Tom Wingfield is the narrator as well as a character in the play. As the narrator, he addresses the audience and the events of the play are a recollection of his memories of the time he lived with his sister and mother in St Louis. Tom is the breadwinner of the family, and he supports his mother and sister by working at a shoe factory. He is a self-anointed poet, who dreams of escaping from the drudgery of life in a factory to a life that is filled with adventure, thrill, and new experiences. Tom is suffocated by the mundaneness of his job at the factory and indulges in escapism by going to the movies every night. This can be seen as an attempt to find, in cinema, the adventure that he misses in real life. He finds no support or solace at home either, where he feels bothered by his mother’s constant attempts to dictate to him how he should live his life.
As a son, Tom is stuck in a toxic relationship with his mother, where he feels dominated. As a brother, he loves his sister but seems too busy in his need to escape from his domestic and work life, to be able to help her. As a man, he comes across as a sensitive individual. Tom’s struggle seems like everyman’s struggle in the modern world: he is stuck in a job that he hates, that gives him no mental or creative stimulation. His artistic abilities and creative potential are not realized in his workplace. He is unable to switch jobs because the economy is bad and unable to quit because he has to feed himself and his family. He feels conflicted because he is torn between his duty as a son, to provide for the family, and his desire as an individual for freedom and adventure.
In Tom’s character, we see the dilemma of a man who wants to leave for a better and perhaps happier future for himself but is held back by love and attachment to those he loves and cares for. Tom wants to leave; he even goes on to say that he is just like his father and has no qualms about leaving but is hesitant to leave his sister behind.
In the play, to soothe his burning desire for freedom, he finds temporary escape in movies, drinking, and smoking on the fire escape. In the end, he does leave his family behind and joins the merchant marines and has his fill of travel and adventure, but is unable to find happiness and peace of mind, for he is bogged down with regret and guilt for leaving his sister behind. Tom’s character and his plight at the end of the play, make us wonder about some important questions: Should we choose our own happiness over that of others? Can leaving behind our loved ones, in search of our ambitions and dreams make us happy? Are regret and guilt inevitable emotions that we as humans are bound to feel no matter what choices we make?