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Biography: Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams is one of America's best known playwrights. He was born Thomas Lanier Williams on March
26, 1911, in Columbus, Mississippi, the second of three children born to Cornelius Coffin (a traveling salesman)
and Edwina (Dakin) Williams.
Williams attended the University of Missouri from 1931 to 1933. After seeing a production of Ghosts, a play by
Heinrik Ibsen, he decided to become a playwright. But his education was interrupted by his father's insistence
that he work for a shoe company. Williams managed to resume his education at Washington University, St.
Louis, Missouri, from 1936 to 1937, and he finally graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University
of Iowa in 1938. He then worked in various jobs in New Orleans, Jacksonville, Florida, and New York City. These
included clerk, waiter, hotel elevator operator, teletype operator, and theatre usher.
In 1940, Williams's first major production, Battle of Angels, was staged in Boston, but critical reception was
harsh and the play was quickly withdrawn. But success was not long in coming. In 1944, The Glass Menagerie
was staged in Chicago and then ran for over five hundred performances in New York City. The play won the New
York Drama Critics' Circle Award and established his reputation as a playwright of considerable promise.
His new reputation was further enhanced by A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947, which was awarded a Pulitzer
Prize. In 1951, the play was made into a highly successful film starring Vivien Leigh as Blanche and Marlon
Brando as Stanley. By that time, Williams had entered his most prolific writing period, producing a new play
about every two years. His major plays during the 1950s and early 1960s include The Rose Tattoo (1950),
Camino Real (1953), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), which won the Pulitzer Prize, Garden District (1957, which
became Suddenly Last Summer, 1964), Orpheus Descending (1957, a revised version of Battle of Angels, and The
Night of the Iguana (1961).
In 1961, Williams's long-time companion, Frank Merlo died. This plunged the playwright into a depression that
lasted many years. He was also afflicted with a dependence on prescription drugs and alcohol. For a while he was
committed to an institution in St. Louis. However, Williams recovered and during his last decade he continued to
produce plays. These include Small Craft Warnings (1972), The Two-Character Play, and Clothes for a Summer
Hotel (1980). During this period, his reputation, which had slumped during the 1960s, revived, and he was
universally acknowledged as a master dramatist. His plays were translated into many languages and many of
them were made into films. Williams also wrote two novels, a novella, three volumes of short stories, poems, and
an autobiography.
On February 24, 1983, Tennessee Williams choked to death on the lid of a medicine bottle at the New York City
hotel where he lived.

ummary: Scenes 1-2

Scene 1-2
The play takes place in the apartment of the Wingfield family, which is in an over-crowded, lower middle-class
housing complex in St. Louis. In a case in the living room is a collection of transparent glass animals. A
photograph of the father hangs on the wall.
Tom, dressed as a merchant sailor, enters and addresses the audience directly. He says he is turning back time to
the 1930s, to when America was still recovering from the Depression, and there were violent labor disputes.
There was also a civil war in Spain.
Tom states that what the audience is to see is a memory play, in which he is one of the characters. The others are
his mother Amanda, his sister Laura, and a "gentleman caller" who appears in the final scenes. Another
character, who does not appear in the play, is his and Laura's father, who gave up his job with the telephone
company and deserted his family a long time ago.
As the play begins, Amanda and Laura are seated at a table. Tom joins them, but he and his mother soon fall to
arguing since Amanda is critical of him. Amanda alludes to a gentleman caller that she expects that afternoon for
Laura. Then she reminisces about her own past in Mississippi, when she once had seventeen gentlemen callers in
one afternoon. Tom, who has heard this story many times, indulges her, and Amanda tells of how she was able to
entertain them all because she knew the art of conversation. Many of these men went on to become wealthy,
although many are now dead.
Amanda tells Laura to go and study her typewriter chart or practice her shorthand. She must stay fresh and
pretty because her gentleman callers will be arriving shortly. Laura points out that she is not expecting anyone,
but Amanda does not want to believe it. She fears that Laura may become an "old maid."
