2. Responsibility to Family
The principal tension in the Wingfield family is responsibility -- who is accountable for, and to whom. Tom struggles the most with his role as the breadwinner and caretaker of the family. Amanda also feels the strain of having a daughter that she will always have to care for, and this is the fear that motivates her desperate search for a husband on which to foist Laura. Mr. Wingfield escapes his responsibility by running away without a trace while Laura is responsible only for her little glass animals, leaving Tom and Amanda to carry the weight. Although Tom ceases to be responsible for his family when he leaves them, he never stops feeling responsible to them.
Each member of the Wingfield family has experienced abandonment. As a unit, they were all abandoned by Mr. Wingfield when he left the family, but this especially applies to Amanda -- for her, being abandoned by her husband meant being abandoned by her childhood understanding of men and the world. Laura has been abandoned by the world at large, falling into her own quiet little rhythm outside the perimeter of everyday society. Jim, her one entrance into the real world, also deserts her, pushing her farther back into a hermetic existence. Finally, Tom fears being abandoned by his dreams and goals, and chooses instead to abandon his family the way his father did, becoming another looming absence in the Wingfield family.
4. Illusions and Reality
Amanda is caught up in the illusion of her genteel old Southern upbringing, which has taught her that a man will support a woman and that there are certain foolproof rules of snagging one. Her experience, however, proves this to the contrary -- specifically, when her husband runs out on the family and leaves her to fend for herself, and later when Laura's shyness prevents her from normal socialization. Still, Amanda never stops believing that a gentleman will soon call upon her and make everything right. At the same time, she inflicts these illusions and reality on her children -- insisting that if Tom finds a husband for Laura, it will take care of all their problems. The idea that Tom can solve all their problems with a replacement is itself an illusion., one that's quickly eradicated by reality once he brings home a caller for Laura.
"The Glass Menagerie" is a memory play, and Tom makes it clear from the beginning that we are seeing events through the lens of his memories, heightening emotions and drawing our significances as memories. We are also privy, however, to memories within memories -- the recollections of Amanda as she speaks of her girlhood, and her futile attempts to relive it. Even Jim is trapped in a cycle of memory, as he years to recapture the glory days of his high school career and becomes attached to those who remember him from that time. In the end, however, we are left with the haunting image of Tom's last memories, as he describes the figure of Laura following him through the rest of his guilt-stricken life.
Love is tricky. We are never really sure if love is genuine, or convenient, it it's really love, or whether it's just infatuation. The closest thing there is to genuine love occurs between Laura and Jim, and is based on a mutual understanding of each other's individuality and uniqueness. Jim's supposed love for Betty and their impending marriage is based on them 'getting along fine', and while Amanda confesses that she loved her missing husband, he abandoned her, calling into question just how mutual that love was from the start. There is also the issue of familial love, and how to reconcile the anger and frustration we may feel with family members with our innate love for them. Particularly explored here is the nature of love between brother and sister, who support each other when on rocky ground with their mother.
Weakness is linked to fragility, which comes to mean both beauty and breakability. While Laura's shyness and fragility keep her in her own little world of equally fragile glass animals, they also infuse her with a mysterious individuality, something Jim picks up on with the nickname "Blue Roses" and finds incredibly attractive. Fragility also means dependence, as Laura needs Tom precisely because of her shy and delicate demeanor. We also see the relationship between physical and metal fragility, as it seems that Laura's shyness arises from physical defect: her crippled leg. Tom's weakness is his incapability of making the choice to remove himself from his current circumstances. Jim's weakness may very well be over-confidence which, in the end, makes him into an underachiever.
8. Communication Breakdown
When Tom and his mother discuss serious or even trivial matter, the conversation frequently erupts into argument -- usually because of Amanda's sarcasm and nitpicking and Tom's volatile temper. They can go only so far in their discussions before rising anger short-circuits their ability of communicate. As for Laura, she would rather run from a problem than talk it over with someone. Jim at first seems gifted with an ability to communicate. Within minutes, he talks Laura out of her cocoon. But Jim commits perhaps the most reprehensible act of the play when he takes liberty of kissing Laura without informing her that he is in love with another woman. After Laura's heart swells with romance, he pierces it with the revelation that he is engaged to be married.