To begin with, I turn back time. I reverse it to that quaint period, the thirties, where the huge middle class of America was matriculating in a school for the blind. Their eyes had failed them, or they had failed their eyes, and so they were having their fingers pressed forcibly down on the fiery Braille alphabet of a dissolving economy. (1.1, Tom).
Just as all the members of the Wingfield family have retreated from reality, so, according to Tom, has the rest of the country, choosing to ignore what is going on around them.
I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it. The other characters are my mother, Amanda, and my sister, Laura, and a gentlemen caller who appears in the final scenes. He is the most realistic character in the play, being an emissary from a world of reality that we were somehow set apart from. But since I have a poet's weakness for symbols, I am using this character as a symbol; he is the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for. (1.1, Tom).
Tom openly recognizes that Jim is different from the members of the Wingfield family in that he is facing reality, rather than in denial of it.
[lightly] "Temperament like a Metropolitan star!" (1.8, Amanda).
Amanda fails to recognize that Tom is truly mad at her, treating his snapping comment as a joke.
"Resume your seat, little sister - I want you to stay fresh and pretty - for gentlemen callers!" (1.14, Amanda).
While Laura’s and Tom’s retreat from reality is more subtle, Amanda projects self-delusion to a great degree.
"No, dear, you go in front and study your typewriter chart. Or practice your shorthand a little. Stay fresh and pretty! – It’s almost time for our gentlemen callers to start arriving. [She flounces girlishly toward the kitchenette] How many do you suppose we’re going to entertain this afternoon?" (1.35, Amanda).
It is because of her obsession with the past that Amanda is so unable to see the present for what it is.
"Not one gentlemen caller? It can’t be true! There must be a flood, there must have been a tornado!" (1.37, Amanda).
Despite repeated attempts that her children make to explain Laura’s current situation, Amanda remains blind to the facts.
Laura draws a long breath and gets awkwardly to her feet. She crosses to the Victrola and winds it up. (Scene Two, stage directions).
Just as Tom uses the movies, Laura uses objects such as the Victrola and her glass menagerie to escape reality.
"I went into the art museum and the bird house at the Zoo. I visited the penguins every day! Sometimes I did without lunch and went to the movies. Lately I’ve been spending most of my afternoons in the Jewel Box, that big glass house where they raise the tropical flowers." (2.29, Laura).
Laura retreats into pseudo-worlds to avoid the real one.
"When I had that attack of pleurosis – he asked me what was the matter when I came back. I said pleurosis – he thought that I said Blue Roses! So that’s what he always called me after that. Whenever he saw me, he’d holler, ‘Hello, Blue Roses!’" (2.45, Laura).
Laura is drawn to Jim because of his ability to create names and thoughts of an altered reality, such as the ones she chooses to live in.
[in a tone of frightened apology]: "I'm crippled!"
"Nonsense, Laura, I've told you never, never to use that word. Why, you’re not crippled, you just have a little defect – hardly noticeable, even! When people have some slight disadvantage like that, they cultivate other things to male up for it – develop charm – and vivacity – and – charm! That’s all you have to do!" (2.47-2.50, Laura and Amanda).
Amanda is blinded by a mother’s love to the actualities of Laura’s situation.
"Let me tell you—" "I don’t want to hear anymore!" (3.20, 3.21, Amanda and Tom).
Tom chooses to forcibly shut out reality, choosing instead to escape to the movies.
[with great enthusiasm]: "Try and you will succeed! [The notion makes her breathless.] Why, you - you're just full of natural endowments! Both of my children-they're unusual children! Don't you think I know it? I'm so-proud! Happy and-feel I've-so much to be thankful for…" (4.39, Amanda).
Amanda deludes herself into thinking that matters are far better than they actually are.
"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).
Ironically, Amanda claims she is not blindfolded, when in fact she is blind to Laura’s real predicament and Tom’s real needs.
Across the alley from us was the Paradise Dance Hall. On evenings in the spring the windows and doors were open and the music came outdoors. Sometimes the lights were turned out except for a large glass sphere that hung from the ceiling. It would turn rather slowly about and filter the dusk with delicate rainbow colors. Then the orchestra would play a waltz or a tango, something that had a slow and sensuous rhythm. Couples would come outside, to the relative privacy of the alley. You would see them kissing behind ash pits and telephone poles. This was the compensation for lives that passed like mine, without any change or adventure. Adventure and change were imminent this year. They were waiting around the corner for all these kids. Suspended in the mist over Berchtesgaden, caught in the folds of Chamberlain's umbrella. In Spain there was Guernica. But here there was only hot swing music and liquor, dance halls, bars, and movies, and sex that hung in the gloom like a chandelier and flooded the world with brief, deceptive rainbows…All the world was waiting for bombardments! (5.10, Tom).
Just as Tom escapes to the movies to avoid reality, so, he claims, are all the other members of society.
"A fire escape landing's a poor excuse for a porch." [She spreads a newspaper and sits down, gracefully and demurely as if she were settling into a swing on a Mississippi veranda]. (5.11, Amanda).
Amanda’s body language and motions serve to identify the great magnitude of her self-delusion.
"Laura seems all those things to you and me because she's ours and we love her. We don't even notice she's crippled anymore."
"Don’t say crippled! You know I never allow that word to be used!" (5.120-5.122, Tom and Amanda).
Amanda establishes roles and obligations within her family to help her avoid having to deal with reality.
"Laura is very different from other girls."
"…in the eyes of others-strangers-she's terribly shy and lives in a world of her own and those things make her seem a little peculiar to people outside the house."
"She lives in a world of her own-a world of little glass ornaments, Mother…She plays old phonograph records and-that's about all-". (5.126, 5.128, 5.132, Tom)
Tom fully understands Laura’s retreat from reality.
Yes, movies! Look at them-[a wave toward the marvels of Grand Avenue]. All of those glamorous people-having adventures-hogging it all, gobbling the whole thing up! You know what happens? People go to the movies instead of moving! Hollywood characters are supposed to have all the adventures for everybody in America, while everybody in America sits in a dark room and watches them have them! Yes, until there's a war. That's when adventure becomes available to the masses! Everyone's dish, not only Gable's! Then the people in the dark room come out of the dark room to have some adventures themselves-goody, goody! It's our turn now, to go to the South Sea Island-to make a safari-to be exotic, far off! But I'm not patient. I don't want to wait till then. I'm tired of the movies and I am about to move! (6.114, Tom).
Just as Tom escapes reality by going to the movies, so, he says, does the general population.
At first, before Jim’s warmth overcomes her paralyzing shyness, Laura’s voice is thin and breathless, as though she had just run up a flight of stairs. Jim’s attitude is gently humorous. While the incident is apparently unimportant, it is to Laura the climax of her secret life. (Scene Seven stage directions).
Jim is so appealing to Laura for his ability to enter her own secret world and interact with her there.
"You don’t know things anywhere! You live in a dream; you manufacture illusions!" (7.317, Amanda).
Ironically, Amanda accuses Tom of manufacturing illusions, not recognizing that she herself is guilty of the same thing.