In scene 2, an agitated Amanda returns from what would usually have been a D. A. R. (Daughters of the
American Revolution) meeting. But it transpires that she did not go to the meeting. Instead, she visited
Rubicam's Business College to speak to Laura's teachers about the progress she was making. She was told by the
typing instructor that Laura did not attend the college. The instructor then recalled that Laura must have been
the shy girl who dropped out after only a few days' attendance. Amanda had assumed that Laura had been
attending classes every day for six weeks. She is devastated by the news, and tells Laura that all her hopes and
ambitions for her have been destroyed. She asks Laura where she has been going when she pretended to be
attending the business college. Laura replies that she went out walking, sometimes visiting the museum or the
zoo, or going to the movie theater.
Amanda is in despair. Because Laura has dropped out of college, she sees nothing in their future except
dependency. She then turns the subject to marriage, asking Laura if she has ever liked a boy.
Laura replies that there was one boy, named Jim, whom she liked in high school. She shows her mother the
school yearbook which has a picture of Jim. She remembers how he used to call her "Blue Roses," having
misheard her tell him that she had had an attack of pleurosis. The yearbook stated that Jim was engaged to be
married, so Laura assumes that he is now married, since the yearbook is six years old.
Amanda resolves to marry Laura off to a nice man, but Laura does not believe she will ever marry because she is
crippled. Amanda reproaches her for using that word, and insists that all she has to do is cultivate vivacity and
The social background that is emphasized several times in the play is important. It is the macrocosmic reflection
of the microcosm of the Wingfield family. In scene 1, Tom mentions the economic depression of the 1930s, and
this mirrors the economic circumstances and worries of the Wingfield family.
Scene 1 is dominated by Amanda, who reveals how difficult she is to live with. She lectures Tom all the time,
telling him what to do and how he should live. It is no wonder that he, who is the poetic, imaginative member of
the family, wants to escape.
It is clear that Amanda lives in an illusory world of her own. She is really living in the past, looking back to an
ideal South of her youth that probably never really existed. She is surely exaggerating when she recalls her
seventeen gentlemen callers on just one afternoon-a story she has told many times before.
If Amanda lives in the past and nourishes illusions regarding the present, Laura has extreme difficulties of her
own, as scene 2 shows. She is shown polishing her glass animals, which seem to be all she has in life. Self-
conscious about being lame, she retreats inward and cannot face the world. It is clear that both Amanda and
Laura, in their different ways, are trapped in their small worlds. There seems to be no future for them.

Summary: Scenes 3
Scene 3
Tom speaks to the audience, saying that after the fiasco at the business college, Amanda became obsessed with
finding a "gentleman caller" for Laura.
The audience then sees Amanda. Realizing that some extra money will be required to spend on the apartment to
make it look nice, she makes telephone calls selling subscriptions to a woman's magazine.
After the theater lights dim, the voices of Tom and Amanda are heard quarreling again. Tom is angry with
Amanda's control over his life. The day before, she returned one of his books to the library because she did not
approve of its contents.
The lights come up, showing a typewriter and a pile of manuscripts on the table. It appears that the quarrel was
sparked by Amanda's interruption of Tom's creative work.
The quarrel continues. Tom says he is going out, and Amanda responds by saying she does not believe he goes to
the movies every night. She thinks he must be doing something he is ashamed of. He comes home late and gets
only a few hours sleep. Amanda is certain that he is jeopardizing his job, and their security. Tom replies that he
hates his job at the warehouse and working there means he has to give up all his dreams. He says that if he was
really as selfish as she thinks he is, he would already have left home, like his father did.
