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The Glass Menagerie
By Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)

Main Characters

Laura Wingfield - She is the crippled and very shy daughter of Amanda who keeps her hard pressed to finding a husband.

Tom Wingfield - As Laura’s sister, he is also pressed by his mother to find his sister a gentleman caller, and to keep the job at the shoe factory to support the family.

Amanda Wingfield - She is the mother of Tom and Laura and often digresses back to memories of her former days on the southern plantation farm and her night with 17 gentleman callers.

Jim O’Conner - He is a friend of Tom from the factory who Tom invites to dinner and Amanda treats as Laura’s first gentleman caller.

Minor Characters

Mr. Wingfield - He is Amanda’s husband who deserted the family about 16 years ago and is only seen in the play as a large photograph hung on the wall, but he is often referred to.

Settings

The Wingfield house - This takes up most of the stage and the different room are separated by curtains.  There is the living and the kitchen.

The fire escape - This is on the side of the stage and is what the characters use to get into and out of the apartment.

Plot

 Tom begins by introducing the play as a memory play of his own memory of his past.  He introduces the character.  The start of the play shows the Wingfield family eating dinner.  Amanda keeps telling Tom to chew is food, and Tom gets thoroughly annoyed and leaves the table to smoke.  Amanda tells her story of 17 gentleman callers.  The next day, Laura is sitting at her desk in front of the typewriter chart when Amanda comes in angry.  She asks Laura about the business college and tell Laura she found out that she dropped out.  Laura explains that she couldn’t handle the class and went walking everyday.  Later Amanda sits with Laura and asks her about a boy she liked.  Laura points out Jim in the yearbook.  Later, Tom gets into an argument with Amanda.  Amanda cannot understand why Tom goes to the movies every night.  Tom says he cannot stand working for the family like he does.  Tom makes his speech about being an assassin and leaves to the movies.  He returns late at night drunk, but looses the key.  Laura opens the door and Tom tells her about the movie and the magic show he saw, giving her a scarf from the magic show.  The next morning, Amanda makes Tom wake up as usual and prepares him for his work.  Before he leaves, she asks him to bring home a gentleman caller for Laura.  That night Tom informs his mother that he asked Jim O’Conner to dinner the next day.  The next day, Laura and Amanda prepare furiously for the dinner getting well dressed and decorating everything.  At night, Tom arrives with Jim.  After they eat dinner, the lights go out and Amanda brings out the candles.  Laura sits alone with Jim.  They talk for a while, and Jim kisses Laura, but regrets it.  He tells her that he is already engaged, and Laura is devastated.  She gives him a glass unicorn which was broken during the night.  Jim says good-bye to the family and leaves.  Amanda is angry with Tom for not telling them that Jim was engaged, but Tom insists that he did not know.  Tom leaves never to return.

Symbols

victrola - the escape and the private world of Laura.

jonquils - a reminder of Amanda’s glorious past.

magic show - the escape so desired by Tom.

glass menagerie - Laura’s private world, and the breaking of it.

fire escape - simply the escape from Amanda’s world.  Tom seeks to leave it, but Laura stumbles whenever she does.

unicorn - Laura’s singularity, her return to reality, and her return to her retreat back into her world.

candelabrum - Tom’s relationship (or lack thereof) with his family.

scarf - Tom’s attempt to share his magic and desire for escape with Laura.

gentleman caller - the real world as opposed to Amanda’s imagined one.

Style

 The organization of the play is out of the ordinary.  Tom’s role as a narrator, character, and stage director is somewhat off the wall, and the use of the screen where the pictures are projected is not common.  However, it does serve the purpose well as the pictures set the mood, and Tom acting as a character and narrator allows us to enter into Tom’s mind and his inner world and thoughts.

Philosophy

 The idea conveyed in this play is that of image versus reality.  Amanda has a picture of the world and of gentlemen callers but which isn’t a reality in the ghetto’s of St. Louis.  Laura has her own imaginary reality.  Another philosophy is that of escape.  Tom tries to escape, and eventually does in the footsteps of his father.  Laura is not seeking as hard to escape as Tom, although it would do her some good to escape her world and Amanda’s.  She comes close with Jim, but is devastated and regress back into her world, probably deeper than she was before.

Quotes

“On those occasions they call me - Ell Diablo!  Oh, I could tell you things to make you sleepless!   My enemies plan to dynamite this place.  They’re going to blow us all sky-high some night!  I’ll be glad, very happy, and so will you!  You’ll go up, up on a broomstick, over Blue Mountain with seventeen gentlemen callers!”  Tom says this to Amanda in a fit of rage.

“But the most wonderfullest trick of all was the coffin trick....  There is a trick that would come in handy for me-get me out of this 2 by 4 situation.”  Tom says this to Laura after coming back drunk from the movies and magic show.

“Laura!  Why, Laura, you are sick, darling!  Tom, help your sister into the living room, dear!  ...  I told her that it was just too warm this evening, but - Is Laura all right now?”  Amanda tells this to Laura, Jim and Tom at the dinner.

“You know what I judge to be the trouble with you?  Inferiority complex!  Know what that is?  That’s what they call it when someone low-rates himself!  I understand it because I had it, too.  Although my case was not so aggravated as yours seems to be.”  Jim tells this to Laura when they are alone together after the dinner.