Tennessee Williams's play The Glass Menagerie is about the three members of the Wingfield family, Tom, Laura, and their mother Amanda. They live together and have done so since the loss of the Wingfield patriarch. This family dynamic is very dysfunctional and the three serve to harm one another more than provide support as a family unit with the exception of Laura who tries to provide positivity in her home but is unable to do so because of the toxicity occurring between her family members. Tom and Laura are both unhappy young people who are unsatisfied in their lives largely because of the way in which they have been raised. Their mother Amanda is similarly dissatisfied but unlike the others she believes there is still a chance for the three of them to achieve social mobility and achieve the financial and sociological elevation that she believes they are entitled. Each character is dealing with a level of psychological difficulty which negatively impacts the way they behave and their ability to cope with the rest of the world. Amanda is a woman living in her past with delusions of social climbing, her son Tom is suffering from severe depression and has a caustic relationship with his mother, while the young daughter of the family Laura suffers from social anxiety disorder and might be mentally retarded.
Amanda Wingfield is perhaps the most psychologically disturbed of the entire family although this is not obvious at first glance. The woman is psychologically trapped by the past and all her actions are designed to recapture a long ago moment (Bluefarb). She is pushy in her attitudes towards her two children, trying to force them to conform to her expectations for them, whether that is what her son or daughter actually want. Her domineering manner is intrinsically linked to her psychological problems. Amanda Wingfield is obsessed with her youth and with ensuring that her daughter is a debutante with a string of wealthy suitors, despite the fact that this is absolutely not the case. On the night the suitor Jim comes to visit Laura, Amanda is distraught when she learns that Jim is to be married. She is incensed and immediately blames Tom for the situation, hollering at him that he knew the whole time about Jim's engagement and just wanted to make fools of his family. She insisted on cleaning the house top to bottom and putting out an extreme amount of effort when Tom assured her that it wasn't necessary. "Now that you've had us make such fools of ourselves. The effort, the preparations, all the expense! The new floor lamp, the rug, the clothes for Laura! All for what? To entertain some other girl's fiancee!" (1657). No logic will get through to Amanda Wingfield. To Amanda, her children are associated with financial gain. If the child cannot provide her monetarily, then that child is of little use. She suffers from a personality disorder and narcissism at the very least, not to mention she is just a horrible mother.
Tom Wingfield is never mentally present within his familial home. Time is extremely important to Tom's character and to understanding what is important to him. This is evident in the fact that Tom narrates The Glass Menagerie from some indistinct period in the future (King). At some point before the narration but after the events depicted here, he escapes the family home and sets out to live for himself. When this occurs is unclear but it can be supposed that it is not long after the events which transpire in the play's plot. Only when he escapes the home can Tom understand himself enough to analyze his own actions or those of his family members. Tom is jaded by his experiences with his mother. He says, "The play is a memory. Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic" (1615). Were the play simply related as a straightforward narrative told in real time, the ambiguity of memory would be lost. Young Wingfield acknowledges that his memory may be faulty and thus the characterization of his family members might also be modified by those memories, adding to the ambiguity of the psychology of the three major characters.
Tom is telling his story while dressed as a merchant sailor, reflecting on his youth from across the years. Given the sad nature of the present-time Tom who serves as narrator, it is unlikely that he found satisfaction in his life. Tom has never returned home, at least not physically. Mentally, he has returned to this home over and over since the day he left it. It is more that he has escaped from Amanda, but not from Laura. "Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger -- anything that can blow your candles out!" (1658). His little sister is everywhere Tom goes. He has been haunted by his memories to the point where he cannot escape them. It is possible that Laura died and that was the impetus he needed to leave his family or it is possible that she died after he left and he feels responsible. Either way, Tom himself tells us that he is not psychologically sound. He has not been successful in the world financially and so took to the seas. While he lived with them, Tom was psychologically distant from Laura and Amanda, although far more affectionate in his treatment of his sister than of his mother. Instead of being within the same chronology of his family, his mind is consumed with the future and nothing that he does in the current moment has any meaning to him (Bluefarb). He spends all of his time either working or going to movies. It is his intention to spend as little time at his home as possible because the relationship he has with his mother is so oppressive.
Laura Wingfield is imprisoned in the present moment without the ability to reflect or the ability to hope for the future (Bluefarb). She is physically disabled with a noticeable limp and is also psychologically fragile. Her antisocial behavior and inability to relate to other people, not to mention her obsession with the glass figurines in her case indicates some severe mental health issues for Laura. Despite her many disabilities, Laura is in a way the most honest character in the piece. This is not accidental as it is a trademark of Tennessee Williams's plays to have the least mentally stable character portray the secret truth of the dynamic being depicted in the play's plot (O'Connor 11). Young Laura does not seem to have much personality on her own beyond what she is ordered by her mother. She was touched and empowered by her visitor Jim who dances with her and tells her she is beautiful. For the first time in her life Laura has had a positive experience with a young man, to the point that Jim feels he cannot visit again because he likes her more than an engaged man should. If someone could like Laura, it means that someone could like her again and it gives her confidence. Jim's visit has done more to improve Laura's feelings of insecurity than anything else in her life has to that point indicating that she is not the sickest mentally despite her physical impairments. It is possible she might even be the most sane of the trio.
Laura's mental state is symbolized by her glass menagerie. She has spent her life caged up by her mother and by her own personality because she is so fragile. When a potential suitor comes, Amanda dresses Laura up to make her look prettier, just as Laura polishes her figures to make them shine. The most specific parallel between the animals and Laura are the two instances when there was broken glass. The first incidence occurs when Tom angrily staggers about the apartment and accidentally breaks one of the glass animals. "Laura cries out as if wounded" (1624). Tom's lack of care caused one of her figures to break and Laura interprets that as pain to herself. She cannot separate herself from the glass. The second incident is when Jim and Laura are dancing and they accidentally break one of the figures. Her unicorn fell off the table but Laura doesn't seem to care anymore. "It's no tragedy, Freckles. Glass breaks so easily. No matter how careful you are. The traffic jars the shelves and things fall off them" (1653). Even though Laura is eventually hurt when it comes to pass that she cannot have Jim, she is still altered. The hurt does not kill her. Like the unicorn, she did not shatter though she was injured. Laura is the glass menagerie.…