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The comedy in the Glass Menagerie bears a sarcastic tone. The characters reveal a sadness that permeates throughout their apartment walls. Laura does not use humor to make any points. She is melancholy around her mother and brother. And she is distant and introverted around strangers. Laura keeps her inner strength on reserve utilizing it only when she feels she must. She doesn’t have any dreams of a future. She is quite content on living on past memories and intertwining those in order to exist in the present. This in itself seems to take a toll on her. Laura is the center of this story. Although she is the one who speaks the least, most conversations between Tom and Amanda center on Laura’a well being and the sacrifices each makes on her behalf. It seems that both Tom and Amanda make these sacrifices begrudgingly as Tom feels guilty about letting Laura know how unhappy he is, but when he is drinking he blurts out how smothered and hopeless he feels “But the most wonderfullest trick of all was the coffin trick.... There is a trick that would come in handy for me-get me out of this 2 by 4 situation” (Alexander, scene 4). And Amanda has selfish reasons. She has a silly affect that is her armor against her pain and she uses it to make light of disturbing situations. Amanda is counting on Laura to provide for her as she grows old, thus she sends her to business school. When Amanda finds out that Laura ceased to go, Amanda is quick to remind Laura of the sacrifices she makes for her “Fifty dollars' tuition, all of our plans - my hopes and ambition for you - just gone up the spout, just gone up the spout like that” (Alexander, scene 2).
Amanda’s purpose for reminding Laura what she does for her, although Amanda is really thinking mainly of herself is an effort to make Laura feel guilty. It is cruel and helps to crush what little spirit Laura has left. Amanda’s behavior towards both of her children is to resurrect a past that didn’t turn out so well for her because of their father. He left them without so much as a decent goodbye, just a postcard from abroad that said two words “Hello, Goodbye!” (Alexander, Scene 1). This must have hurt Amanda deeply, yet she is in denial and does not have anything mean to say about Mr. Wingfield. She keeps speaking about his charm, and how everyone was charmed by him. She says this because she wants to cover the fact that she misjudged him, and by pointing out that everyone liked him and was charmed by him, helps her to save face, she emphasizes this when speaking to Tom about his drinking, and how his father who drank as well had fooled her.
There is a portrait that has been blown up of him hanging in the living room, it is as if he is still present in some way. Or perhaps, to confirm silently that Amanda has nothing to be ashamed of in his leaving and can face him confidently every day. Now, she expects her children to do what their father did not. She takes Tom’s taking on of the rent and bills in providing for them for granted. Amanda’s lack of faith in a man taking care of her, after Mr. Wingfield’s departure carries over to Tom. She has put her faith in Laura taking care of her and when business school failed, she went quickly onto a new plan of marrying Laura off so Laura and her would be husband can take care of Amanda. To “make a little extra money and thereby increase the family’s ability to entertain suitors, Amanda runs a telephone subscription campaign for a magazine called The Homemaker’s Companion” (SparkNotes, scene 3).
Tom resents his mother’s attitude and threatens quite often of leaving the same as his father. He feels more justified in doing so because his mother and sister are not his responsibility. He resents his mother’s intrusion into what little private life he has “On those occasions they call me - Ell Diablo! Oh, I could tell you things to make you sleepless! My enemies plan to dynamite this place. They’re going to blow us all sky-high some night! I’ll be glad, very happy, and so will you! You’ll go up, up on a broomstick, over Blue Mountain with seventeen gentlemen callers!” (Alexander, Scene 5). He has hopes and dreams but seems bound to the past. What keeps him there is his love for Laura and the empathy he feels for her. It is implied in the story that Tom’s feelings for Laura may hint at his having incestuous thoughts of her, although it is not implied strongly, more in passing. This may be the reason also, that Tom does not have any love interests and prefers to fantasize about getting away, and venting his feelings of frustration by writing poetry. He is unable to share his feelings adequately with Laura, because of his realization that he feels pity for her. Amanda shares with Tom that Laura amidst her own unhappiness, feels Tom’s unhappiness and fears he will leave them just like her father.
There are many symbolic references to bring attention to the deep feelings and reservations that keep each of the characters bound to the past and tethered together. Laura’s Glass Menagerie, reflects the light and fragility of her spirit, and her favoritism of the unicorn who is unique and strange in its own way, symbolizes how Laura feels about herself. The old records she plays on the Victrola keep her safe in a past that she has somewhere known happiness. Blue Roses is a reminder of Laura’s childhood illness as well as a crush on a high school boy, Jim, who works in the same shoe factory as Tom. He comes to dinner and awakens a dormant part of Laura bringing her into the present. He dances and kisses her, and afterward expresses he is engaged and had no right. In the interim of his apology, he accidentally breaks her unicorn and as it breaks so does her heart.
Amanda’s hanging onto her husbands old bathrobe and her wearing it symbolizes for her of the loss of feeling him close. And her loss of youth and opportunity is symbolized in her reminiscing of the seventeen gentlemen callers of whom she could have her pick, and of her regrets for having chosen Mr. Wingfield.
The fire escape is a symbol for Tom. He spends a lot of time there, escaping from his mother, and from the suffocating realization of the unhappiness that lays within the apartment and within himself, and the realization that something is peculiar about Laura, and he is unable to make her world right when his too is upside down.
Tom finally departs to the Merchant Marines after being fired from the shoe warehouse. He can’t stop thinking of Laura and is haunted by his feelings for her. He pleads to her to stop haunting him, to let him be free without reservation. The light of Laura’s spirit that he could not see when he dwelled with his sister and mother in the apartment, is now too apparent for him to bear. He realizes that although he has left, and try as he might, he will never be free.