When he starts to go out, Amanda says she still doesn't believe he is going to the movies. He replies with some
wild exaggerations about what he is really going to do, including going to opium dens and gambling casinos. He
says he is a hired assassin and carries a tommy-gin in a violin case. Carried away by his anger and frustration, he
calls Amanda a witch. He hurls his coat across the room where it smashes against Laura's collection of glass
animals. Laura is horrified. Amanda is stunned by Tom's calling her a witch and says she will not speak to him
until he apologizes. Amanda exits, leaving Tom and Laura together. Tom collects the broken glass.
If the previous scene showed how Amanda and Laura were each trapped in their own ways, this scene shows how
Tom is trapped too. He is by nature a poet and a writer (as the pile of manuscripts on the table shows), and he
cannot bear to fritter his life away working at the warehouse. He knows he has to escape.
The difference between Tom and his mother can be seen in their tastes in literature. Amanda likes romantic,
escapist fiction of the sort published in The Home-maker's Companion, which suits her old-fashioned view of the
world. Tom prefers D. H. Lawrence, who lauds the sensual, instinctive, earthy dimension to life. But Amanda
regards Lawrence's books as "filth."
It is obvious that the glass menagerie is a symbol of the fragility of Laura's life. When some of the animals are
accidentally broken, she cries out "as if wounded."

Scenes 4
Tom does not return until five o'clock in the morning, and Laura tells him to be careful not to wake Amanda.
Tom does not care, and he tells his sister about the night's entertainment at the movie theater. He says there was
a show, which featured, among other things, a man who escaped from a nailed-up coffin without removing a nail.
He compares his own life to a "nailed-up coffin," and asks who ever got out of such a thing except by removing
one nail. As he speaks, the photograph of the father (who did manage to escape) lights up.
After that scene dims about, a clock strikes six. Amanda, who is not speaking to Tom, tries to get Laura to
summon Tom for his coffee. Laura urges Tom to apologize to his mother for his earlier outburst.
Laura goes out to buy butter. Tom enters, and for some moments, he and Amanda do not speak. She stands with
her back to him. Then Tom apologizes to her. She cries, and says she worries so much that she cannot sleep. She
urges him not to fail in his career. He must try, and then he will succeed. Tom speaks gently to her, with
understanding. She asks him to promise her he will never be a drunkard, which he does, grinning.
Amanda then tries to tell him what he should have for breakfast, and he politely insists that all he will have is a
cup of coffee. She then says that she sent Laura out so she could discuss her with Tom. She starts by saying that
Laura has told her that he is unhappy living in their apartment and working in the warehouse. Tom denies that
he goes out at night just to get away, and Amanda again asks him where he goes. He gives the same answer that
he gave in the previous scene. He goes to the movies a lot because he likes adventure.
After their discussion about what Tom wants in life goes nowhere, Amanda turns to the subject of Laura. She
says it frightens her that Laura is just drifting along, and they must make some provisions for her. She tells Tom
that as soon as Laura has a husband and a home of her own, he will be free to pursue his own dreams. But up
until then he must look out for her, since none of Amanda's efforts have worked out, and all Laura does is stay at
home, play records and fool around with her glass animal collection.
As Tom is about to go to work, Amanda asks if any nice young men work there. She wants Tom to ask a suitable
young man back to their apartment, so he can become acquainted with Laura. Tom is impatient and
unsympathetic, but he agrees to do what his mother wants.
Amanda starts to make more phone calls in connection with renewing subscriptions for the women's magazine.
Amanda seems oblivious to the fact that her controlling, critical nature is certain to drive Tom away. But she
cannot bear the thought that Tom is going to take after his father, and she sees the warning signs already. Their
dialog shows that not only are they trapped as far as their external situation is concerned, they are also (like
many of the characters in Williams's plays) unable to communicate their feelings fully. There is an entire
emotional world that exists somewhere beyond the grasp of words. Amanda says, for example, that "There's so
many things in my heart that I cannot describe to you!", and Tom replies, "There's so much in my heart that I
can't describe to you!" Tom's solution is that they should just accept this and respect each other's privacy, but
this is not something that Amanda would ever be able to do.
