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Tom Wingfield’s Character in Tennessee Williams’ Play The Glass Menagerie

Menagerie, Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie, Tom's

In the memory play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, the main character Tom Wingfield struggles with choosing between his own personal dreams versus accepting the reality of his families situation. Tom and his family live in an alley apartment and survive mainly on Tom’s salary from a shoe factory. Tom often seems uninterested in self improvement tasks such as attending night school courses, and he frequently presents himself as a dreamer.

Tom’s aspirations are to write poetry and escape the daily drone of the factory and a struggling family. Throughout the course of this drama the reader must ask himself: is Tom an admirable figure in this play in which he abandons his family? Tom indeed is not an admirable character because the responsibility he has to his family, the loss of reality he experiences, and the fact that he cannot even forgive himself.

To examine Tom Wingfield’s admirability in this play, the reader must first account for the responsibility that Tom has toward supporting his own family. Since the father left the family, the dependency of his mother Amanda and his sister Laura on Tom’s salary is a major reason Tom has a responsibility to take care of them. Because Tom chooses to leave and abandon this responsibility, he cannot be considered an “admirable” character. Although it can be said that Tom tried to find a support for his family by inviting Jim O’Connor to call on his sister before he left, the reader sees Tom’s last moment effort as half-hearted.

The reader is alerted to this half effort by Tom’s failure to investigate Jim’s situation. “The warehouse is where I work not where I know things about people” (Scene VII). Although Tom has aspirations and dreams, which is certainly admirable, the care of a family in situation of missing the father as a primary caregiver is seen as more admirable and thereby outweighs Tom’s needs.

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Next, the reader must evaluate Tom’s loss of reality. Over the course of the play as Tennessee Williams develops Tom’s character, the reader can ascertain that Tom holds dreams of the future in higher regard than the reality that faces him in the present. For example, in his conversation with Jim in the latter stages of the play, Tom says, ” I paid the dues this month [for The Union of Merchant Seaman], instead of the light bill” (Scene VI).

Tom’s planning for the future overrides the necessities of reality that are currently in front of him. The reader sees Tom’s progression into a dream world that excludes his family as a complete disregard for reality. Such disregard is dishonorable in the mind of the reader.

Finally, the audience notes Tom’s failure to forgive himself for his actions and uses that acknowledgment to place him as a dishonorable character. In the finally monologue of this drama, the narrator Tom feels his sister’s presence while he’s on the road: ” Oh Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!” (Scene VII). This instance of guilt alone is enough to offer the reader sufficient evidence to conclude Tom is not an admirable character.

The playwright Tennessee Williams also hints at Tom’s dishonor by using a fire escape as an exit. A fire escape is a back exit or an emergency exit, so in a sense the parallel Williams uses is that Tom takes the dishonorable exit out the back door of this situation. Overall, the reader is steered to conclude that the character Tom is not an admirable character.

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In conclusion, in The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, the character Tom is not an admirable character because he ignores the responsibility he has to his family, he losses of reality he experiences, and he cannot forgive himself. The responsibility he has for his family’s well being is undeniable in the minds of readers.

Moreover, Tom’s dream world overrides his real situations, and when he finally leaves he cannot forgive himself in the end. All of these factors help the audience conclude that Tom is not the admirable character that he should be. The underlying problem is Tom’s regard for himself as better than his situation in St. Louis, which coupled with his view of his father leaving has caused him to rationalize his actions in his mind. Despite this rationalization, Tom is seen as a dishonorable person.