We all have illusions. We can hardly live without them. Most of the time they are harmless thoughts about things that are usually unattainable. An example would be when a person sees something that they want and then dreams of having it. Whenever someone holds an opinion based on what they think is true, or in some cases what should be true, rather than what actually is true, then that is an illusion. Illusions sometimes help people cope with painful situations, but in the end, illusions are only a false escape from reality. The characters in the book The Glass Menagerie are each affected by their own different illusions. Tom, Laura, and Amanda all survive because their illusions protect them from the painful facts of their lives. However, illusions can prove to be self-destructive as well as helpful. Do the characters illusions hurt them, or are they merely harmless aspects of their personalities?
Tom, who is the main character and narrator, suffers from his illusions. Tom s illusion helps him to escape from his own reality. He sees his job at the shoe warehouse as boring and insignificant. He would rather experience the endless possibilities that life holds. But Tom cannot escape his job, so he tries to escape by going to the movies and writing. When he goes to the movies, he expects to find adventure. Watching someone else s adventures on the movie screen offers Tom a diversion from his boring existence.
Yes, movies! Look at them-All of those glamorous people-having adventures-hogging it gobbling the whole thing up! You know what happens? People go to the movies instead of moving! Hollywood characters are supposed to have all the adventures for everybody in America, while everybody in America sits in a dark room and watches them have them! / But I m not patient. I don t want to wait till then. I m tired of the movies and I am about to move! (p. 96)
But since he has to come out of the dark theater and face life again, escape to the movies solves no problems in his life. The vicarious way of life that Tom creates by attending the movies is an illusion because it can never be a true substitute for his own life. Tom realizes in the paragraph above that he is only watching adventures rather than living them. He realizes, also, that movies are only momentary physiological escapes. He uses the movies as a kind of adventure to make up for his own dull life. Tom learns that running away from problems never clears them from your mind. Even when he runs away from St. Louis, he takes along his memories as some sort of mental baggage. He can t escape the past, however hard he tries. Escape, he finds in the end, is an illusion, too.
Laura is shown in the play as a shy and sensitive person. Laura is like this because she possesses a limp. She magnifies this limp to an extent where it affects her whole personality. Her oversensitive nature makes her think that people notice the limp and thus, she cannot live normally. Her inability to overcome the limp causes her to remove herself from the real world and live in a world of illusions. An imaginary world of glass animals provides Laura s refuge from reality. But, her illusion is dangerous for her glass menagerie serves as a substitute for life rather than an escape. Her favorite animal in the menagerie is the unicorn, which she calls freakish. In one scene, she and Jim are looking at the unicorn. The scene shows freakish breaking and this presents Amanda with a revelation.
(L)-Most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest little animals in the world. Mother calls them a glass menagerie! Here s an example of one, if you d like to see it! I shouldn t be partial, but he s my favorite one. Haven t you noticed the single horn on his forehead? (J)- A unicorn huh?/ I hope it wasn t the little glass horse with the horn! (L)-Yes. (J)-Aw, aw, aw. Is it broken? (L)-Now it is just like all the other horses. (J)-It s lost its. (L)-Horn! It doesn t matter. Maybe it s a blessing in disguise. (J)-You ll never forgive me. I bet that that was your favorite piece of glass. (L)-Glass breaks so easily. I ll just imagine it had an operation. The horn was removed to make him feel less-freakish! Now he will feel more at home with the other horses, the ones that don t have horns (p.121-125)
The symbolism of the unicorn s breakage is as clear as the glass itself, but that doesn t make it any less effective. Without its horn, the unicorn is no longer unique. During the evening, Laura has broken out of her world of unreality. She, just as the unicorn, has become less freakish. This revelation shows her that she can become part of the real world. However, the illusion that she is fragile and the world is simply too harsh for her will never release her from her unreal world. Therefore, her illusion is one that will hurt her.
Amanda Wingfield presides over a world that changes between her illusions and reality. Without her illusions, Amanda would realize the hopelessness of Laura s condition. In fact, because of Amanda s illusions, she keeps her hopes alive for something to rescue Laura from a life of dependency. First, Amanda thinks that a typing course will help Laura pull herself together. And later in the play, Amanda foolishly counts on Jim to be Laura s savior. Amanda wants only the best for her children, but she fails to understand that what they most want is completely different from what she wants. Amanda s life is focused on her children s happiness because she doesn t want them to make the same mistakes that she did. This, however, is just an illusion because they will never be what she wants them to be. By trying harder to set them on the right path, she pushes herself even deeper into her illusion. Go to the movies, go! Don t think about us, a mother deserted, an unmarried sister who s crippled and has no job! Don t let anything interfere with your selfish pleasure! Just go, go, go-to the movies! (p.136) By reliving her life, Amanda failed to realize that the personalities of her children were completely different from her own. As a result of her illusions, Amanda drove her son away and hurt herself and the others around her.
If someone was to remove the illusion from the lives of the Wingfield family, which of them could survive the real world? Their illusions might be useful for a short time but the world would pass them by if they maintained an illusionary state. Illusions, therefore, are a destructive trait in the lives of the Wingfield family.