"Man is by instinct a lover, a hunter, a fighter... ." says Tom Wingfield while arguing with his mother. In Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, Tom and his mother Amanda suffer through a turbulent familial relationship, much of which is based around Tom's slightly crippled sister Laura. Since Tom's father has left, the Wingfield family relies on Tom for income. This responsibility cages Tom into an unfulfilling warehouse job, and leaves him wanting more of life. In this memory play, life and ideals are extreme opposites and the inspiration for Tom's character.

Tom's life is a lonely existence. He has no friends and few acquaintances at his work. His mother is domineering and controlling. Movies are Tom's only escape, and he distracts himself from his pitiful life with falsities. When Tom argues with his mother, he invariably expresses his anger and frustration, then later apologises. The constant apologising forces Tom into a subservient role which does not reflect his true self.

The circumstances under which Tom lives deny his instincts. Amanda is perfectly happy to put Tom in this situation. Her belief is that instinct "belongs to animals!" This denial of instincts is consistent with Amanda's preconceived notions of life being something to control. Under this matriarchal monarch, Tom is neither a lover, nor a hunter, and barely a fighter. The constant barrage of 'do's and 'do-not's create the typical effect of a tyranny: rebellion.

In Act Six, Tom's reflections on his life come to surface. "People go to the movies instead of moving!" he explains to Jim. The need for movement is accented by his mothers need for him to be stationary. "I'm starting to boil inside," says Tom as he progresses toward his ideals and away from his every day life. Without the constant pressure from his mother, Tom could have been any shoe, content to lead a life without meaning. Instead the vast separation of Tom's life and it's possibilities drives Tom to strive for freedom.

A nonexistent character also comes into play in Tom's inner conflict. The portrait of Tom's father grinning constantly reminds Tom of escape and allows Tom to dream of standing up to Amanda. Amanda also plays off of her absent husband, demanding of Tom the obligation which his father would not fulfill. Amanda uses Laura as further bait to keep Tom in check.

All the other characters in the play are used to keep Tom in confinement. Jim informs Tom of his less-than satisfactory status at the factory, reminding Tom of his dead-end life. In the end of the play, mostly as a suggestion, Tom breaks free to chase his instincts. He gives himself the opportunity to be a lover, a hunter and a fighter. This is rather the anticlimax to Tom's turmoil, as the play is based around the memories of intense inner conflict.

From the beginning of the play when Tom obeys his mother to the end of the play when Tom finally gains his freedom, he travels through an entire range of emotions and situations. Ideals eventually win over ordered life; the variance between the two give Tom his definition.