tom Wingfield, in his role as narrator, addresses the audience in the opening monologue of Scene Three. Tom implies what the audience already understands: His mother, Amanda Wingfield, has created the gentleman caller as an illusion from her own memories, disappointments, and fears. At the same time, Tom acknowledges the power of the illusion to drive his mother’s actions and determine his sister’s future. The language and tone of the monologue seem sinister, even menacing. The word sentence evokes the idea of imprisonment.

3

[TOM:] In Spain there was Guernica! But here there was only hot swing music and liquor, dance halls, bars, and movies, and sex that hung in the gloom like a chandelier and flooded the world with brief, deceptive rainbows . . . All the world was waiting for bombardments!

Tom steps out onto the fire escape for a smoke, switches from character to narrator, and addresses the audience. He describes the sights and sounds of the Paradise Dance Hall across the alley from the Wingfield apartment. The reference to Guernica, an event in the Spanish Civil War, reminds readers that the play takes place in the 1930s. The reference to bombardments serves as a clue that the narrator looks back from World War II. From that perspective, the narrator recognizes that all people in America, not just the play’s main characters, had been living in a world of illusion.

4

TOM: Yes, movies! Look at them — [A wave toward the marvels of Grand Avenue.] All of those glamorous people — having adventures — hogging it all, gobbling the whole thing up! You know what happens? People go to the movies instead of moving! Hollywood characters are supposed to have all the adventures for everybody in America, while everybody in America sits in a dark room and watches them having them! Yes, until there’s a war. That’s when adventure becomes available to the masses!

Tom talks to Jim O’Connor, a friend from work whom he has invited home for dinner. Jim warns that Tom’s job is in jeopardy. In response, Tom tries to explain his dissatisfaction with life. From previous scenes, readers know of Tom’s obsession with movies and his daydreaming of movie stories. Now Tom attacks movies as illusions. Tom talks of adventure like a very young man, yet when he mentions war, he shows a more mature recognition of adult reality.