The Glass Menagerie

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Themes and Colors
Memory Theme Icon
Abandonment Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Glass Menagerie, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Abandonment Theme Icon

The male characters in the play all abandon Amanda and Laura. The father, whom we never see, has abandoned the family: he worked for the telephone company and “fell in love with long distances.” The traumatic effect of this abandonment on Amanda, and Amanda's resulting fear about her own helplessness, is clear in her relentless quest for Laura to gain business skills and then to marry. Jim’s abandonment of Laura forms the play’s dramatic climax: the Wingfield's (not to mention the audience) hope against hope that somehow he will stay, though there is always the sense that he cannot, even before the glass unicorn shatters. Tom, meanwhile, spends the entire play in tension between his love for his mother and sister and his desire to pursue his own future, thus abandoning his family. Yet, at the same time, Tom has in some sense already abandoned Amanda and Laura before the play has even begun, since the entire play is actually his memory of the past.

But does Tom really abandon his family? Even though he leaves them physically, the fact that he remembers them through the act of creating the play indicates that he has never entirely left, that in leaving them he paradoxically became closer to them, more deeply connected to them. He left them, but in the play he also immortalizes them, transforms Amanda and Laura into a kind of glass menagerie of his own. “Oh Laura, Laura,” he says at the play’s end, “I tried to leave you behind, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!”

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Abandonment ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Abandonment appears in each scene of The Glass Menagerie. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Abandonment Quotes in The Glass Menagerie

Below you will find the important quotes in The Glass Menagerie related to the theme of Abandonment.
Scene 1 Quotes

There is a fifth character in the play who doesn’t appear except in this larger-than-life-size photograph over the mantel. This is our father who left us a long time ago. He was a telephone man who fell in love with long distances...The last we heard of him was a picture postcard...containing a message of two words: “Hello—Goodbye!”

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Mr. Wingfield
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom, in the role of the play’s narrator, introduces his father as yet another stage prop, not as a real human being. The father only enters the play as a figure in each of the characters’ memories. Although he no longer has any active interaction with any of the characters, the father looms large psychologically over the Wingfield household--and this is represented symbolically as he looms physically over the play’s deliberately unrealistic set. The father’s absence makes Amanda, the mother, even more domineering and insecure, both because she is the only voice of authority and because she is still in pain over her husband’s disappearance. The father’s absence also makes Amanda even more hectically eager to see Laura married, since she wants to redeem the failure of her own marriage by seeing her daughter happily married.

For Tom, his father’s absence is a huge symbolic burden because of Tom’s conflicting guilt over whether or not he should stay or leave his family. Tom feels trapped in the apartment. He wants to leave and pursue his own life, but he also does not want to be yet another male figure who betrays his mother and sister.


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Scene 2 Quotes

What are we going to do, what is going to become of us, what is the future?

Related Characters: Amanda Wingfield (speaker)
Related Symbols: Typewriter
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

When Amanda learns that Laura is no longer in secretarial school, the “us” in Amanda’s exclamation to Laura is extremely revealing. Amanda projects herself and her life onto Laura’s decisions. The “us” in Amanda’s sentence represents the way that Amanda often addresses Laura. Instead of saying “you,” which would separate herself and her daughter, she implies through her syntax that Laura does not have any opinions or thoughts of her own that are not somehow mediated through Amanda. Amanda is speaking to Laura about Laura’s revelation that she has quit her typewriting school, and as she interrogates Laura about this choice, the audience learns that she is much more concerned over the impact on herself, not whether or not the decision benefits or hurts Laura.

The “us” is also, therefore, a kind of royal “we.” Amanda turns Laura’s decision into a behavior that has been designed to impact her own life, rather than a choice that Laura made for Laura’s sake. Amanda is very much the center of her universe, and she sees everyone else’s lives as revolving around her own. In Amanda’s point of view, people’s choices are judged on a scale of how much and in what way they impact Amanda’s life. Thus Laura leaving the secretarial school becomes, in Amanda’s perception and Amanda’s narrative, a decision that has the most consequences for Amanda.

Scene 7 Quotes

Go, then! Go to the moon—you selfish dreamer!

Related Characters: Amanda Wingfield (speaker), Tom Wingfield
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

In Amanda’s final line of the play, she accuses Tom of being selfish and of not facing reality, yet she is also guilty of these exact qualities. She lashes out at Tom because she thinks that he has made a fool out of Laura and, by extension, out of Amanda. Amanda feels like Tom has betrayed the family by creating a dream and then shattering it. By inviting Jim over to dinner, Tom gave both Amanda and Laura the hope that Jim would be the hero who would come in and save the family. However, Jim already has a fiancée, and he will not leave his current life to come live with the Wingfields. Tom has created stage magic, but now the magic evaporates. Amanda is even more furious at Tom for presenting a possibility to them that then gets snatched away. Not only is Tom a selfish dreamer for only thinking of himself, he is also a selfish dreamer for presenting dreams that will not become reality. Amanda would rather live in memories and in a haze of the past than in the present. Tom takes Amanda’s angry cry at her word and leaves the house for good, and unlike their earlier fight, Tom does not return. He has finally succumbed to his desire for escape, and abandoned the family just as his father did.

