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Conflict Between Reality and Illusion as a Major Theme of ‘the Glass Menagerie’

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    Introduction The Glass Menagerie is a dramatic play about human nature and the conflict between illusion and reality. An illusion is pretense and not reality. In The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams has made use of both reality and illusion together using conflict between them. Illusion is a misinterpretation of the facts. It is an opinion based on what we think is true rather than on what is actually true. In this play Williams has made illusion integral to his theme. He uses Tom Wingfield to tell us directly that the play is an illusion.

    Tom explains that his purpose is not simply to produce an illusion that appears true, but to reveal “truth” in the ‘disguise of illusion’. Tom wants us to see the truth about life within the illusion he creates. Nature of the illusion in ‘The Glass Menagerie’ Definition of Illusion Illusion: A perception, as of visual stimuli, that represents what is perceived in a way different from the way it is in reality. – Literary Terms. In The Glass Menagerie, almost all the characters like to be in an illusion. For them it is as a defense against the harsh realities of life.

    An illusion is a faulty notion of happiness when life is surrounded by bitter and harsh facts. The play centers on the hopes, despairs, predicament and failure of Wingfield family. The Wingfields try to escape from reality to a world of fantasies, dreams and imagination to forget the pain resulting from a realization of failure and frustration of actual life. Temporary stay in the dream world is pleasant but the return to reality is inevitable. The gap between appearance and reality helps us understand the nature of illusion in the play.

    The Glass Menagerie offers a family that is systemically unable to fully live in the present so they search vainly for happiness. Theme of reality versus illusion in ‘The Glass Menagerie’ The difference between appearance and reality creates an ironic gap in the play The Glass Menagerie. The characters of the play pretend to be happy and fine which is sharply in contrast with the realities of their lives. This creates the situation of illusion in the play. The play sets in America. There are four characters in this play. They are Amanda (the mother), Tom (her son), Laura (daughter) and Jim O’Conner (a gentleman caller).

    Amanda and her children Tom and Laura represent the fractured reality of the average family in America; the only difference is that the husband/father is physically absent instead of merely psychically detached from the workings of familial bonding. Amanda is always worried about her children. She is over possessive for them. She is always after Tim to find a gentleman caller for his sister, Laura. Tom plays the role of narrator and actor together in the play. Laura is a girl whose one leg is bit shorter than the other and so she is very shy to be a society and at making fiends. Amanda is worried about her daughter’s marriage.

    Many times Amanda recollects her past happy life and she loves to stay in that illusion. She recollects her past time with Mr. Wingfield. Tom works in a warehouse. He likes adventure and wants to leave his house. He lives in his future illusions. And Laura likes to stay at home and spend her time with her favorite glass collection. She is not a social person at all. Nobody is satisfied with their reality of life and so that they try to escape from their reality to their illusions. This illusion is simply used by the characters to hide their faces from the ugly realities of their daily existence.

    Such kind of illusion provides a temporary escape from the bitter and harsher realities of actual life. People who are unable to face the facts of life stay in such delusions instead of providing a temporary relief from the tensions and problems of life. Amanda’s Illusions and reality Amanda, the mother, finds that her son has not worked and earned enough. Her daughter is a cripple who suffers from inferiority complex. Amanda believes Laura can be happy and successful if she goes to Business College and learns typing. But she fails to complete her course because of her shyness. This present reality is not satisfying in any way.

    Unable to face the bitter reality of present life she tries to live in her past when many gentlemen callers used to visit her. She tells the stories from her past and imposes her dreams and wishes on her children. But it is only an illusion. Amanda also believes that if she makes Laura look beautiful and attractive, if she alters one of her old dresses to wear herself, recovers the furniture, gets a new lamp and if she herself plays the role of a charming, youthful Southern matron, Laura’s gentleman caller will be so captivated that he will become a frequent caller and will eventually marry Laura.

    But when Amanda comes to know that Jim will not marry her daughter the artificial world of dreams has broken down. She is enacts a drama to show that there are no tensions. She tries to hide behind the façade of illusion to conceal her sorrow and problems. She speaks in a very jovial manner in order to show that life is devoid of problems. She forces herself to be led by illusion. When the world of dreams breaks down, she remains a shattered woman. Amanda lives in her past illusion. Tom’s Illusions and reality Tom seems to have no illusions at first but Tom has his own world of illusion as well.

    Being unable to have any worldly success he lives in the world of movies to escape from the realities of life. He believes that by joining the Union of Merchant Seamen he will escape from the pretentions of his mother which she has for him. As a traveler, he will experience change and adventure in the world but later he realizes that he is abide by his responsibilities for his family. Tom admits that he has been more “faithful” to Laura than he intended to be by continuing things that Laura appreciates and comes to represent.

    Tom is a character of conflict. He is confused between his family responsibilities and his own world of interest. He lives in his future world. He lives in an illusion of his future. Laura’s illusions and reality Laura lives in her own illusion. She has withdrawn into the world of artificial glass animals because she is shy, cripple and has inferiority complex about herself. The beauty of the glass menagerie fascinates her and helps her to forget the pain of real life. Like the animals in her glass menagerie, Laura remains delicate and vulnerable.

    In her own way she is hard, as glass is hard and just as easily damaged if not protected, but she also possesses beauty as fine glass does and an inner light of varying shades of color. She believes that when she was in high school and wore a brace on her legs, everyone used to watch her when she was late for chorus practice and had to go ‘clumping’ to her seat in the back row of the auditorium. While talking with Jim she explains that the clumping sounded like a thunder to her. But Jim never noticed that. When Laura talks about her favorite glass animal, a unicorn, she is really talking about herself.

    She develops her illusion by saying that the unicorn loves the light, may feel lonesome being different from the other animals, but does not complain about it. He also gets along nicely with other horses that do not have horns. She also says that her glass animals like a change of scenery once in a while. Laura herself sometimes goes out for a change of scenery. She goes to movies or gardens instead of going to her classes at Business College. The moment the unicorn falls from the table and loses his horn she is awakened to the reality of life from which she was hiding herself. fter spending her brief time with Jim, during which they talk, dance and kiss, her momentary hope gets destroyed soon, when Jim announces that he is already engaged with a girl named Betty and they are in love. Jim’s illusions and reality While Jim O’Connor temporarily becomes an illusion of Laura’s salvation n Amanda’s mind, Jim also has certain illusions. He has created them in order to believe in a happy and successful future. Jim has faced that he has not achieved the success everyone expected from in high school. But he believes that he can still capture it.

    By taking a course in public speaking, he is certain that with his brains and ability he will be fitted for an executive position. He also believes that by taking a course in radio engineering he will be able to “get in on ground floor” of the television industry and go right to the top of the ladder of success. Conclusion The use of reality and illusion by Tennessee Williams has made play more understandable. Illusion helps to understand the depth of the reality. The characters use false appearance to hide the true reality of their lives.

    Their stay in the world of illusion can help them to temporarily forget the aches and pains of life. So readers find illusion pleasant. Escape to the world of illusion is an attempt to deny the bitterness of real life. Amanda always lives in her past life illusions. Tom likes to stays in his future illusion and Laura lives in her glass menagerie. However, the stay in that false world is bound to end shortly bringing them face to face with the reality of their present life. But it is the fact that everyman finds something or the other to make his life happy and to keep his life away from all tensions and worries that his real life has.

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    Conflict Between Reality and Illusion as a Major Theme of ‘the Glass Menagerie’. (2016, Oct 11). Retrieved from

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