The Glass Menagerie

Tom Wingfield Character Analysis

Amanda’s son and Laura’s brother, Tom plays a dual role in the play as both the narrator and protagonist. The play is from the perspective of Tom’s memories. He addresses the audience directly to frame and present analysis of the events, but he also participates in the play’s actions as a character within his own recollections. Tom feels fettered by the constraints of his job and his family and yearns for escape in all aspects of his life. Dissatisfied with his monotonous warehouse job, he writes poetry on the side and plots a future in the merchant marines. Tom frequently goes to the fire escape and smokes cigarettes, symbolically escaping the house yet remaining trapped onstage and in the tenement. He goes to the movies night after night, attempting to escape into action-adventure narrative; he also attempts to escape through alcohol, as indicated by the bottles poking out of his pockets. The oscillation between Tom’s desire for freedom and inability to escape forms the emotional tension underlying the entire play. Although Tom leaves his family in the end, abandoning Amanda and Laura to pursue an independent future, the fact that he has created this play shows that he can never truly leave his memories, and therefore his family, behind.

Tom Wingfield Quotes in The Glass Menagerie

The The Glass Menagerie quotes below are all either spoken by Tom Wingfield or refer to Tom Wingfield. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Memory Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the New Directions edition of The Glass Menagerie published in 1999.
Scene 1 Quotes

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)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Scene 3 Quotes

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
Related Symbols: Glass Menagerie, The Movies
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

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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
Related Symbols: The Movies
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

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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)
Related Symbols: The Movies
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

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Scene 6 Quotes

[Jim] seemed to move in a continual spotlight. ... He was shooting with such velocity through his adolescence that you would logically expect him to arrive at nothing short of the White House by the time he was thirty.

Related Characters: Tom Wingfield (speaker), Jim O’Connor
Related Symbols: Fire Escape
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Tom Wingfield Character Timeline in The Glass Menagerie

The timeline below shows where the character Tom Wingfield appears in The Glass Menagerie. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene 1
Memory Theme Icon
The Wingfield apartment is in a lower-middle-class St. Louis tenement building that faces an alleyway. Through the... (full context)
Memory Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Tom enters, dressed as a merchant sailor and smoking a cigarette, and speaks directly to the... (full context)
Memory Theme Icon
Abandonment Theme Icon
Tom tells the audience about the four characters in the play—himself, his mother Amanda, his sister... (full context)
Memory Theme Icon
Tom enters the apartment and joins Amanda and Laura at the dining-room table. The words “Ou... (full context)
Memory Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
...many times before. The lights dim and music begins to play. At Laura’s gentle urging, Tom mechanically plays along, asks his mother questions about the story, as though reading from a... (full context)
Scene 3
Memory Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
The words “After the fiasco” appear on the screen. Tom stands on the fire escape and tells the audience that after the “fiasco” at the... (full context)
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Tom and Amanda are heard arguing behind curtains hanging over a door. Laura is standing in... (full context)
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Tom rips the curtains over the dining room door open, and he and Amanda continue to... (full context)
Abandonment Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Tom explodes at Amanda, claiming that he’d rather be bludgeoned to death with a crowbar than... (full context)
Abandonment Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
When Amanda declares again that she doesn’t believe Tom is going to the movies, Tom sarcastically tells her she’s right and claims that he... (full context)
Scene 4
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
As a church bell tolls five times, Tom stumbles up the fire escape and into the apartment, visibly drunk. Movie ticket stubs and... (full context)
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
...calls out her customary “Rise and Shine!” She asks Laura to relay the message to Tom, as they are still not speaking. Laura begs Tom to apologize, but he remains unwilling.... (full context)
Memory Theme Icon
Abandonment Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
“Ave Maria” plays softly in the background as Tom finally apologizes to Amanda for his behavior. Amanda nearly breaks down as she speaks of... (full context)
Abandonment Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
...theme begins to play. Amanda says that she has caught Laura crying because Laura believes Tom is unhappy and that he goes out every night to escape the apartment. Amanda tells... (full context)
Abandonment Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
When Amanda presses Tom to explain where he goes, Tom says that he goes to the movies for the... (full context)
Memory Theme Icon
Abandonment Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Amanda tells Tom that they have to make “plans and provisions” for Laura. She knows that he has... (full context)
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Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Amanda asks Tom to bring home a gentleman from the warehouse to introduce to Laura, and as he... (full context)
Scene 5
Memory Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
It is spring, 1937. Amanda nags Tom about his appearance and his smoking. Tom steps onto the fire escape with his cigarette... (full context)
Memory Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Amanda joins Tom on the fire escape, and they look at the moon together. They each make a... (full context)
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Tom reveals that a gentleman caller will be coming to dinner: he has invited a colleague... (full context)
Abandonment Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Amanda begins to whisk around the apartment, simultaneously re-organizing the apartment and brushing Tom’s hair while interrogating him about the gentlemen caller. Her first concern is that the gentleman... (full context)
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Amanda continues to pump Tom for information. She learns that the caller’s name is O’Connor, and he works as a... (full context)
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Tom tells Amanda that he hasn’t told Jim about Laura: he just invited Jim over for... (full context)
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Tom leaves for the movies, and Amanda calls Laura to the front room. She points out... (full context)
Scene 6
Memory Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Leaning on the fire escape, Tom tells the audience about Jim. He describes Jim as the high-school hero, captain of sports... (full context)
Memory Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
...carries a bouquet of jonquil flowers and reminisces about when she first met Laura and Tom’s father. (full context)
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Tom and Jim arrive and ring the doorbell. Laura is terrified and begs Amanda to open... (full context)
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Escape Theme Icon
After awkwardly greeting Jim, Laura dashes to the Victrola and then through the portieres. Tom explains that Laura is terribly shy. Jim and Tom go onto the fire escape as... (full context)
Abandonment Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Tom tells Jim that he’s sick of the movies and wants, instead, to move. He reveals... (full context)
Memory Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Jim and Tom re-enter the house to find Amanda transformed into a grotesque version of herself as a... (full context)
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Amanda sends Tom to fetch Laura for supper, but Tom returns and announces that Laura is not well... (full context)
Scene 7
Abandonment Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
...box, which he does, although he knows why the lights have gone out. Amanda asks Tom if he has paid the light bill, and Tom admits he has not. Amanda assumes... (full context)
Abandonment Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
“Things have a way of turning out so badly,” says Amanda. She accuses Tom of playing a joke on them, but Tom insists that he didn’t know about Jim’s... (full context)
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Abandonment Theme Icon
Illusions and Dreams Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Tom smashes his drink glass on the floor and bursts onto the fire escape. Inside the... (full context)