The Psychological Costs Of Societal Ideals In The Glass Menagerie

1718 words - 7 pages

It is an innate desire of all human beings to be successful. Indeed, with success comes a feeling of personal accomplishment, fulfillment, and pride. The prospect of such a future can drive many into great lengths to achieve their goal. While the ideal images of accomplishment may differ slightly from person to person, they are all ideals constructed by society. Unfortunately, society has a tendency to idealize these standards, placing them on a level that is both unreachable and impossible to achieve. As such, these unattainable images of success have driven numerous individuals into misery and hopelessness as they desperately attempt to reach that impossible ideal. For many, their own inevitable failures ultimately result in psychological turmoil and distress. Such is the case with the Wingfield household in Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie, which illustrates an American family's vain attempt at achieving the "American Dream". Through the portrayal of the deteriorating mental conditions of the Wingfields, Williams reveals the destructive psychological consequences of failing to meet societal standards of success.
Amanda Wingfield's unconscious denial of her dismal socioeconomic position forces her to seek solace in an idealized past, which ultimately traps her within a world of illusion. Throughout the play, Amanda's only connection with the present is portrayed through her longing "for a stable family structure, that is, a stable means of support, for her daughter", one in which her daughter, Laura, will "find a suitable husband, one who will not drink excessively, who will find excitement enough in a conventional career and family" (Domina). In other words, Amanda desires to be a part of the successful American household that fits her depiction of the "American dream". Her reality, however, is far from ideal. Along with losing a husband who "fell in love with long distances...and skipped the light fantastic out of town" (Williams 1781), she has had to live with an extremely shy and physically disabled daughter as well as a rebellious son. In order to cope with this harsh reality, Amanda unconsciously utilizes certain psychological defense mechanisms. Although these mechanisms allow individuals to positively handle stress, "they pose a danger because the reduction of stress can be so appealing that the defenses are maintained and become habitual" ("Defense Mechanisms" 168). Amanda specifically experiences the defense mechanism of denial, in which "an unpleasant reality is ignored and a realistic interpretation of potentially threatening events is replaced by a benign but accurate one" ("Defense Mechanisms" 169). She successfully replaces her present reality with an idealized vision of her past in the South by obsessing over past events and by viewing the world as if she were still living in that idealized past. A common personal anecdote of hers is the Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain when she received "seventeen!-gentlemen...

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