Study Guide

Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie

By Tennessee Williams

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Tom Wingfield

Tom’s your narrator. You can tell because he introduces himself that way and then proceeds to, well, narrate the play. He waxes poetic a lot about the nature of memory, the 1930s, glass, and actually things in general. He just likes to wax poetic. But Tom focuses on what ends up being the core of his character, his desire to get the hell out of town. Tom wants adventure, excitement, new experiences, new places; in short, the opposite of what he was getting working at the warehouse and living at home. He is also a reader and a writer, yet chastised by his mother for the former and eventually fired for the latter. Tom describes his current situation as imprisonment, and his frequent forays onto the fire "escape" are just about as coincidental as Laura similarity to her glass collection. He also uses the movies to briefly experience vicariously what he longs to have in his own life. So the question is...does he escape?

Tom reveals at the end of the play that he could never shake off the memory of Laura. He seems to feel guilty at having left her behind; but he never says anything about his mother! Which brings up the whole topic of Tom’s interaction with these women. Although he doesn’t seem to understand the nature of her secret world the way Jim does, Tom at least recognizes that Laura has a secret world to begin with. And he clearly cares very deeply for her, struck with guilt and self-loathing when he breaks her glass animals with his coat. Amanda, on the other hand, he’s not so chummy with. In fact, he calls her a witch at one point. You could even say she’s the one to really drive him away.

There’s also the issue of the missing father. Tom frequently comments on the fact that he is similar to his father – willing to abandon the family and never come back. He almost seems to use this as an excuse, a sort of it’s-in-my-genes kind of thing when he tells his plan to Jim. Whether or not Tom can be criticized on moral grounds for abandoning the family is open to debate. And we’re all ears.

Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie Study Group

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