It seems as if Tennessee Williams wrote The Glass Menagerie specifically for the open ending. There is overwhelming evidence, from both the educated and the layman, that Menagerie was a biographical work of sorts by Williams. The antagonist, Tom, is a mirror of Williams. Tom’s mother Amanda resembles Williams’ mother Edwina. Finally, Laura the “unlucky” sister is a mirror of Williams’ sister, Rose. Being so personally connected to the characters and having it be such a true work of life may have led Williams to the open ending. It could be said that Williams’ life itself was a great open ended story, and he showed this in Glass.
The Glass Menagerie is a messed up story, to be frank. The tale is about an over-protective mother living off of her son’s small wages and trying to find a man for her crippled daughter. What ensues is pandemonium, to say the least. It’s imperative, though, that we look more into Tom as a character. He’s taken the role of the “man” of his family after his father abandoned them. This ruins any plans Tom had of going to college and truly making something of himself. What is he now? He’s stuck working off low wages at a factory for the rest of his life. He’s still young though, and he knows it. He hates having to be responsible for everything his family does, but he loves his sister Laura. Feeling the constant pressure from his mother to bring home a “nice boy” for his sister to marry, Tom invites his friend from the factory, Jim, over for dinner. It should be said that while Laura was in High School, she had a crush on a boy, that boy turns out to be Jim. After the awkwardness of greeting the boys at the door, Laura goes into hiding, leaving the men alone with her mother. While Amanda is preparing the meal, Tom and Jim have a free moment to themselves:
Tom: I’m starting to boil inside. I know I seem dreamy, but inside–well, I’m boiling! Whenever I pick up a shoe, I shudder a little thinking how short life is and what I am doing! Whatever that means, I know it doesn’t mean shoes–except as something to wear on a traveler’s feet! [He finds what he has been searching for in his pocket and holds out a paper to Jim.] Look–
Tom: I’m a member.
Jim [Reading]: The Union of Merchant Seamen.
Tom: I paid my dues this month, instead of the light bill.
Jim: You will regret it when they turn the lights off.
Tom: I won’t be here.
Jim: How about your mother?
Tom: I’m like my father. The bastard son of a bastard! Did you notice how he’s grinning in his picture in there? And he’s been absent going on sixteen years!
Jim: You’re just talking, you drip. How does your mother feel about it?
Tom: Shhh! Here comes Mother! Mother is not acquainted with my plans!
If that isn’t a case of foreshadowing, then I’d like to be acquainted with a better one. Tom is taking the chance to be just like his father and walk out on his family, and he just told the man that’s supposed to marry his sister the plans. As the night moves along, Laura seems to open up to the idea of having Jim around and in her life. Jim, a man who’s been to public speaking class a number of times, (by his own admission) acts friendly to Laura. Even when an unexpected power outage seemingly ruins their evening, Jim stays composed and keeps making a relationship with Laura. While looking through her prized collection of glass animal figures, Jim clumsily drops her favorite- a unicorn.
What’s important here is the symbolism of the unicorn that Jim dropped. The unicorn, a commonly loved fantasy of little girls everywhere, is different. The unicorn and Laura share something, their differences. Laura’s crippled, and by many ways, so is the unicorn. When the innocent idea of a unicorn falls to the ground and breaks (only the horn, of course), it shows how Laura’s innocence will also soon “break”. In true Tennessee Williams fashion, this situation is cleverly used as foreshadowing. Jim, after breaking Laura’s unicorn, says that he must go. Why? Well, he needs to meet his fiance. This, internally, enrages Amanda when the words touch her ears. Why would Tom purposely do this to his mother and his beloved sister? Just like it was to the rest of his family, Tom found that Jim’s engagement was quite the surprise. After another outburst of a family quarrel, Tom leaves the house- for good.
Williams leaves the ending wide open. In his last lines of the play, and of the play itself, Tom reveals his true feelings
Oh, Laura. Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger–anything that can blow your candles out!
For Nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura–and so goodbye….
Even though he had abandoned her in an remorselessly situation, he still loves his sister Laura. Does this play truly have an ending? No. The reader is left to think as to what will be made of Laura and Amanda, now left by the two most influential and important men in their lives, they have no means of survival. Without Tom’s factory wages, who will pay all of the bills? Will Laura be forced to get a job, even though she is crippled? Does Amanda eventually follow suit and leave Laura behind on her own? These are things that Williams wanted the reader to think about, and he was surely successful at doing so.