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Essay on the Protagonist in 'The Glass Menagerie'

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The glass menagerie is a critically acclaimed memory play written by Tenessee Williams. The story is heavily influenced by Williams’ own personal life and follows the story of a young man named Tom, his mother, and his sister in their home in Wingfield apartment in Saint Louis. The play is set in the 1930s, in what is dubbed as the great depression, following the rampantly consumerist society of the roaring 1920s, known as the decade of optimism. The story of the family is a close-up look at how people dealt in various ways with their impoverished circumstances. The theme I have decided to focus on for this presentation is escape, especially on the relationship between the mother and son of the play; Tom and Amanda. Escape, or the desire for it, is a prominent theme in The Glass Menagerie and is exhibited through Williams’ choice of setting, use of symbolism, characterization, and language devices throughout the play. Another sentence.

Before Williams became an established playwright, he was formerly a poet, and much of his work, including The Glass Menagerie, has pervading poetic undertones. As such, I thought it would be fitting to compare his work to two pieces of poetry. The two poems I will base my comparison on are The Children’s Hour and The Rainy Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow was a widely-regarded poet who wrote a number of his most established works in the early to the mid-19th century. Many of his more notable works are centered around the themes of frustration and escape, similar to The Glass Menagerie, and the two poems I have selected display this theme from two different perspectives; one from the perspective of a mother and the other from a son.

The main setting and mise en scene in The Glass Menagerie serve to cast a feeling of containment over the main characters. Williams stresses the fact that the buildings are all stacked up like a beehive, so as to portray the dehumanization and confinement of the individuals who live there to their working-class roles. The cage-like feeling of the family’s apartment, which by description is a cramped, dingy place, not unlike a jail cell, adds to the feeling of entrapment. Also, by noting the fire escape which moves out from a window to an alley below gives the reader an initial glimpse into the idea of escapism and lends the apartment an extra dimension to the confining or jail-like feeling. The fire escape is a way out of the apartment - it hangs there like a constant foreshadowing of Tom’s eventual escape. It is also, fittingly, the place where narrator Tom does a good deal of his narrating. This makes sense because the narrator Tom has already escaped, so he speaks to the audience from outside the apartment in which once he was trapped.

The setting is also an important aspect of Longfellow’s poem The Rainy Day, where the weather sets the tone for the piece. Longfellow’s poem employs the rain-misery connection, creating an exceptional work of pathetic fallacy. In the first stanza, Longfellow speaks of the wind and rain outside. In the second stanza, he transitions to the miserable weather raging inside his heart. The final stanza shifts once more, but this time from the indicative mood to the imperative, as Longfellow orders his currently dejected heart to cheer up and remember that, although currently, it may be raining, the sun is still shining behind the clouds, even if he can’t see it at the moment.

This poem, in a way, mirrors the feelings of Tom in The Glass Menagerie, where he feels he will be trapped in his ‘dreary weather’ forever, but feels that there is light at the end of the tunnel if he can only find a means of escaping the life that traps him in the rain.

In The Glass Menagerie, the character who most outwardly expresses his desire to leave the apartment is the protagonist, Tom Wingfield. When analyzing Tom Wingfield, it is important to note the fact that there are two Toms: one, Tom the narrator; two, Tom the participant in the play. I will be focusing on Tom the participant in the play for this analysis.

Besides his poetry, Tom seeks temporary refuge in the movies to forget the cares of the everyday world from which he so desperately wants to leave. Because of his frequent trips to the movies, his lack of ambition in his job, and his smoking, Tom finds himself at odds with his mother most of the time. This argument that Tom has with his mother from scene III shows his perspective on his job and his life, and how dissatisfied he is with his current situation.

This speech expresses his vehement denunciation of and deep hatred for his job at the warehouse. He feels he is trapped by what he calls a 'job designed for insanity' which is a 'living death,' The job is unimaginative and uncreative; the routine is unbearable and it is hardly the job that will give him the opportunity for the expression of his poetic talents, but for sixty-five dollars a month, he gives up all that he dreams of doing - to be able to support his mother and sister. The vituperative language he uses is an expression of all the pent-up emotions seething within him. Amanda’s persistent nagging - to rise and shine, to chew his food well, not to smoke, and not to go to the movies much - proves unendurable for Tom and he feels he needs to escape.

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Contrasting from the perspective of a child, Longfellow’s poem allows the reader insight into the mind of a parent - or in relation to the novel - Amanda. Longfellow looks at escape through a parent’s eyes, and how they desperately want to cling on to their children for as long as possible and not let go. This is evidenced in the last two stanzas of the poem. Analysis.

Critic Matthew Gartner offers more insights. He wrote in his article on Longfellow that the poem hints at the actual fragility of the parent’s hold on his children and his ultimate powerlessness to keep and protect them. This can be observed in the weary, somewhat anxious tone of the poem that may not be seen on the surface level.

Williams also draws on a number of literary techniques to make his workflow with poetic eloquence. Many of the techniques he uses, such as rhythm and cadence, tone, and symbolism, add to the audience’s understanding of Tom’s frustration and desire for escape.

In this passage, for example, Tom’s Outburst is filled with biting sarcasm and contempt, not so much for his mother directly, but more for himself and the web he is caught in from which escape seems impossible. The style of using short, sharp sentences said rapidly one after the other provides a sense of heightened rhythm through the intensity of the emotions felt by the speaker. This speech also displays Tom’s rich and vivid imagination, in which he imagines himself in roles that wildly contrast with his current life. He is frustrated that his life cannot be more exciting.

Right after his outburst, Tom struggles with his coat as his arm catches in his sleeve.

For a minute he is imprisoned in his overcoat. With impatience, he jerks it off the end and flings it across the room. This gesture is a symbolic action. The overcoat represents the responsibility he felt to look after and care for his family. In throwing it away, Tom expresses the desire to be free of such a burden so he can be free.

In the poem The Rainy Day, Longfellow also uses clever literary techniques to convey his message. He skillfully conveys the cyclical nature of suffering through his rhyme scheme, something that it shares with the weather. In the first two stanzas, Longfellow uses an abba scheme, which brings the stanza back to the beginning with the last rhyme. He achieves this not simply by virtue of rhyming ‘dreary’ with another word, instead, he rhymes ‘dreary’ against itself, which is a feature known as ‘homorhyme’. In doing so, he conveys the idea that there is no escape from the dreary weather or indeed his dreary thoughts, it would seem - which mimics the internal thoughts and feelings of Tom in The Glass Menagerie.

The final stanza, however, implies a gap between the clouds. In this portion of the work, the rhyme scheme changes to aabbc, and the reader loses the ‘dreary’ from the first line, which disrupts the cycle. However, he has not completely broken away from it: the rhymes of ‘all’ and ‘fall’ remind the reader of the ‘wall’ and ‘fall’ from the first stanza, and the final word of the poem is ‘dreary’ once more, bringing the poem around to a depressing full cycle.

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Essay on the Protagonist in ‘The Glass Menagerie’. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from
“Essay on the Protagonist in ‘The Glass Menagerie’.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023,
Essay on the Protagonist in ‘The Glass Menagerie’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 Nov. 2023].
Essay on the Protagonist in ‘The Glass Menagerie’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Apr 21 [cited 2023 Nov 30]. Available from:
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