Jim O’connor’s Impossible Normality in the Glass Menagerie


In the play “The Glass Menagerie” Jim plays a pivotal role in bringing out the desires of Tom to fulfillment and breaking Laura’s views of seclusion to the world. He’s an unlikely agent for change and resolution in the plot since he’s a somewhat bland and partially developed character although he is a very likeable person with unshakeable optimism and a ‘go-get-em’ attitude. We, the readers only see this one side to Jim and his character flaws and struggles internally or externally aren’t revealed to us.

Williams, the playwright, probably meant Jim to be portrayed this way since the character descriptions preceding the story describe Jim as merely “a nice, ordinary, young man” while the other descriptions reveal emotionally richer members of the Wingfeld family. Jim does try to understand the natures and struggles of Tom and Laura, and even unabashedly digs down to try to help Laura’s issues of confidence and reclusion.

At the climax of the kiss though, he comically realizes his commitments to his own world and leaves the Wingfeld family in a state of disarray, unaware that he’s altered the dynamics of this family forever. I feel that Jim’s character is not so unique in that any upstanding and confident but yet unavailable man could fill in for his role of bringing the family’s individual desires and secrets to resolution.

Thus it feels odd that Jim, this random man, influences the lives of these three desperate and somewhat dysfunctional family members who each prefer to live in their own self-created worlds. Jim could also exemplify the value of normality so desired by this family and less as his own person with personality and struggles. He is slowly but excitedly realizing his dreams of learning and shooting for a corporate office like any good average guy, while Tom wants to flee to his fantasies but his held back by obligations to his family.

Jim would also fulfill the direct desires of Amanda, who would then be able to live the life of a proper Southern elderly lady supported by Jim. It’s not so clear what Laura wants but she too needs this person to break out of her shell into reality. The fact that Jim is unavailable to this family was created less out of cruel coincidence but perhaps since the Wingfeld’s don’t deserve normality, their conflicted lives couldn’t handle solutions to their problems, or even hat it would be too easy for Jim to step in and save the day. When Jim leaves their house the Wingfelds, especially Amanda, don’t reflect upon how smoothly their date with the gentlemen caller went, how close Jim was to becoming ‘the one’, or how they could arrange for more and other gentlemen callers to come around later. The simple departure of their caller exacerbates their problems to a new level and they explode with their pent-up frustration except for Laura.

Tom finally leaves to pursue his ‘instincts’ after his mother devalues his abilities and Amanda tries to comfort Laura although it probably will be the reverse situation in the future as Laura’s engagement is her sole hope and goal. This is not a happy ending since we can feel the Wingfeld’s continuing issues and inability to reach normality – e. g. Tom still feeling his obligations far away and Amanda’s increasing desperation. The only character we feel hope for, of course, is Laura, but we’ll never know if she does overcome her reclusive nature and get betrothed, a task which would resolve everyone’s problems.