The Glass Menagerie is a criticism of American morals but only to a certain extent as the play explores other themes and issues and also the variance in human nature. A criticism of American morals can indeed be found within the text however, Williams only hints the fault in the ideology of “the american dream“, the backbone of most American morals, rather than actually being forthright in saying that American morals are flawed. The real criticism of American morals lie within the characters and the situations in the play. For example one of the aspects of the American Dream is freedom for all. Yet as we can see during the 1930’s, in which the play is set, and also through the mood and theme of entrapment in the play that this was an idea that didn’t apply to this time. Many were trapped by their social and economic situations, which didn’t allow them to break free and live the lives they wanted to.
The American people were supposed to be free but in reality many were slaves to their wages. This can be poignantly seen through the character of Tom in the play. He is trapped in a “2 by 4 situation” where although he longs to escape the Wingfield apartment, thereby escaping his claustrophobic situation, he has a duty to support his mother and sister who are heavily dependant on him. Explaining why he is always seen lingering by the apartments fire escape, symbolic of his flight and escape to freedom. Williams describes the Wingfield apartment as being set in a “fundamentally enslaved section of American society”, highlighting the feeling of incarceration and imprisonment by all Americans within the social context.
The criticisms of American morals can be seen through the situations in the play where we see the real condemnation of American society and its standards. The Wingfield family are left to fend for themselves after the desertion they suffered by their father. Not once in the play does any member of society come to aid Amanda as she struggles to make ends meet and raise money for her children to live comfortably. In fact the public shun the family away and would rather not be reminded of them. Her social exclusion is apparent in scene 3 when Amanda carries out her magazine subscription work but is rudely hung up on “Heavens-I think she’s hung up”. In this treatment of the Wingfield family it is plain to see that a dysfunctional family will not fit into American society and is somewhat forgotten and left to rot. Tom, who is somewhat loosely based around Williams himself and may be echoing his opinions, sums up American society in the beginning of the play when he talks briefly about Spain. In scene 1 Tom compares the USA to Spain, “In Spain there was revolution.
Here there was only shouting and confusion”. This shows his criticism over the lack of movement within the USA. It suggests that within the USA people were trying to make sense of what was happening. They were trying to cope and deal with the depression in the 1930’s rather than actually doing anything about it. Tom also refers back to this later on in the play when he states in scene 6 that “people go to the movies instead of moving”. People are trying to find means of escape instead of staying and confronting the problem. This is entrenched in the character of Tom as, in the end he decides to run and escape the situation and tries to pursue his own dreams and ambitions, conforming to the idea of the American Dream, but it catches up with him. The guilt over leaving his family behind pursues him and constantly eats away at him. In Scene 7 Tom states “I was pursued by something”. The point made here within the play was that, in the end he decided to follow his aspirations and the American Dream and it was the wrong decision for him as his guilt about it prevented him from living his life properly.
Tom does have morals, yet these morals constrain him to the point of entrapment. Everyday he is surrounded by a society that has no morals and doesn’t care about others and the state of the country as they all find means of selfish escape. This is shown in Scene 5 when Tom states that “across the alley from us was the Paradise Dance Hall” which served as a means of escapism for people of his as it provided “compensation for lives that passed like mine”. Tom declares the Dance Hall “flooded the world with brief deceptive rainbows,” describing the temporary illusion that most sought to escape from their pathetic existences. He dwelled on this so much that he eventually wanted to escape it and elude this, which he did. The criticism here is that Tom followed the American Dream, by doing so one ends up selfish and almost hedonistic, not caring about family or society, only ones self.
More underlying criticism in the play is with the character of Mr. Wingfield. He pursued his own objectives and desires (part of the American Dream) and ignored his responsibilities resulting in the desertion of the Wingfield family unit. The American society places so much emphasis on the father figure in the family that it made it almost impossible in the play for the Wingfields to function as a normal family. The family seem to have a sense of isolation because of the absence of a patriarchal figure. “a world of reality that we were somehow set apart from” (Scene 1). The Wingfields live in a patriarchal society where the majority of jobs were given to men, without a male provider the women would feel trapped and so the role of patriarch fell to Tom. Tom does not welcome the responsibility of being the patriarchal figure even though he seems to have been given the financial responsibility of being one. It is a coerced role, which has been imposed upon him, and he refuses to accept it thoroughly thus trying to escape it by running away.
There is also the sense that there is no one for Amanda to turn to for help at any time in the play. It is as though society has turned its back on the family because they are now seen as dysfunctional. Her telephone calls and the response she gets are evidence of this “Heavens-I think she’s hung up”. Amanda would probably be viewed as a mother deserted and her embarrassing magazine payment job is evidence of her not fitting within the American society. Amanda, once the “southern belle” is willing to debase herself, or her standards at least, in order for her children to stay financially comfortable. She once lived an upper class sheltered life as a southern belle and would not have had to face such hardship if her husband had stayed to support her. In this way Amanda puts her upper class mentality and takes on board humiliating magazine subscription work, regularly phoning those women, which she would have once socialised with. In this sense The Glass Menagerie also explores human nature in the play as well criticising American morals, as Amanda wants her children to prosper in life and is willing to work to achieve this.
The American Dream was the basis of most American morals in the 1930’s. The American Dream was about self-improvement, success, opportunity and perseverance. The Glass Menagerie shows how the American Dream and most American morals, which are based on it, are mainly about this “self” selfish existence and how self-centred it is. Amanda describes Tom as a “Selfish Dreamer” who wouldn’t let anything interfere with his “selfish pleasure”. By following this most Americans ended up being self-absorbed “Self, self, self”.
Many would agree that the character of Jim embodies the American Dream. Like it, he appears to perfect and positive in all his aspects, yet he knowingly deceives Laura and proves that essentially he is flawed, as is American society. Jim is introduced into the play in scene six where he seems to be hope personified. He would be a quick solution to he Wingfields problems, Amanda would have a son in law and an extra provider for the family, Laura would have a husband and wouldn’t sit at home wasting away as she did most of the time. Not only representing hope and optimism, Jim seems to have the most positive attitude of all the characters in the play (outdoing Amanda) and he seems to be the eternal optimist, something quite out of place for someone living in the 1930’s depression era. In Scene 6 Jim says, “I’m disappointed but not discouraged”.
Jim also fits in with the theme of illusion and reality. He seems to be the hope and light of the Wingfields yet he is not the charming fiancï¿½ Amanda wants him to be as he is already engaged. He is built up o be somewhat resembling a hero yet the reality is disappointing. “I hoped when I was going to high school that I would be further along at this time”. Even Jim himself has realised that he has not succeeded as well as he would have liked to, yet his attitude is unchanged. Outwardly he seems to be the saviour to the Wingfields yet when he leaves he ends up painfully reminding the Wingfields of their dire situation.
Williams deliberately only touches upon what may be boiling away beneath the surface of the characters and American society. Williams doesn’t criticize American morals blatantly but does it through the subtle use of symbols and situations the characters are in and he mainly leaves it to the audience to do the full criticising. The use of screen icons and legends emphasize the message that Williams is trying to suggest, the emotions of desertion, abandonment and entrapment that the characters feel within the play. The character of Tom does criticize America for its lack of movement but audiences have to explore what Williams may be conveying in order to see where the criticisms of American morals lie.