In wonderfullest trick of all was the coffin

Inthe play, “The Glass Menagerie” published in 1944 by Tennessee Williams, theplay portrays the life of the main character Tom, an aspiring poet who has becomea victim of his role as the sole male in a household of females inept ofcatching up with the everchanging modern world. Due to the tragic events of TomWingfield’s life, starting with his father’s abandonment and, ending with hisown abandonment of his mother and sister, Tom can be characterized according toArthur Miller’s new kind of hero – the modern tragic hero.  Through the author’s depiction of a regretfulTom, Williams highlights that there is no true escape from the past when youhouse the relentless power of memory. Consequently, Tom is considered a moderntragic hero due to the conflict that arises between his self-concept and hisreality as a result of his dismal familial situation, his own idealself-concept and, his final decision to leave his family.  Firstly,Tom’s desire to escape his position of ‘man of the house’ contributes to hisdemise as a modern day tragic hero.

After being deserted by his father, Tombeing the only other male in the household was left indisputably burdened withunforeseen responsibilities. This is the reality that Tom struggles with themost -his role as the breadwinner and sole caretaker. This role prevents himfrom leading a life of his own and so, he wishes to escape like his father whovanished without a trace:Hewas a telephone man who fell in love with long distances; he gave up his jobwith the telephone company and skipped the light out of fantastic out of town …The last we heard of him was a picture postcard from Mazatlán on the coast ofMexico, containing two words: “Hello – Goodbye” and no address. (679)ForTom, his father represents the promises of escape – happiness – and so, Tombelieves that he must escape the confines that has left him rooted to hismundane reality. His burning desire to escape is temporarily appeased when heengages in the adventures of movies, the fantasies of literature and the stuporachieved by his drunkenness, however, his desire for a permanent fix ishighlight when Tom speaks with Laura about the magician who was nailed in acoffin but eventually got out: …Butthe wonderfullest trick of all was the coffin trick. We nailed him in a coffinand he got out the coffin without removing one nail. There is a trick thatwould come in handy for me – get me out of this two-by-four situation! (688)Thisstatement by Tom highlights that the act was more than a magic trick to him.

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Heis impressed by the magician’s ability to emerge from the coffin withoutupsetting a single nail and neither destroying the coffin. Like the magician,Tom longs to free himself from the human coffin that is his overbearing motherand ‘crippled’ sister. However, Tom knows that he will not be able to free himselfwithout removing a single nail, consequently upsetting his mother and sister ifhe dares leave them in despair. As a result, despite Tom’s desire to escape, heis forced to take care of his family due to his innate sense of responsibilityfor them.            Secondly, Tom’s withdrawal into hisown private world of illusion contributes to his classification as a moderntragic hero.

According to the playwright Arthur Miller, “the modern heroemphasizes a clash between the character and the environment, especially thesocial environment” (676). Miller says that “each person has a chosen image ofself and position and that tragedy results when the character’s environmentdenies the fulfillment of this self-concept” (676). In the play, it is evidentthat there is a clash between the main character’s own self-concept and hisenvironment, in this case being his reality. In his illusionary existence, Tomfinds comfort in the things that he deems to be of the utmost importance: hispoems, his dreams, his freedom and adventuring – all the things that areunavailable to him.

His chosen self-image is that of a poet but, in reality, Tomworks in a shoe warehouse and, to everyone around him, he is a shoe warehouseworker. This contrast in Tom’s reality and Tom’s self-concept is the basis fromwhich almost all conflicts arise in the play. His dreams of being a poet and abudding adventurer inspires him to live by feelings and instincts, but hissocial environment shuns such attributes.

In an argument with his motherAmanda, Tom states that:Manis by instinct a lover, a hunter, a fighter, and none of these instincts aregiven much play at the warehouse (691)Tom’smother, a fraction of his social environment that denies his true fulfillmentrebuts that man should find adventure in his work or just simply do without it,refusing to hear about instinct, as instincts were what led her husband todesert his family, leaving the all to grasp at scraps and fend for themselves.The tragedy however, is highlighted when Amanda recognizes Tom’s desperatedesire to escape the heavy shackles that is his family, pleas with Tom to notleave until they find a suitor for Laura:…assoon as Laura has gotten somebody to take care of her, married, a home of herown, independent – why, the you’ll be free to go wherever you please, on land,on sea, whichever way the wind blows you. But until that time, you’ve got tolook out for your sister.

Amanda’sstatement portrays that she expects Tom to give up all that he ever “dreamed ofdoing and being ever” (687) to take care of her and his sister who most likelywould never find a suitor. As a result, Tom is a modern tragic hero because hiscircumstances prevent him from being who he really wants to be.            Lastly, Tom is a modern day tragichero because he ends up abandoning his family and repeating his father’smistakes. From the beginning of the play, the reader is made aware of Tom’sdesire to free himself from the confinements of his reality, and in the end, itis evident that Tom finally achieves what he has longed for and chooses hisinherent personal desire over his family’s needs. He had been fired from the warehousefor writing a poem on the lid of a shoebox, and so, with his unintentionalescape from his mundane job, it is evident that Tom also decided to kill twobirds with one stone and also escape the morbid life which he would no longerbe able to sustain.

Tom follows the path of his father, becoming the “bastardson of a bastard” (703) that he once told Jim that he was, however, is he ashappy as he thought that he would be? Is he free? No, Tom is not free. He maybe free of the responsibilities that came with living with his mother andsister but Tom is still imprisoned, only now it is by the memory of hishopeless sister Laura. Tom is permanently shackled to his reality, and no matterhow much time as passed since he has left and no matter how far he travels fromSaint Louis, Tom is bounded to his reality by his memories:Perhapsit was a familiar bit of music. Perhaps it was only a piece of transparent glass.Perhaps I am walking along a street at night, in some strange city, before I havefound companions. I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold.

Thewindow is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent colors in delicatecolors, like bits of shattered rainbow. Then all at once, my sister touches my shoulder,I turn and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me,but I am more faithful that I intended to be!… Blow out your candles, Laura –and so goodbye…she blows the candles out.

Tom’sfinal statement highlight that Tom escaped only to be plagued with constant remindersof his selfish act. As a result, Tom is a tragic hero because he is tragically displacedafter abandoning his family only to soon realize that the future he hoped foris just as mundane as his past.Thoughsome critics might argue that Tom made the right decision by leaving his familybehind, it is evident that he did not as he is obviously guilt-stricken by the decisionhe has made which cause him to be haunted by his memories of his sister. Inconclusion, the main character Tom is by Arthur Miller’s classification amodern tragic hero because of the evident clash between who he is and who hassought out to be.

Tom’s chosen image of self had been denied by his reality andso, even though he escaped his dismal role as the breadwinner in his family, henow suffers feelings of displacement as he is haunted by the memory of hissister that he has selfishly left behind.    


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