When Tom tells his mother that "Man is by instinct a lover, a hunter, a fighter," he is probably influenced by his
reading of D.H. Lawrence, since that sounds like something from the Lawrentian creed. Amanda, on the other
hand, aspires, or convinces herself she aspires, to a higher realm of being, beyond instinct, which is something
humans share with the animals. She wants "superior things! Things of the mind and spirit!" and she mentions
Christianity. There is obviously going to be no meeting of minds between these two, however long they talk. But
they do have a common concern for Laura.

Scenes 5
It is a spring evening in 1939. The family has just finished supper, and Amanda, as usual, is telling Tom what to
do. He should comb his hair more frequently. When Tom, irritated, goes out for a smoke, she tells him that he
smokes too much. He should save the money instead.
Tom goes out and speaks directly to the audience. He describes what the Paradise Dance Hall, which is just
across the alley, was like on spring evenings. He explains that world events (the coming of World War II) would
soon produce adventure and change for all the young people in the area. But until that happened, there was only
swing music, liquor, dance halls, bars, movies and sex.
Amanda joins him on the fire-escape, and they make a wish on the moon. Tom keeps his a secret, but Amanda
says she wished for the success and happiness of her children.
Tom tells her that he has arranged for a gentleman caller for Laura. Amanda is first excited and then flustered
when Tom tells her that the young man is coming for dinner tomorrow. She says she needs more time to make
preparations, but Tom chides her for making a fuss. Amanda wants to know whether the young man, whose
name is O'Connor, drinks. Tom says he is not aware of any drinking problem; he is impatient with his mother's
fears about men who drink.
As Amanda questions Tom further about his friend, it transpires that he is a shipping clerk at the warehouse, and
he earns more than Tom. Amanda says that his salary is not enough for a family man, but Tom points out that
O'Connor is not a family man. But he might be in the future, is Amanda's reply.
She hopes O'Connor is not too good-looking, and Tom confirms that he is rather homely. He goes to night
school, studying radio engineering and public speaking, which pleases Amanda, since she thinks that shows
ambition. Tom explains that he did not tell Jim anything about Laura, and warns his mother not to expect too
much of her. Laura is crippled, shy, and lives in a world of her own; she is not like other girls. Tom tells his
mother she must face the facts.
Tom then exits, saying he is going to the movies. Amanda calls Laura over and tells her to make a wish on the
moon. Laura asks what she should wish for, and Amanda tells her to wish for happiness and good fortune.
The scene begins and ends with wishful thinking, as first Tom and Amanda and then Amanda and Laura make
wishes on the moon. For Amanda, this kind of thinking is all she has left. It highlights the gap between the harsh
and unpromising world she lives in and her efforts, some practical and others based on romantic illusions, to
break out of it and make her life bearable.
In this scene Tom makes another attempt to paint the wider social background, when he mentions
Berchtesgaden (Adolf Hitler's summer retreat), Neville Chamberlain (the British prime minister who thought he
had negotiated a peace treaty with Hitler at Munich in 1938) and Guernica. Guernica was a Basque village which
was attacked by Nazi bombers on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. The planes dropped 100,000
pounds of bombs and incendiaries. Seventy percent of the town was destroyed and 1,500 people, a third of the
population, were killed.

Scenes 6
Tom speaks, looking back on the past. He says he knew that Laura and Jim O'Connor had been acquainted in
high school, but he did not know whether Jim remembered her.
On a Friday evening, at about five, everything is ready for Jim's arrival. Laura is so nervous she trembles.
Amanda stuffs a couple of pads down Laura's dress, because she is flat-chested. Laura says she will not wear
them. Amanda disappears and then re-emerges wearing girlish dress, one that she wore when she was young.
She wore it for her gentleman callers, and was wearing it the day she met her husband. Then she lets slip that the
young man's name is Jim O'Connor. Laura fears that it may be the boy she knew in high school, whom she liked.
If it is the same boy, she says she will not come to the dinner table. Amanda tries to reassure her that it will not
be the same person.
