The Glass Menagerie

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Illusions and Dreams Theme Analysis

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.
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon

Tom explains that in creating the play from his memory that he is giving “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion,” and the stage directions of the play are designed to create a nostalgic, sentimental, non-realistic atmosphere to create the unreal yet heightened effects of a dream. The lighting in each scene adds emphasis and shadows: for example, the electric light that goes out, the candelabra, moonlight, the paper lantern that hides the broken lightbulb, Tom’s lit cigarette, all draw attention to the artistic, emotional, and artificial nature of the play. The stage illusions in the gentleman caller scene—the switch from electricity to candlelight, the music on the Victrola—further this sense of an unreal, dreamlike realm. Though the scene begins as comedy, the lighting and music tenderly develop it into romance, which then shatters into tragedy as the glass unicorn breaks and the dream shifts suddenly back to reality.

The characters in the play are also full of dreams, though these dreams operate in different ways. Tom dreams about escape from his present life. He writes poetry in the warehouse, discusses joining the merchant marines, and escapes into action-adventure movies. He comments to Jim, at one point, that all of the people at the movies are there to escape into illusion and avoid real life. Amanda's dreams are desperate attempts to escape the sadness of her present, and as such they become self-delusions, blinding her to reality and to the desires of her children. She insists that Tom will fulfill her vision of him as the successful businessman. And when the dream of Laura in business school falls apart, rather than see reality Amanda constructs a new fantasy life for her daughter in the realm of gentleman callers and marriage prospects.

For Laura, dreams do not take the form of ambitions, but instead offer her a refuge from the pain of reality. Unlike Amanda, Laura does not delude herself by pretending that her physical disabilities do not exist. Instead, she retreats from the world by surrounding herself with perfect, immortal objects, like her glass menagerie and the “Jewel Box” she visits instead of going to business school classes. Tom suggests that Jim might have once had high hopes for himself but has since slipped into mediocrity, which might show Tom projecting onto Jim and not necessarily how Jim sees himself. Unlike the Wingfields, Jim neither lives in a dream world of the past nor in a secret future dream-life, but in the present. And yet Jim is himself hoping for a career in radio and television—an industry that might be described as being in the business of creating dreams or believable illusions—and in this way the play suggests that the Wingfield's are not alone in their susceptibility to dreams.

Illusions and Dreams ThemeTracker

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

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

The apartment...is entered by a fire escape, a structure whose name is a touch of accidental poetic truth, for all of these huge buildings are always burning with the slow and implacable fires of human desperation.

Related Symbols: Fire Escape

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.

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker)

[The gentleman caller] is the most realistic character in the play, being an emissary from a world of reality that we were somehow set apart from. But since I have a poet’s weakness for symbols, I am using this character also as a symbol; he is the long-delayed but always expected something we live for.

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Jim O’Connor

One Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain—your mother received—seventeen!—gentlemen callers!

Related Characters: Amanda Wingfield (speaker)

Resume your seat, little sister—I want you to stay fresh and pretty—for gentleman callers!

Related Characters: Amanda Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield
Scene 2 Quotes

Fifty dollars’ tuition, all of our plans—my hopes and ambitions for you—just gone up the spout, just gone up the spout like that.

Related Characters: Amanda Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield

I went in the art museum and the bird houses at the Zoo...Lately I’ve been spending most of my afternoons in the Jewel Box, that big glass house where they raise the tropical flowers.

Related Characters: Laura Wingfield (speaker)

What is there left but dependency all our lives? I know so well what becomes of unmarried women who aren’t prepared to occupy a position. I’ve seen such pitiful cases in the South—barely tolerated spinsters living upon the grudging patronage of sister’s husband or brother’s wife!—stuck away in some little mousetrap of a room—encouraged by one in-law to visit another—little birdlike women without any nest—eating the crust of humility all their life!

Related Characters: Amanda Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield

...they cultivate other things to make up for it—develop charm—and vivacity—and—charm! That’s all you have to do! [she turns again to the photograph] One thing your father had plenty of—was charm!

