Same Difference
By Julian Ostrow

    In The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams, two main dynamic characters share many similar traits and characteristics while still portraying a multitude of differences. The first character that will be outlined is Tom, who narrates the play and also plays a role in it. The second character is Laura, Tom's sister. The fact that Tom and Laura both experienced their father leaving at a young age may contribute to the behavioral habits that are exhibited throughout the play by both siblings. Since their fatherís escape from the household, both Tom and Laura have been raised solely by Amanda, their mother, whose psyche has obviously been affected in addition to her two children.

    Tom, who begins the play by explaining that it is from his memories, has many exclusive characteristics, including his need for adventure and independence. Tom feels that he cannot have true freedom in his life until he leaves the household run by his overbearing mother. Tom has a temper, and can be very loud when arguing with his mother. He feels obligated to help both Laura and Amanda, but regardless of his affection for both women, Tom quickly loses all patience and devises a plan to escape, just as his father did. Tomís constant arguments with his mother make him a source of chaos in the household, and they prompt him to temporarily escape, usually to the movie theater or a bar. Finally, Tom makes his final escape, just as his father did. However, his escape is strictly physical; Tom notes toward the end of the play that he has and always will feel obligation and guilt toward his family for leaving and "never looking back."

    Laura, in many respects, is a complete opposite of Tom. Since her fatherís escape from the household, she has craved solitude and escaped within, to her glass menagerie and record collection. She is constantly introverted, preferring her own world within the glass animals to any kind of social interaction. In fact, all contact with people other than Tom and Amanda terrifies Laura, to the point of her throwing up from nervousness. Laura, in contrast to Tom, acts as the peacekeeper in the household, always trying to end the constant arguments between Tom and their mother, possibly because she remains a child within, unable to deal with conflict and confrontation. Her efforts are usually successful, but only for a small time, until Amanda aggravates Tom again. In the end of the play, Laura is still very much trapped in her own private world, possibly even more so, because of the traumatic experience with the gentleman caller that shouldíve served as a boost to her confidence, but instead crashed it down farther.

    Regardless of Tom and Lauraís many major differences, they do share some similar traits. Both remain trapped in an oubliette throughout the play. Until the end of the play, both Tom and Laura have been ruled by their overbearing mother, although they handle her behavior differently. In a sense, Tom still is ruled by his mother, even though he left the household forever. Neither Tom nor Laura are very social persons, Tom preferring to keep to himself and Laura being compelled by her own fears to remain very private and secluded. These shared characteristics may be a product of their similar upbringings and the shared loss of their father.

    Tennessee Williams does a very good job of portraying the subtle differences and similarities of Tom and Laura in The Glass Menagerie, opening up layer upon layer of analyzation for readers. Even though Tom and Laura consistently display major differences in personality and behavior, upon looking deeper, the common traits of the two siblings become apparent, providing another window into the inner workings of their mind and psyche.


-- Grade: A