The doorbell rings, and Amanda tells Laura to answer it. Laura pleads with her mother, and says she is sick. But
Amanda insists the she open the door. Tom introduces Jim to Laura and she manages to get out a few anxious
words before excusing herself. Tom explains to Jim that she is terribly shy.
After glancing at the newspaper, Jim and Tom go out on to the fire-escape. Jim talks about how his public
speaking course has helped him. He says the most important thing in life is social poise, being able to hold your
own on many levels. He also tells Tom that one of the supervisors, a Mr. Mendoza, has indicated that Tom will be
out of a job soon if he doesn't wake up. Tom says he is waking up, but the signs of it are interior. He is ready to go
to sea. He is tired of going to the movies all the time, and wants some adventure of his own. He shows Jim his
membership card of the Union of Merchant Seamen. He paid his dues instead of paying the electricity bill. When
the lights go off, he says, he won't be there.
They go inside, where Amanda greets them. She turns on the excessive charm. Jim is taken aback at first, but
quickly adjusts. She chatters on, hardly letting Jim get a word in edgewise.
Supper is on the table, but Laura has not appeared. After Amanda calls her, she comes in but walks unsteadily.
She is obviously terrified. She stumbles and catches at a chair. Amanda realizes she really is sick, and tells Tom
to help her to the living room, where she rests on the sofa.
The scene ends as Tom says grace before the meal, and Laura holds her hand to her mouth to hold back a sob.
Amanda's frantic preparations, and the dress she wears, are out of all proportion to the event. Once more shows
how she is still living in an idealized southern past, in which invitations for young ladies keep pouring in and
there were parties all over the Delta: "Evenings, dances!-Afternoons, long, long rides! Picnics-lovely!-So lovely,
that country in May.-All lacy, with dogwood, literally flooded with jonquils!"
Jim is a sharp contrast to the other three characters. Just as he arrives, Amanda says in frustration to Laura,
"Why can't you and your brother be normal people?" Jim is one of those normal people. He has found that real
life is much harder than being in high school, where he was outstanding, and in six years he has not advanced
very far in life. But he is ambitious, and ready to take his place in the American mainstream (unlike any of the
marginalized Wingfield family). His chosen interest is radio engineering and television-the industries of the
future, and his evening classes in public speaking make it clear that he believes in the American Dream. He
believes that if you work hard and study, you can get ahead, which is an ethos that Amanda has earlier tried to
instill in Tom, without any success. Jim is therefore attuned to the society in which he lives, but Amanda, Laura
and Tom are all, in their different ways, people who do not fit in.

Scenes 7
Half an hour later, dinner is just being finished. Laura is still huddled on the sofa.
The lights go out. Amanda lights candles while Jim checks on the fuses, which are all intact. Amanda asks
Tom about the bill, and it soon transpires that he did not pay it.
Amanda tells Jim to go and keep Laura company while she and Tom wash the dishes. Jim takes the
candelabra and some wine with him, and talks to Laura in a gentle, humorous way, to help her overcome her
shyness. He tells her about the Century of Progress exhibition he saw in Chicago the previous summer. He is
excited about what the future holds for America.
Laura asks him whether he has kept up with his singing. Jim is surprised at her inquiry, and Laura supposes
he does not remember her. He replies that he remembers her from somewhere, and when she responds with
the nickname he gave her, Blue Roses, he remembers who she is. Jim wonders why she didn't say something
when he arrived, but she says she was too surprised.
They recall a choral singing class they took together, and Jim remembers that she always came in late. She
explains that that was because of the leg brace she wore, but Jim says he never noticed it. When Laura
confesses that she never had much luck making friends, Jim tries to help her overcome her shyness, telling
her that people are not so dreadful when you get to know them.
