The play “The Glass Menagerie” presents three main characters to the audience. The protagonist title is held by each of these characters: Laura, Tom, and Amanda. But the Wingfields’ absence from the play hangs heavy. You could argue that his departure was what triggered the play. This affected all members of the family’s financial security as well as their physiological well-being.
Tom’s first monologue mentions the father of the Wingfields at the start of the play. Tom describes their father and briefly explains how he managed to escape from his family. After describing him (p14), and a mysterious letter he sent to their family “hello-goodbye”, he says that “I think the play will make sense.” This is an indication that the absence the father has had on the family’s lives from the beginning. In nearly every scene, he is mentioned. His visual presence is maintained on stage at all time (in form of the photograph) and he is also mentioned in Tom’s final monologue. Tom’s closing and opening comments frame the play’s action, making him a central character to the audience. The father’s iconography serves to remind the reader and the characters of his absence. The father’s picture, which is displayed on the mantelpiece and faces the audience throughout the play, is the most important piece on the set. The stage instructions describe it as “a handsome young man wearing a First World War cap.” The father’s portrait is lit by light and he smiles with a gallant smile. The Wingfields’ father smiling picture resembles their past. While it represents past happiness, it also serves as a constant reminder of their disappointments and feelings about abandonment. His smile and light-colored skin indicate a happier period for the family. They may still be imagining that he might return, or even that he could pretend to still be there. Tom sees this picture as a representation of his future. He will almost take the place of his father. Tom will always remember his past, as the picture serves as a reminder of what might have been.
The father’s victrola musical player is another reminder. The victrola acts as Laura’s sanctuary when she’s stressed out or nervous. The victrola symbolizes Laura’s father and she will retreat to it when she is in need. Amanda wears the bathrobe he left behind. This could be a sign of her inability or unwillingness to accept his departure. These icons symbolize the father’s involvement in the family’s daily lives.
The impact of a father’s actions on a family and the individuals within it is an indication of how important he is as a character. It is clear that American families were experiencing financial hardship during the period before the Second World War and after the Wall Street crash. The absence of a patriarchal breadwinner can cause severe financial hardship to the family. This is demonstrated by Tom’s discontent and hard work (in reference to the rental) “… and Amanda’s desperate efforts to make extra money by selling subscriptions for the “Companion”, using unsubtle marketing techniques like “you simply can’t go to bed if it hasn’t been read” (p28). Amanda and Tom also compete for the role of paternal figure.
Amanda is the primary income earner and mother figure for the family. Tom assumes that Amanda is the authoritarian and sympathy provider. Conflicting roles and different perceptions of what is necessary in a given situation can lead to conflict.
Amanda tries, in an example of dysfunction, to stop Tom’s (perceived excessive) drinking and smoking. This could indicate that Tom is feeling pressured to be an adult too early. The fact that the word “son” is capitalized in this extract suggests that Amanda is trying to reaffirm her position of adult parent. Williams capitalizes Tom’s use negative of the word “mother”, which shows that he has accepted, or pretends, this. Modern Domestic tragedies are characterized by conflict within the Wingfield household unit. The family is presented as corrupted or tense. Amanda and Tom also try to control each other, which is another important feature of domestic tragedy.
Laura also seeks to fill in the shoes of her father. She is the calmer, more paternal side of the father figure. Amanda and Tom both mention Wingfield on numerous occasions. They use him to back up their arguments. “One thing you had a lot of – charm!” Laura doesn’t mention him one time, suggesting that she is most affected by the loss. This is a clear indication of the devastating effects his actions have had on his family.
Tom feels differently about the impact of his father’s death on him than it does on Laura or Amanda. It becomes more than a point or sorrow for Tom. He feels the desire to be like his father and leave the home. Tom declares, “I’m the bastard son and daughter of a Bastard!” This implies that Tom’s desire to escape his circumstances is not a result of his father’s predestined fate. If his father hadn’t taken the actions he did, this mirroring would not have been possible.
This is a strong indication of Williams’ place as a main protagonist. Williams’ play has this feeling in many ways. For instance, Tom’s retrospective narration gives the story an immovability. You may want to engage with the characters and make different decisions but it is impossible as everything has already happened. This adds to tragedy and Tom’s characterization of his father, he skipped light fantastic out of Town” the use he skipped is an indication of anger or sarcasm. The word skipped is used to describe a life-altering event.
The whole of the story is triggered by the father’s abandonment or escape. This is an example of domestic drama in many ways. It shows how elements from the past can cause the family to fall apart. The father’s actions and the current economic turmoil determine the story, which eventually leads to tragedy for the family.