Term Paper, 2004
9 Pages, Grade: 1,7
2. Jim as a symbol of individual hopes
2.1 Amanda’s hopes on Jim
2.2 Laura’s hopes on Jim
2.3 Tom’s hopes on Jim
3. The American ideology of optimism and progressivism
4. Jim O’Connor – an optimistic and progressive American?
Subject of this work is the character of Jim O’Connor in Tennessee Williams’ play “The Glass Menagerie”. I am going to concern myself with the question to what extend he is a symbol of hope for all members of the Wingfield family and if he is a representative of the American ideology of optimism and progressivism.
Amanda Wingfield is a woman who cares a lot for her children, especially for her daughter Laura. Having grown up as a rich farmer’s daughter in the American South, Amanda knows how it is to live a carefree life and therefore it is particularly hard for her to find herself and her children facing an uncertain future in poverty. Her son Tom’s salary is hardly enough to support the family and due to her extreme shyness, her daughter is not able to enter working life. Anyway it is mostly Laura who causes Amanda worry, having dropped out of high school, she basically has not done anything in the subsequent six years. Her only attempt at business school to prepare for a later job has miserably failed and now she stays at home the whole day doing nothing. Amanda is very anxious about Laura’s future, she knows about her difficulties in making friends and fears her to become an “old maid” as Laura says, dependent on the support of others for the rest of her life. So the mother’s biggest wish is to find a husband for Laura, an ordinary “clean-living” young man to take care of her. For this reason, she is entirely delighted when Tom announces the soon arrival of Laura’s first “gentleman caller” Jim O’Connor : “Well, well – well,well! That’s – lovely!”
Jim is the one Amanda pins her last hopes on, knowing that his visit might be her only chance to bring Laura into contact with a prospective future husband. O’Connor seems to meet almost all of Amanda’s expectations. According to Tom, he is not too handsome which could either attract other women’s attention on him or make him conceited. Although his salary is not that much it is more than Tom’s which indicates to Amanda that Jim is an ambitious man. Moreover, the fact that “he really goes in for self-improvement” which means he attends night school courses in public speaking and radio engineering gives her grounds to hope that Laura – in case of her marriage with Tom – will have a successful husband. But in the end it becomes apparent that all of Amanda’s hopes have been in vain. Jim already is engaged to another woman and will never be the son-in-law, Amanda has to start searching for another “gentleman caller” again.
Jim O’Connor was Laura’s secret high school love. Becauses she was very shy and unsure, Laura never told him and only admired him from distance. Once he talked to her after her attack of pleurosis and asked what had been the matter. He got it wrong and understood “blue roses” and from then on he would always call her like that. Being the only one at high school who seemed to be interested in her, even though it was just superficial, Jim might even then have been a ray of hope in Laura’s lonely world. Until today she has not forgotten him, she still remembers little details of their high school time, for example the days they used to have their chorus class together. This shows that Jim still is of great importance to Laura and that is why she is utterly shocked when she sees him again. Nevertheless, Jim’s warm and “heartily” nature makes her calm down, and gradually, she is feeling comfortable with him. Then, Jim makes a big mistake: he spontaneously kisses her and brings back new hopes in Laura. For one moment, she is happy and full of expectation, “she looks at him speechlessly – waiting (…). Her look grows brighter (…).” But a moment later, all hopes are destroyed when Jim declares the kiss as a mistake which he regrets.
 Williams, Tennessee: “The Glass Menagerie”. A Streetcar Named Desire And Other Plays. ed. E. Martin Browne. London: Penguin Books, 2000. 227-313. In the following abbreviated to “Glass”.
 Glass, p. 240
 Glass, p. 262
 Glass, p.239
 Glass, p. 267
 as Tom says on p. 270 (Glass)
 Glass, p.246
 Glass, p.294
 Glass, p. 280
 cf. Stage directions p. 303: “LAURA (smiling)”; “[they both laugh]” (“both” does not stand out in the original)
 Glass, p. 291: stage direction: this scene to Laura is “the climax of her secret life”
 Glass, p. 305
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