Study Guide

The Glass Menagerie Abandonment

By Tennessee Williams

Abandonment

"A blown-up photograph of the father hangs on the wall of the living room, to the left of the archway. It is the face of a very handsome young man in a doughboy's First World War cap. He is gallantly smiling, ineluctably smiling, as if to say "I will be smiling forever." (stage directions, Scene One).

Tom’s father seems to show no regret at having abandoned his family.

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; he gave up his job with the telephone company and skipped the light fantastic out of town…

The last we heard of him was a picture postcard from Mazatlan, on the Pacific coast of Mexico, containing a message of two words: "Hello - Goodbye!" and no address. (1.1, Tom).

Tom’s desire to leave the Wingfield apartment originally emulates that of his father. Yet, later, unlike is father, Tom is not able to make a clean break.

"Listen! You think I'm crazy about the warehouse? [He bends fiercely toward her slight figure.] You think I'm in love with Continental Shoemakers? You think that I want to spend fifty-five years down there in that - celotex interior! with-fluorescent-tubes! Look! I'd rather somebody packed up a crowbar and battered out my brains-than go back mornings! I go! Every time you come in yelling that Goddamn 'Rise and Shine! Rise and Shine!' I say to myself, 'How lucky dead people are!' But I get up. I go! For sixty-five dollars a month I give up all that I dream of doing and being ever! And you say self-self's all I ever think of! Why, listen, if self is what I thought of, Mother, I'd be where he is-GONE! [He points to his father's picture.] As far as the system of transportation reaches!" (3.34, Tom).

Tom makes it clear that the only reason he has not left home is that he does not value the self over the family enough to abandon his mom and sister.

"And, oh, I forgot! There was a big stage show! The headliner on this stage show was Malvolio the Magician…But the wonderfullest trick of all was the coffin trick. We nailed him into a coffin and hr got out of the coffin without removing one nail. There is 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 the hell ever got himself out of one without removing one nail?"

As if in answer, the father’s grinning photograph lights up. (4.9, 4.13, Tom, Scene Four stage directions).

It seems that when Tom’s father abandoned the Wingfield family, there was little or no effect on the remaining remembers.

"We have to do all that we can to build ourselves up. In these trying times we live in, all that we have to cling to is-each other…" (4.31, Amanda).

Tom’s eventual abandonment of his family is made more tragic by Amanda’s comments that they need each other.

"However, you do act strangely. I-I'm not criticizing, understand that! I know your ambitions do not lie in the warehouse, that like everybody in the whole wide world-you've had to-make sacrifices, but-Tom-Tom-life's not easy, it calls for-Spartan endurance! There's so many things in my heart that I cannot describe to you! I've never told you but I-loved your father…"

[gentle]: "I know that, Mother." (4.61, 4.62, Amanda and Tom).

Amanda’s character is made more sympathetic by her discussions of the husband that abandoned her.

"And you-when I see you taking after his ways! Staying out late-and-well, you had been drinking the night you were in that-terrifying condition! Laura says that you hate the apartment and that you go out nights to get away from it! Is that true, Tom?" (4.63, Amanda).

Amanda accurately points out that Tom takes after his father, both in his nights out and in his later abandonment of the family.

"Oh, I can see the handwriting on the wall as plain as I can see the nose in front of my face! It's terrifying! More and more you remind me of your father! He was out all hours without explanation!-Then left! Goodbye! And me with the bag to hold. I saw that letter you got from the Merchant Marine. I know what you're dreaming of. I'm not standing here blindfolded. Very well, then. Then do it! But not till there's somebody to take your place." (4.91, Amanda).

Amanda is OK with the idea of Tom abandoning the family – as long as there is someone around to take care of Laura.

"How about your mother?"

"I'm like my father. The bastard son of a bastard! Did you notice how he's grinning in his picture in there? And he's been absent going in sixteen years!" (6.127, 6.128, Jim and Tom).

Tom preferentially sides with his missing father rather than his mother.

"I married a man who worked for a telephone company! That gallantly smiling man over there! A telephone man who-fell in love with long distance! Now he travels and I don't even know where!" (6.139, Amanda).

Amanda’s character is made more sympathetic by her discussions of the husband that abandoned her.

"That's right, now that you've had us all make such fools of ourselves. The effort, the preparations, all the expense! The new floor lamp, the rug, the clothes for Laura! All for what? To entertain some other girl's fiancé! Go to the movies, go! Don't think about us, an unmarried sister who's crippled and has no job! Don't let anything interfere with your selfish pleasure! Just go, go, go-to the movies!" (7.319, Amanda).

Amanda believes that Tom abandoned the family – in spirit – by bringing an unsuitable caller home for Laura.

"GO, then! Go to the moon-you selfish dreamer!" (7.320, Amanda).

Amanda finally gives up on Tom, in a way abandoning him before he abandons her and Laura.

"I didn't go to the moon - I went much further-for time is the longest distance between two poles. Not long after that I was fired for writing a poem on the lid of a shoe-box. I left St. Louis. 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." (7.321, Tom).

Before confessing that his abandonment was not successful, Tom suggests that his leaving was similar to his father’s.

"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! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest anything-anything that can blow your candles out! For nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura-and so, goodbye… (7.321, Tom).

Although he tried to abandon his family, Tom could not abandon his sister, Laura, in spirit.