Amanda is obsessed with her past as she constantly reminds Tom and Laura of that "one Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain" when she received seventeen gentlemen callers (Williams 32). The reader cannot even be sure that this actually happened. However, it is clear that despite its possible falsity, Amanda has come to believe it. She refuses to acknowledge that her daughter is crippled and refers to her handicap as "a little defect-- hardly noticeable" (Williams 45). Only for brief moments does she ever admit that her daughter is "crippled" and then she resorts back to denial. She doesn't perceive anything realistically. She believes that this gentleman caller, Jim, is going to be the man to rescue Laura and she hasn't even met him yet. She tells Laura when Laura is nervous about the gentleman caller, "You couldn't be satisfied with just sitting home," when, in fact, Laura had preferred that (Williams 85). Amanda cannot distinguish reality from illusion. When Jim arrives, Amanda is dressed in the same girlish frock she wore on the day that she met their father and she regresses to her childish, giddy days of entertaining gentlemen callers. Amanda chooses to live in the past.
Tom escapes into his world of poetry writing and movies. He cannot handle his menial job and his unsatisfying home life. He believes that the atmosphere is stifling and damaging to his creative capacities. Finally, when he does leave the Wingfield apartment, he is still trapped by his memories (the past) of Laura. As a result, he is unable to function in the present and wanders aimlessly thinking of his sister.
Jim, though not as severely as the Wingfields, also reverts to his past as he looks through high school yearbooks with Laura and remembers the days when he was a hero. He is also not satisfied with the present--working at the same warehouse as Tom, despite Tom's prediction that he would "arrive at nothing short of the White House by the time he was thirty" (Williams 83). Tom realizes that he "was valuable to him [Jim] as someone who could remember his former glory" (Williams 84). When Jim reminisces about his lead in the operetta, Laura asks him to sign her program and he signs it "with a flourish" (Williams 116). Only by entering into the Wingfield's world of illusions can Jim become this high school hero again. As the scene progresses, Jim regresses to his high school days of wooing women as he woos the innocent Laura by dancing with her and kissing her. However, this might as well be an illusion, because the reality of the situation is that Jim is engaged. Laura is devastated by this reality and retreats back into her world of records and glass animals. Unlike the Wingfields, Jim can only live temporarily in the past. Thus, he leaves the dream world of the Wingfields.
Joseph K. Davis feels that Amanda's children's fate is her fault. Her constant living in the past "generates devastating consequences for her children, crippling them psychologically and seriously inhibiting their own quests for maturity and self realization" (Davis 198). Because Amanda lives in a fantasy world of dreamy recollections, her children cannot escape from this illusory world either. As Davis says, Amanda suffers from "a psychological impulse to withdraw into a fabricated 'lost' time. The present exists for these men and women only to the degree that it can be verified by constant references to the past" (Davis 201). This explains why none of the characters are successful in their present situations. The only was that they can live is through the past, but the problem is that the past no longer exists. While these characters stay the same, the rest of the world is changing. This explains the characters' repeated failures in the outside world of the present.
However, though Jim is pulled into the Wingfields' illusory world, Jim still maintains a sense of reality. This accounts for why Jim is such a "stumblejohn" in the Wingfield apartment. He is more realistic than the others and is clumsy in a world of such delicacy. Likewise, Laura's fragility and hypersensitivity prevent her from participating in the outside world, a world that is harsh and brutal. Just as Jim was clumsy in Laura's world, Laura is clumsy in Jim's as she slips on the fire escape and throws up on the floor at Business School. Laura's irrational fear of the outside, known as agoraphobia, explains why she cannot successfully enter the outside world. As Davis says, "The major characters in this play are so warped and their lives so distorted and perverted by fantasies that each is left with only broken fragments of what might have been" (Davis 205).
Women in the Glass Menagerie were modeled after women of the Victorian age: "They all seem to reflect a Victorian culture in the South which required that a lady be charming but not a breadwinner. They lived in a world of their own imagination and are unable to cope with a highly competitive, commercial society. Their dreams center around men who were never there" (Falk 168). They are not raised to be simple housewives but to be prim and proper. This may be covering up the true frustration of the women of this time. Amanda Wingfield has been abandoned by her husband and is frustrated because of it. She needed a male figure to help her through life. The main focus of this essay is on the dependency of women on men. Louis Blackwell writes about the predicament of women in the Glass Menagerie: Williams is making a commentary on Western culture by dramatizing his belief that men and women find reality and meaning in life through satisfactory sexual relationships" (Stanton 101). Neither Laura nor Amanda has a satisfactory sexual relation too speak of. Therefore both lead odd unhappy lives. Amanda lives in the past and Laura escapes into her world of glass ornaments. The main focus of both Amanda and Laura is to find that mate who will rescue them. This is a difficult task and is put on the shoulders of Tom. The search for a mate is actually the search for reality. Until a mate is found, they will remain in the world of delusions. Amanda constantly nags Laura to stay pretty for her gentlemen callers; without them she will not be able to escape out of her current situation. Without a man she will not be successful. Laura discusses Amanda's concerns about not having any gentlemen callers. "Mother's afraid I'm going to be an old maid" (Williams 36). It is a disgrace for a woman not to have a mate.