Tom Wingfield: a Reflection of Tennessee Williams’ Life
Tennessee Williams’ memory play, The Glass Menagerie, revolves around the lives of the Wingfields and their individual desires and struggles. Like most writers, Williams also incorporates certain aspects of his life into his work. As the story moves along, the striking similarities between Williams’ life and the life of one of the main characters, Tom Wingfield, becomes evident. Tom’s family background, job satisfaction, and desires are reflections of Williams’ life.
The first aspect of Tom’s life that reflects Williams’ is his relationship with his family. In The Glass Menagerie, the absence of Tom’s father from the life of the Wingfields causes Tom to be distant from him emotionally. The audience can feel this emotional distance when the author states, “TOM. This is our father who left us a long time ago” (Williams 1.25.753). This lack of a better introduction shows how he barely knows his father and how disconnected he is from him. This emotional distance between Tom and his father in the play can be a mirror image of Williams’ strained relationship with his own father in real life. Just like Tom, Williams experienced growing up without a father figure. His father was practically away all the time because of his work. In Gerald Weales’ “Tennessee Williams,” he states, “His [Williams’] father was a traveling salesman who spent very little time with his family. . .” (7). Because his father was never around during his childhood, he did not develop a healthy relationship with him. Instead, he [Williams] became distant from his father. According to “Biography of Tennessee Williams,” “Because of his father’s continual absence from home during Williams’s boyhood, Williams developed . . . a distance from, and sometimes hostility toward, his father” (Rusinko 8). By looking closely at the relationship between Tom and his father, one cannot deny that it parallels Williams’ strained relationship with his own father.
Besides Tom’s relationship with his father, another aspect that reflects Williams’ life in The Glass Menagerie is Tom’s lack of job satisfaction. Tom holds a job at a shoe warehouse to make ends meet for his family, but he hates working there. When Tom gets in a heated argument with Amanda about his job at the warehouse, Tom exclaims, “TOM. You think I’m in love with the Continental Shoemakers? . . . I’d rather somebody picked up a crowbar and battered out my brains – than go back mornings!” (Williams 3.67-68,71-73.759). For someone to deliver such a strong statement, one must not only dislike his job but also hate it with a passion. Such feeling was felt by Williams when he worked at a shoe warehouse after withdrawing from college. He showed no signs of interest in the job nor any intention to stay there for a long time. In “Tennessee Williams,” Gerald Weales states that “his [Williams’] three years at the shoe company were ‘a living death’” (8). By comparing Tom’s and Williams’ feelings towards their respective jobs, the audience can see that Tom’s lack of job satisfaction is another reflection of Williams’ life in his play.
In addition to the lack of job satisfaction, the last aspect that reflects Williams’ life in the play is Tom’s desire to go on adventures and experience new things. Because of the boring nature of his job at the warehouse, Tom always longs for adventure. When asked why he goes to the movies often, Tom states, “TOM. I go to the movies because – I like adventure. Adventure is something I don’t have much of at work . . .” (Williams 4.6-8.763). While Tom’s desire for adventure is explicit in the play, Williams’ desire for adventure is implied. This desire can be seen in the kind of life that he lived after attaining success as a playwright. He was constantly moving from one place to another which can be viewed as being adventurous. According to “Biography of Tennessee Williams,” “Williams embarked on a nomadic life that included trips to Paris and Italy and various residences in New York, Nantucket, Key West, and New Orleans” (Rusinko 9). Based on his way of life, one can assume that Williams was adventurous. Therefore, Tom’s desire for adventure can be viewed as parallel to Williams’ desire to go on adventures.
There are more aspects of Tom’s life that mirror the life of Williams, but the ones that stand out the most are those related to his [Tom’s] family background, job satisfaction, and desires. Although The Glass Menagerie does not revolve around just Tom, one can easily identify that it is his life that reflects Williams’ life in the play. Tom’s relationship with his father, his ill feelings towards his job, and his desire for adventure all parallel Williams’ own background.