By Nicholas T. Spatafora
The wishing gate opens into nothing.
-Charles Haddon Spurgeon
“Blow out your candles,” the protagonist and omniscient narrator bids his sister Laura in the rueful and tearful epilogue of playwright Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, a drama not only depicting the illusionary lives of three fictional characters but in reality a direct reflection and exposition of the dramatist himself (97). In light of the illusionary worlds that encompass Tom Wingfield with his excursions to the “theater,” Laura Wingfield with her alabaster animal collection, Amanda Wingfield and her Memphis Belle facade and the imposition of reality symbolized through gentleman caller Jim O.Connor, this loving breath of brotherly advice is a figurative plea to his sister to abandon her dream world and face reality by pursuing her dreams. Living a superficial life devoid of reality for most individuals is indeed preferable to confronting it, taking risks and endeavoring forward into the often precarious world of fear and uncertainty, whether it is a disillusioning career, relationship or other choice in life.
One traditionally blows out the distilling candlesticks upon making a birthday wish. It is at this moment that the wish could possibly be sought after and fulfilled. Amanda Wingfield, in a symbolic exemplary mother-to-daughter dialog, has previously suggested that Laura “make a wish on the moon,” symbolically indicative of one’s dreaming a dream or some other illusive world and evasion of reality (49). Amanda, having previously suffered the loss of her husband, is not entirely culpable for her illusionary existence and all-encompassing hopes for her daughter to achieve that which she herself could not—a successful encounter with a prince or knight in shining armor, a special significant other.
Jim O’Connor, the gentleman caller and family’s only touch with reality, informs Laura that he had previously written for a high school newspaper entitled The Torch (76). The “torch” is yet another synonymous metaphorical term for what could be construed or understood as a flame, that is, a candle that he himself had previously relinquished or “blown out.” Thus, Williams not only employs symbolism through one of his characters but also with the expository disclosure of the character himself. The torch or flame is a present figure in The Glass Menagerie, the reader encountering it during Laura’s brief romantic encounter with Jim.
Tom Wingfield, albeit a deserter in his own light, has in essence blown out his candles, abandoning his mother and sister, as did his father before, to pursue his own dreams of forsaking his unhappy and unbearable existence at home and at work, to become a poet, synonymous with the playwright himself, whose life the reader witnesses through the writing. Tom is a laborer in a warehouse, toiling and languishing over a petty compensatory return. The job disillusions him and exacerbates preexisting family discord between himself and his mother. Many undoubtedly are laden with an occupation or career of despair and disillusionment, and Tom is in effect vicariously and figuratively communicating to Laura the urgency of abandoning her own dream world and to begin living a life of reality.
Be it a perpetual, despondent, ill-fated career, familial or everlasting marital discord or other rut or regretful existence from which one seeks to deny, to “blow out the candles” is to engage in a brutal confrontation with reality. The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams is indeed and in fact an allegorical depiction of illusion and unreality, one man’s plight and eventual escape from it and two other characters still seemingly helplessly immersed in their fantasy worlds. Tom Wingfield, as a symbol and figurative role model, suggests an escape from illusion by the proverbial phrase “Blow out your candles,” ever denoting an individual’s end to wishing and her or his initiation into the pursuit of his desires.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. New York: New Directions Books, 1973. Print.
Nicholas T. Spatafora is an educator at Joseph Pulitzer Intermediate School in Jackson Heights, Queens and an English Professor at the City University of New York. He holds two graduate degrees from Hunter College in New York City and has enjoyed a successful career in education spanning twenty five years. Contemplating a life in Catholic ministry, he attended Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in New York. He is a member of the Tao Society in Tai Pei, and prior affiliations include the Religious Society of Friends and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. Spatafora is the author of Hurt, the feature article “Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha: A Fictional Account of the Life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha,” “A Review of Jack Lynch’s Manhattan Man and Other Poems,” “Challenging Perspectives: A Review of Thomas Fink’s & Maya Diablo Mason’s AutopsyTurvy,” “Kingdom by the Harbor” and “Allen Bramhall’s Days Poem: A Critical Analysis of a Dying Art” and “The Word: An Analysis of The Chained Hay(na)ku Project,“ featured in Galatea Resurrects. Nicholas Spatafora and his wife Hsiaochen (Judy) reside in Flushing, New York.