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Glass Menagerie Essay, Research Paper

The Concrete Cripples

In an interview , Tennessee Williams once said, “I have

always been more interested in creating a character that

contains something crippled… They have a certain

appearance of fragility, these neurotic people I write

about, but they are really strong.” In Tennessee Williams’

The Glass Menagerie, the strengths and weaknesses of the

characters in the play is a subject that cannot be

overlooked by the reader. There have been several critics

who have raised interesting points concerning this subject.

Critic Judith J. Thompson takes the stance that

Amanda’s “embodiment of ‘The Great Mother’” is blinded by

her weakness of an unrealistic world (p. 17). She states

that Amanda’s character is made up of “the Good Mother, the

Terrible Mother, the seductive young witch, and the innocent

virgin” (Thompson 17). She supports her theory with the

incident in which Amanda says that she had seventeen

gentlemen callers in one day. Thompson goes on to say that

the “exaggeration of the number of Amanda’s beaux recalls

fairy tale and legends of romance in which the princess is

beleaguered by suitors until the ideal knight or prince

returns” (17). Here, Thompson shows that Amanda’s weakness

is living in a sort of dream world which overwhelms her

intentions of being a “Great Mother” (Thompson 17).

A second critic, Joseph K. Davis, takes the stance that

Laura’s weakness overpowers her ability to be sensitive.

Davis divides the dramatic pattern of The Glass Menagerie

into two parts. Part of the pattern is “the dramatization

of men and women by a display of their fragmented, tortured

psychologies” (Davis 192). He states in his analysis of The

Glass Menagerie: “His [Tom’s] sister Laura tries to live in

the present, but her crippled body and grim prospects in the

secretarial school overcame her fragile sensibilities”

(194). Davis implies that, like Amanda, Laura’s weakness

consumes her ability to live in reality and her sensibility,

her one strength.

A third critic, Tom Scanlan takes the stance that Tom’s

weakness is overcome by his strength. Tom is easily

entrapped and persuaded into situations that he may or may

not want to be which weakens his character but his strength

is greater than this weakness. The critic states that “the

reappearance of Tom as narrator force the reader back to the

present” (Scanlan 99). He shows the reader that Tom’s

strength is the ability to keep in touch with reality.

Scanlan also shows the reader Tom’s weakness by citing the

example where Tom “is caught between a domineering mother

and a stultifying warehouse job” (99). Although this is an

apparent weakness in Tom, this critic’s view is that Tom

overcomes his weakness of entrapment through his strength.

In The Glass Menagerie, Amanda, Laura, and Tom are

characterized as having both strengths and weaknesses.

Amanda lets her weakness get the best of her while it

overpowers her strength. The physical weakness of Laura

does get the best of her, but her strength of sensibility

does shine through at the end of the play. Tom’s weakness

of entrapment seems to be beating him, but his enduring

strength prevails in the end. Though crippled physically or

non-physically, each of the characters possesses a different

strength which either helps or is overwhelmed by their

strength which either helps or is overwhelmed by their


Critic Judith Thompson argues that Amanda’s weakness is

too powerful and drowns out her strength. After considering

all the facts, Thompson’s theory proves to be a valid one.

Amanda is a very weak person. She pretends that Laura can

do everything she can do, as when she refers to the issues

of gentlemen callers. Amanda says that she must always be

ready because there is no telling when a gentlemen caller

may show up (2115). She also believer that Laura is able to

get a lot of gentlemen callers at anytime (2116), and she

denies that Laura is a cripple and does not allow that word

to be used in the house, although Laura does at the end of

the play (2113). These examples show how Amanda lets her

dream world mix with reality to create her weakness.

The argument that the sensibility of Laura is overtaken

by her imaginary world of glass and that her physical

handicap, for the most part, is all in her head is a valid

one. It is evident that she has made out her physical

handicap to be something more than it really is. Throughout

the play, no one actually tells her that is crippled except

for herself (2133). This supports Davis’ theory that she is

not sensible and that she does not have strength in her

sensibility. The problem with this is that she is sensible

because, if she were not, she would deny her problem just as

her mother does. She does recognize that does have a

disability even though it may not be as big of a problem as

she thinks it is. Laura also recognizes that she is not

like her mother and will not receive any gentlemen callers

(2116) which is a sensible thing to do. There is clearly a

case against Davis’ theory of Laura’s lack of sensibility.

Tom has an evident weakness but is overpowered by his

strength of reality. This is also argued by critic Tom

Scanlan. It is clear that Tom does have a weakness and that

weakness is his entrapment. He is bound to care for his

sister and mother because his father left them, and this

prevents Tom from living the action for himself and being in

the movies (2139). Amanda drives Tom crazy by over

criticizing him no matter what her does. One example of the

criticism occurs when Amanda tells Tom, “You smoke too much”

(2140). This must push Tom too far because he decides that

he is going to leave. When Tom leaves Laura and Amanda, he

shows that his strength has triumphed over his weakness.

From these criticisms, it is easy to see why this

subject is an important one. The characters’ weaknesses and

strengths are not the same, but they o either help or hinder

themselves. All three critics are in agreement with the

main idea of the subject. One has a slightly different view

than the rest but not everyone sees everything the same way.

The important thing is that they support the idea that

,though crippled physically or non-physically, each of the

characters possesses a different strength which either helps

or is overwhelmed by their strength which either helps or is

overwhelmed by their handicap.

1. Thompson, Judith J. Tennessee Williams’ Plays: Memory,

Myth, and Symbol. New York: Peter Land Publishing,

Inc., 1987.

2. Davis, Joseph K. “Landscapes of the Dislocated Mind in

Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.” Tennessee Williams: A

Tribute. Ed. Jac Tharpe. Hattiesburg: Heritage

Printers, Inc., 1977. 192-206.

3. Scanlan, Tom. “Family and Psyche in The Glass

Menagerie.” Twentieth Century Interpretations of The

Glass Menagerie. Ed. R.B. Parker. Englewood Cliffs:

Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983. 96-108.

4. Williams, Tennessee. “The Glass Menagerie.” Concise

Anthology of American Literature. Ed. George

McMichael. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company,

1985. 2112-2156

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