Tom Wingfield’s View of Happiness
In The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, the narrator Tom filters the story through his own memories. This technique causes the characters to be presented in a way that is manipulated through Tom’s personal illusions. In completing his objective of finding happiness, Tom comes to the conclusion that it can be achieved only through the path that his father took. This leads to Tom analyzing the actions made by the people around him through a filter. Every happy facial expression or movement is inherently a way to disguise one’s true emotions to Tom. Aside from Tom, the Glass Menagerie does not truly represent who the characters are and so every action is only a representation of Tom’s character development, and of his desires and motives in terms of attaining happiness.
Tom’s happiness comes from escaping one’s problems. When he looks at his father he sees a troubled but nevertheless happy man. “I’m like my father. The bastard son of a bastard son! Did you notice how he’s grinning in in the picture there? And he’s been absent going on sixteen years” (Williams 64)! Tom feels that he still has a personal relationship with his father despite the fact that he has been absent for most of his life. This desire for a relationship comes from admiring the act that his father was content with his life. Tom identifies with his father as he observes both his dad’s positive and negative qualities. He thinks he is “like his father” meaning he feels he has the good and bad attributes of him. When showing Jim a picture of his father, Tom remarks “notice how he’s grinning?” obviously believing that the smile signals an inner happiness. Tom does not have very much left of his father, and so he puts extreme emphasis on this one picture of him in the house. As he stares at the picture the grin on his face transforms into a life of happiness for his father. As Tom admires his father’s contentedness he begins to believe that the only way to be happy is to do what he did, and therefore no one else is able to obtain happiness.
In St. Louis, Tom believes happiness is a disguise of true emotions and therefore only false happiness exists. At work, Tom views false happiness when his co-workers “hostility wore off and they also began to smile at me as people smile at an oddly fashioned dog who trots across their path” (William 50-51). Tom is very sarcastic in the way he describes his co-workers. He feels that his co-workers view him as an “oddly fashioned dog” meaning he’s weird and out of place. He views their smiles as a way to cover up their sympathy they feel for him because he is so different. Tom also feels that Amanda uses happiness to cover up her true emotion and he sees this when Jim is in their home. While Jim and Laura are in a separate room “there is a peal of girlish laughter from Amanda in the kitchen.” Amanda is so persistent is showing Tom her family’s southern hospitality that she puts on a fake persona in order to hide how uneasy she truly is. She uses a “girlish laughter” in order to hide her true emotions of nervousness and to charm Jim. Her laughter is in no way true happiness, but instead, a device used to disguise who she really is.
Laura’s actions also convey the idea of using happiness to disguise inner feelings. After being devastated by the news of Jim’s engagement, she fakes glee to avoid hurting Amanda’s feelings. “Laura’s dark hair hides her face until at the end of the speech she lifts it to smile at her mother.” Laura is clearly still very upset about the events that occurred with Jim as she sits in a depressed state with hair over her face. At the end of the scene, however, she uncovers her face not because sudden happiness accrued, but to “smile at her mother” in order to act as though Amanda’s plan didn’t not turn out terribly. In no way does Tom inherently believe that people are happy, but rather the contrary. Everyone that he is able to witness he sees as a lacking genuine contentment. The sole exception is someone that he hasn’t seen for more than sixteen years, his father.
To escape boredom, Tom decided to leave St. Louis. On his journey, however, he doesn’t find what he was expecting to. “From then on in my father’s footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space” (Williams 97). Tom tries to get the happiness his father has by following his “father’s footsteps”. He tries to gain this by going in “motion” meaning he feels he must keep moving in order to find answers. He learns however that what he’s looking for is “lost in space” meaning what he is looking for can not be found and his ideas are unrealistic. It was not until he left his family and home that he realized that his father’s happiness was only an illusion he created and the idea of finding this happiness is “lost in space” and will never be achieved. Tom spent his life looking at a picture of a man grinning and fantasizing about his happiness despite the fact that he hadn’t seen him in sixteen years. Looking for his father’s happiness he felt that the only way to gain true joy was to do what he did and leave. This caused him to see any happiness portrayed by the people living in St. Louis as false.
Tom created his father’s happiness in order to have hope for the future, but as time went on the more he looked at his father’s grin the more he believed that his father was the only one that was happy. This lead to the Glass Menagerie being narrated through the illusion that everyone is fake when in reality it is only Tom’s memories that remembers the characters actions as hiding the truth. The filter that The Glass Menagerie is narrated through only allows the reader to see how Tom views the characters and does not allow an unbiased character development of the characters in Tom’s life.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. New Directions, 1999.
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