Jim's Influence on Laura in The Glass Menagerie
Jim's Influence on Laura
In the play “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, Jim is the lifelong crush of a girl named Laura. When Laura’s brother, Tom invites Jim over for dinner to be an unsuspecting gentleman caller for Laura, Jim and Laura share a tentative and coy scene alone together in the living room. Jim makes several long speeches about Laura’s inferiority complex and tells her she needs to have more confidence. He kisses her, only to tell her that he can’t come and see her anymore because he is engaged to be married. Laura’s fragile heart is broken, and Jim leaves. Although some readers would argue that Jim has a positive effect on Laura’s attitude toward life, his influence is actually very negative.
Some readers would like to argue that Jim’s influence on Laura is positive. After all, Jim makes several long speeches in which he attempts to boost Laura’s self-esteem. “‘That’s what I judge to be your principal trouble. A lack of confidence in yourself as a person’” (81) and “‘In all respects—believe me! Your eyes—your hair—are pretty! Your hands are pretty’” (88) would seem to show that Jim is giving Laura positive feedback when she’s never received it before, and later “She lifts her head to smile at her mother” (96) as though she has been improved by the experience.
However, Jim has been taking classes in public speaking, as shown in “‘I’m taking that course and studying public speaking’” (82) and Jim’s seemingly heartwarming speeches to Laura are nothing more than a cruel practice of his new rhetorical and motivational abilities. Also, it could easily be argued that Laura’s smile for her mother is nothing more than a reassuring smile to comfort her mother, and does not represent her true feelings at all. Although Jim sees past Laura’s disability and starts to convince her that she is in need of being loved, he leaves her, just as her father did, and just as her brother later does. With all of these abandonments weighing heavily on her heart, it is unknown if Laura is ever able to love anyone else. How could she trust someone enough to give them her heart when all she has ever known from men is being left in the dust?
Jim was the only man Laura ever loved, and being rejected by him may have shattered her hopes of ever finding someone to marry. Her glass collection is a metaphoric symbol for Laura herself, and Jim breaks Laura’s favorite piece. This may symbolize how he breaks her heart and childish dreams of love. After leading her on and kissing her, Jim tells Laura he is engaged to be married, and we can see how much pain this causes Laura when the author writes, “The holy candles on the altar of Laura’s face have been snuffed out. There is a look of almost infinite desolation” (90). It is clear from her face that Jim has done more harm than good. She even gives him her favorite, broken glass piece, as though she is giving up on everything she loves, or as though Jim is taking her broken heart away with him.
Thus it is clear that Laura is not improved by Jim’s visit, but rather is very negatively influenced. Jim breaks her favorite glass piece and breaks her heart as well. He spouts empty words of encouragement and leads her to believe he could love her, only to leave her high and dry. Therefore it is obvious that Jim’s influence is not positive, but negative.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. New Directions Books: New York, 1999.