Related Characters: Amanda Wingfield (speaker), Amanda Wingfield, Mr. Wingfield
Scene 3 Quotes

Listen! You think I’m crazy about the warehouse? [He bends fiercely toward her slight figure.] You think I’m in love with the Continental Shoemakers? You think I want to spend fifty-five years down there in that—celotex interior! with—fluorescent—tubes! Look! I’d rather somebody picked up a crowbar and battered out my brains—than go back mornings! I go!

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Amanda Wingfield

I’m going to opium dens...I’m a hired assassin...I’m leading a double-life...I go to gambling casinos...Oh, I could tell you many things to make you sleepless!

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker)

You’ll go up, up on a broomstick, over Blue Mountain with seventeen gentleman callers! You ugly—babbling old—witch...

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Amanda Wingfield
Scene 4 Quotes

But the wonderfullest trick of all was the coffin trick. We nailed him into a coffin and he got out of the coffin without removing one nail. [He has come inside.] There is a trick that would come in handy for me—get me out of this two-by-four situation!...You know it don’t take much intelligence to get yourself into a nailed-up coffin, Laura. But who in hell ever got himself out of one without removing one nail?

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield

Try and you will succeed! [The notion makes her breathless.] Why, you—you’re just full of natural endowments! Both of my children—they’re unusual children! Don’t you think I know it? I’m so—proud!

Related Characters: Amanda Wingfield (speaker), Tom Wingfield, Laura Wingfield

I go to the movies because—I like adventure. Adventure is something I don’t have much of at work, so I go to the movies.

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker)

Man is by instinct a lover, a hunter, a fighter, and none of those instincts are given much play at the warehouse!

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker)
Scene 5 Quotes

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!

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker)

[Laura] lives in a world of her own—a world of little glass ornaments, Mother...

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield

Amanda: A little silver slipper of a moon. Look over your left shoulder, Laura, and make a wish! ... Now! Now, darling, wish!
Laura: What shall I wish for, Mother?
Amanda [her voice trembling, and her eyes suddenly filling with tears]: Happiness! Good fortune!

Related Characters: Amanda Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield (speaker)
Scene 6 Quotes

A fragile, unearthly prettiness has come out in Laura: she is like a piece of translucent glass touched by light, given a momentary radiance, not actual, not lasting.

Related Characters: Laura Wingfield

All girls are a trap, a pretty trap, and men expect them to be.

Related Characters: Amanda Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield

Finally there were no more vases to hold them, every available space was filled with jonquils. No vases to hold them? All right, I’ll hold them myself!

Related Characters: Amanda Wingfield (speaker)

I’m tired of the movies and I am about to move!

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker)
Scene 7 Quotes

Jim lights a cigarette and leans indolently back on his elbows smiling at Laura with a warmth and charm which lights her inwardly with altar candles.

Related Characters: Laura Wingfield, Jim O’Connor

Jim: What kind of glass is it?
Laura: Little articles of it, they’re ornaments mostly! Most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest little animals in the world. Mother calls them a glass menagerie!...Oh, be careful—if you breathe, it breaks!...There now—you’re holding him gently! Hold him over the light, he loves the light! You see how the light shines through him?

Related Characters: Laura Wingfield (speaker), Jim O’Connor (speaker)

Unicorns—aren’t they extinct in the modern world?

Related Characters: Jim O’Connor (speaker)

Jim: Aw, aw, aw. Is it broken?
Laura: Now it is just like all the other horses.
Jim: It’s lost its—

Laura: Horn! It doesn’t matter...I don’t have favorites much...I’ll just imagine he had an operation. The horn was removed to make him feel less—freakish!

Related Characters: Laura Wingfield (speaker), Jim O’Connor (speaker)

They’re common as—weeds, but—you—well, you’re—Blue Roses!

Related Characters: Jim O’Connor (speaker), Laura Wingfield

Things have a way of turning out so badly.

Related Characters: Amanda Wingfield (speaker)

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)

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)

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

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

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

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Laura Wingfield