I didn’t go to the moon, I went much further—for time is the longest distance between two places.

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker)
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom ends the play with a long monologue that describes his escape from the Wingfield apartment. When Tom leaves his family, he leaves behind not only their reality but also their fantasy lives. The moon symbolizes hope and dreams throughout the play, as the family wishes on the moon to make their lives better. However, Tom realizes that wishing on the moon and dreaming is keeping himself tied to illusions and the past, rather than allowing him to move forward in his life. Tom abandons the promise of the moon and the dreams of his youth to try and pursue a new kind of life for himself (but also by following Amanda's angry command to "go to the moon").

The final monologue also re-introduces time into the play. This monologue pulls the audience out of the scenes in the apartment and presents a span of time over many years. Throughout the play, there is a continual tension between the characters’ recollections of the past and the present that they live in now. Amanda wants to cling to the past, and she fights against the realities of the present. Laura seems to exist in a bubble outside time. Tom, meanwhile, resents the past and the present and wants to fling himself into the future.

Not long after that I was fired for writing a poem on the lid of a shoe-box. I left St. Louis.

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker)
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom’s literary ambitions and his desire for adventure finally outgrow his life, and he breaks free of what he perceives to be his prison. Boxes are extremely symbolic for Tom. He sees the apartment that he lives in as a stifling box, and the fire escape is the only place that provides any kind of relief. Tom describes the magic trick with the man who escapes from the coffin as a metaphor for Tom’s own life, since he feels trapped and dead inside his physical and symbolic box. The warehouse is another box that imprisons Tom inside a dead-end job. Even the movies, Tom’s escape mechanism, are inside a screen and a theater that are both box-like. The shoe-box is symbolic of Tom’s feeling of being trapped. However, the shoe-box is also what sets Tom free. He takes the symbolic shoes out of the symbolic box and walks away from what he perceives to be his prison. Tennessee Williams’s description of Tom’s literary ambitions is also somewhat autobiographical. Williams himself had literary ambitions that extended beyond the scope of his own life in St. Louis, and he, too, left the city to pursue bigger dreams.

I descended the steps of this fire escape for a last time and followed, from then on, in my father’s footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space. I traveled around a great deal. The cities swept about me like dead leaves, leaves that were brightly colored but torn away from the branches.

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Mr. Wingfield
Related Symbols: Fire Escape
Page Number: 96-97
Explanation and Analysis:

The image of the city sweeping about Tom like dead leaves is perhaps a reference to a famous description in the Inferno, in which Dante describes souls as fluttering around the Underworld as lightly as dead leaves. Tom believed that when he left the apartment and sought his freedom, he would be able to escape (via the "fire escape," symbolically) the forlorn nature of the house. Tom felt like he was dead in that apartment, as he signified in his speech to Laura about the magician’s trick of getting out of the coffin. However, Tom learns, perhaps too late, that though he thinks he can find freedom by roaming far afield, he is still in the underworld, since he is still trapped within his own memories and his emotions. Physical freedom is not the same thing as psychological escape. Tom’s world becomes an inferno, the seasons and cities as empty and fruitless as dead leaves and dead souls. Just as the family is haunted by the specter of the father who left them, Tom is haunted by the specter of the family he himself left. Tom’s sudden break feels like a victory in the moment, but in reality, because he has had no closure, a huge part of Tom still remains in that apartment (as the very existence of the "memory play" itself makes clear).

The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield
Related Symbols: Glass Menagerie
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

In Tom’s final monologue, memory, reality, symbols, time, and space all swirl together in Tom’s head. Although Tom thinks that he can escape the prison of his stifling home life when he leaves the Wingfield apartment and travels far afield, Tom cannot escape the memories of his past. Tom is heartbroken at the end of the play because he feels as though he has betrayed his sister. Even though Tom left the family to obtain his own freedom, which is what he thought he wanted, he hadn’t counted on the deep bond between himself and his sister, and his deep love and affection for her. He sees images of her everywhere, representing the guilt he feels. Tom shattered a bond between himself and Laura when he left, and every time he sees delicate glass objects, he is reminded of this symbolic shattering, because glass reminds him of Laura. Tom also sees himself in the glass, or, rather, the memory of his former self. 

For nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura—and so goodbye...

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom’s final line of the play emphasizes the symbolic importance of the many different kinds of light and darkness that appear throughout the play. The lightning that strikes in this line is a very violent kind of light. Lightning is even more cruel and harsh than electric light or the light of the sun, since it is so highly concentrated and powerful. The lightning here also represents Tom’s feelings of guilt at leaving his family behind. Like the moon or the stars, lightning is a natural phenomenon, but it is quick, powerful, temporary, and all too real. The lightning also symbolically divides Tom’s present from his past. Tom knows that he can never return to the world of moonlight and candlelight that Laura and Amanda inhabit, because this world doesn’t even exist anymore. The memories of his family haunt Tom, but he must live in the present day. He thinks about Laura all the time, and his interior life has been lit by her memory since he left the family physically, but he also knows that he has to let her go in order to move forward with his own life.