Heart of Glass: Sexuality and Naivety in Laura Wingfield’s Development
In Tennessee Williams’s, The Glass Menagerie, sexuality is a concept developed through the Laura Wingfield’s naivety and innocence. This can first be examined by analyzing Amanda Wingfield’s unreasonable expectations for her daughter, Laura. By prescribing her the sexual identity which she sees fit, Amanda undermines the sexual identity that her daughter is truly comfortable with. Secondly, it is clear that for Laura’s character, sexual innocence is an important characteristic. This is especially seen in her relationship to her longtime crush, Jim O’Connors. Due to Laura’s overwhelming shyness, it is clear that naïvity inflates her emotions, and goes a long way in showing the effects of her stunted sexual maturity.
To begin, is important to understand that as a faded southern belle, Amanda Wingfield struggles to accept the reality of her situation. She sticks to traditions that her household cannot quite afford, and continuously attempts to transfer her upscale upbringing into her much poorer and less-graceful home. This form of denial is then translated to her parenting style, as Amanda makes a lasting impression on her daughter, Laura, and her perception of sexuality. First, Amanda profusely searches to find herself in her daughter who, to any onlooker, is clearly shown to be her mother’s opposite. Furthermore, not only does Amanda practically ignore her daughter’s disabilities and incapacity to function socially, but she pressures her into following the paths that “normal” girls follow. Mainly, she expects Laura, who is obviously shy and uninterested in romance, to have many gentlemen callers. Amanda tries to control her daughter’s life, and her involvement with Laura intrudes on her daughter’s sexual development.
[Amanda produces two powder puffs which she wraps in handkerchiefs and stuffs in Laura’s bosom]
LAURA : Mother, what are you doing?
AMANDA : They call them “Gay Deceivers”!
LAURA : I won’t wear them!(…)
LAURA : You make it seem like we were setting a trap.
AMANDA : All pretty girls are a trap, a pretty trap, and men expect them to be.” (Williams 52: sc. 6)
Here, despite Laura’s protest, Amanda focuses on sexualizing her daughter in order to make her more appealing to the gentleman caller, Jim. Amanda’s stubbornness is depicted by her excitement and the use of an exclamation point after “they call them ‘Gay Deceivers’!”. It is clear that to her, there is no alternative, and that this is the way the world works. By deliberately objectifying her daughter, Amanda compromises her sexuality. Rather than being herself, Laura is forced to change in order to conform to the gender roles imposed on her by her mother and, ultimately, society. Laura’s inherit innocence towards sexuality is evident as she states “You make it seem like we were setting a trap.” She does not understand her mother’s intentions, nor does she see the purpose of stuffing her bosom and “setting a trap”. It is clear that Laura has not yet reached the sexual maturity and confidence her mother assumes her to have.Laura’s approach to sexuality is thus notably innocent. She is shy towards men, and is shameful of her feelings (as seen when showing her mother the picture of her high school crush Jim in her yearbook).
This is further demonstrated when she is left alone with Jim in scene 7. During her conversation with Jim, the emphasis is placed on Laura’s youth.
LAURA [hastily, out of embarrassment]: I believe I will take a piece of gum, if you–don’t mind. [clearing her throat] Mr. O’Connor, have you–kept up with your singing?
JIM : Singing? Me?
LAURA : Yes. I remember what a beautiful voice you had. (73: sc. 7)
In this exchange, Laura’s crush is obvious. She speaks “out of embarrassment”, but finally summons the courage to start a conversation with Jim by asking him about his singing, a concept which would not have been thought of for her in previous scenes. Thus, it is clear that although her voice is nervous and hesitant, she is comfortable around Jim. This indicates the sweet sentiments that he surrounds her with. Furthermore, it is evident that throughout High School, she paid a special attention to Jim, and that even now he is trapped in her memory, as she remembers his singing ability when he himself barely remembered. These feelings go a long way in shaping Laura’s sexuality. Just like most other girls at their school, she has been swept away by Jim’s charm and attractiveness.
However, the main reason for Laura’s infatuation is revealed when Laura first describes their relationship.
LAURA : He used to call me–Blue Roses.[Screen image: Blue Roses.]
AMANDA: Why did he call you such a name as that?
LAURA : When I had that attack of pleurosis–he asked me what was the matter when I came back. I said pleurosis–he thought that I said Blue Roses! So that’s what he always called me after that. Whenever he saw me he’d holler, “Hello, Blue Roses!” (…) (17: sc. 2)
The name Blue Roses goes a long way in explaining Laura’s emotional understanding of sexuality. In this piece of dialogue, it is clear that Laura adores the way Jim called her Blue Roses. When her mother practically grimaces at the absurdity of the name, asking in snide wording “Why did he call you such a name as that?”, Laura is all too happy to explain it to her. She tells the story giddily, and exclamation points are added every time she mentions Jim calling her Blue Roses. This is important because her whole life, Laura has seen herself as inferior due to her disability. She grew into a timid and unsure young women due to her crippling fear of being shunned by others. The fact the Jim paid attention to her, and made light of her greatest weakness; the shame she bears for her illnesses; contradicts everything negative thing she’s ever thought and felt about herself. Her whole life, Laura has seen herself as a ‘cripple’, but Jim, shows her that all the defects she sees in herself are only in her own mind.
By treating her like any other girl, significantly as a handsome, charismatic and popular High School boy, he makes her feel good about herself in a way no one else ever has. This is where her feelings for him arise. This is an important development, because it entails that Laura bases her sexual desires on not necessarily instinctive needs, but emotional ones. This further depicts her innocence, as it brings into question her sexual maturity. To her, the only person she imagines herself being with is the only person outside her family who’s ever treated her as an equal. This brings into question the legitimacy of her feelings for Jim. Is she truly in love with him, or is she simply in love with the idea of being ‘normal’?To conclude, Williams’s The Glass Menagerie succeeds in displaying sexuality in terms of youth and growth through the character of Laura. By creating contradicting identities between the mother and daughter, this exposes exactly how sexual confidence can differ from one person to another, especially in terms of age. Furthermore, by analyzing the construction of Laura’s feelings for Jim, it is clear that her sexual maturity is far more complicated than it seems, and seeks to develop the true meaning behind Laura’s grasp on romance. All in all, much like Shakespeare’s’ Romeo and Juliet, the question must be asked if this is truly a romantic tragedy, or simply the result of a childish understandings of the world?
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