Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | MonkeyNotes
11. Begin by assuming that the title is appropriate. The menagerie itself belongs to Laura and symbolizes her fragility. But since the collection gives the play its title, Laura's animals probably signify more. Think about the menagerie's other qualities. The animals are not real, for example; they are copies. One piece, the unicorn, doesn't even represent a real animal. Remember that the menagerie is not made of window glass. When you look through the little glass figures, everything appears distorted.
Additional qualities of the glass menagerie may occur to you: For instance, think of what glass does to light (makes rainbows), where the collection is located (on a shelf), and how it helps Laura escape from reality.
Can you describe Amanda and her family in similar terms? Are the Wingfields hardy, realistic people or are they apt to break easily? Do they view the world clearly and rationally? Do they lead "unreal" lives?
You might review the parts of this Book Notes which discuss character, setting and themes. In those sections you'll find more similarities between the glass menagerie and other aspects of the play. The more examples you cite, the more firmly you can assert that the title fits the play very snugly.
12. Not every work of literature has a villain, so start by defining the term. The definition will shape your answer.
The usual concept of a villain is someone (or something) whose deliberate actions bring harm to others. Most literary villains may have redeeming qualities, but readers ordinarily disapprove of villains. Using this definition, you may decide everyone in The Glass Menagerie has some villainous qualities. Tom, Laura, and Jim cause Amanda grief and worry. Amanda makes Tom suffer. Jim raises Laura's hopes and then dashes them. Tom selfishly abandons his family.
You might search beyond the characters to find your villain. Look to the circumstances of their lives. You could reasonably blame the social context for the plight of the Wingfields and Jim O'Connor. To support this position, read the numerous accounts of the time (the 1930's) and the place (St. Louis tenement) in the stage directions and in Tom's narration.
13. If you believe that Tom ought to bear responsibility for his own situation, try to show that he has deliberately chosen a dull, dead-end job. Also show that he purposely provokes Amanda and that he's too unimaginative and lazy to leave his rut. For example, you could argue that if Tom seriously aimed to be a poet, he should stay home and write rather than go to the movies every night.
Of course, Tom wouldn't be Tom if he did that, so you might conclude that Tom is partly a victim of circumstances. He thinks he can get himself out of his two-by-four situation, but he won't make the move-not until the end of the play. Family responsibility keeps him from breaking away. Also, his vision is limited. Another person might change his life without leaving home. But Tom thinks that the only way to change is by cutting his ties to Amanda and Laura.
A third choice-that Tom is trapped through no fault of his own-invites you to analyze Tom's personality and conditions of his family life. Tom has no choice about working. He's been stuck as the family breadwinner since his father left. During the Depression, people rarely quit jobs because new ones were hard to get. Also, Tom's conscience keeps him from walking out on his family. And regardless of his caged-in feeling, he loves Laura too much to leave her in the lurch.
14. This question calls for an exploration of Jim's past and present personality. How do you interpret Jim's response to Laura? Yes, Jim is polite. He takes pains to avoid wounding her. Further, his effort to boost her self-confidence will fail if he allows her to feel self-pity. So even if he had noticed her "clumping," is he likely to acknowledge it? Certainly he can be forgiven his little white lie.
Perhaps more to the point, though, is that he may be telling Laura the truth. Perhaps he didn't notice her clumping. Think of the sort of person Jim was in high school. He was blinded by his own glitter. Surrounded by admirers and absorbed by self-importance, would he have noticed Laura? Perhaps he is destined always to be saying, "I never even noticed."
Another interpretation: Laura's was a relatively mild defect and, like a roaring in one's ears, was really noticeable only to Laura. She made too much of it while others, even if they were aware of it at first, were ready to overlook it.
15. To some extent the four characters remain unchanged at the end of the play. Amanda continues to relive her youth, Laura still has no prospects for an independent future, Jim keeps pursuing elusive success, and Tom remains unfulfilled in his quest for adventure. In fact, you might argue that some characters are worse off. Laura, for one, after tasting a few moments of happiness may feel more hopeless than before.
On the other hand, if any character has realized something about life or about himself, that person has grown in some way. Consider Amanda. In the final scene she has "dignity and tragic beauty." You couldn't have described her that way at the start of the play. What has happened to her in the interim?
While Laura still has no suitor when the play ends, she has had a modest social triumph, however short-lived. Might the experience propel her out of her shell?
Tom could never be happy at home. Although he hasn't found the adventure he yearned for, is he better off for having tried?
Finally, Jim. There's little evidence to show that he was better off after his visit than before. However, his ego may have been boosted by Laura's admiration. Perhaps he has also become more sensitive to other people's feelings.