He recalls how in high school there was a write-up about him in the yearbook that said he was bound to
succeed in anything he went into. Laura produces the book, and points to a photo of Jim performing in an
operetta. She tells him she went to all three performances and wanted to ask him to autograph her program,
but he was always surrounded by his own friends. Jim signs the yearbook for her with a flourish. Laura then
finds out from him that he never married the girl the yearbook says he was engaged to.
Jim inquires about what she has been doing since high school, and she confesses to dropping out of business
school. She doesn't do much, she says, and tells him about her collection of glass animals.
Jim says that her problem is that she has an inferiority complex. She lacks confidence in herself as a person.
He advises her to think of herself as superior in some way. Everyone excels in something, he says; you just
have to discover what it is. Then he talks about his interest in radio engineering and how he believes in the
future of television. He is already making the right connections so he can get into this new industry.
After he asks her whether there is something she takes more interest in than anything else, she shows him
her glass collection, and gives him a glass unicorn to hold.
Jim invites her to dance, and overcomes her objection that she has never danced in her life. As he swings her
around the floor, they bump into the table, and the unicorn falls off and breaks. Jim is very apologetic, but
Laura says it doesn't matter.
Jim tells her that she is different from anyone else he knows. He asks her whether anyone has ever told her
she is pretty, and says he wishes she were his sister; he would teach her to have confidence in herself. He
then takes her hand and kisses her on the mouth.
Realizing his mistake, Jim backs off, lights a cigarette, and says he shouldn't have kissed her. He confesses
that he has a regular girlfriend called Betty, with whom he is in love.
Laura is devastated by this, but she tries to recover. She offers him the broken unicorn, as a souvenir.
At that moment, Amanda comes into the room, chattering gaily. She anticipates Jim coming often to call on
them. Jim says he must be going, and mentions Betty's name, saying they are engaged to be married.
Amanda is stunned, but she puts a brave face on this unwelcome news, wishing Jim luck, happiness, and
After Jim has left, Amanda confronts Tom. She finds it hard to believe his protests that he had no idea Jim
was engaged. Tom says he is going to the movies. He smashes his glass on the floor and rushes out. Laura
In Tom's final speech, he looks back from his later viewpoint. He was fired from his job, and left St. Louis,
traveling from city to city. But wherever he goes, he cannot forget Laura. Whenever he sees some
transparent glass, or a familiar piece of music, he thinks of her. He tries to distract himself from the memory
by telling her to blow her candles out.
Laura, who has been acting out a soundless scene with Amanda while Tom has been speaking, blows out the
candles, ending the play.
This is the longest scene in the play, and takes up about one-third of the action. It is dramatically effective in
part because it focuses on the meeting between the extravert Jim and the introvert Laura. Will he succeed in
drawing her out? Will he be the Prince Charming to her Cinderella? But the audience senses that this cannot
Jim does his best with Laura, using what he has learned in his night school classes about how to have self-
confidence in dealing with others. The "pop" psychology has been good enough for him in his quest to
improve himself, but poor Laura is in need of much more than a pep talk. Jim is well-meaning, but he allows
his enthusiasm to run away with him. His clumsy breaking of the glass unicorn is a very obvious piece of
symbolism, foreshadowing his unintentional shattering of Laura a few moments later.
Laura is broken completely by this sudden disillusionment. As the playwright puts it as the scene with Laura
and Jim begins, this scene "is the climax of her secret life." The truth is that in six years, she has not
forgotten Jim, even though they were barely acquainted with each other. For Laura to live without hope is
one thing, but to have hope and joy suddenly erupt so unexpectedly, followed by their sudden loss, is an
even more devastating experience than mere hopelessness. The look on Laura's face is one of "almost
infinite desolation."
After Jim's departure, the play draws to a close with the predictable pattern reasserting itself, as Amanda
accuses Tom of selfishness and he goes out to the movies. Nothing much has changed in these difficult,
restricted lives.
At the end, as Tom describes his life since he escaped from this stifling environment, the audience watches
Amanda and Laura acting out a soundless pantomime; it is as if the characters are behind transparent,
soundproof glass. They have both become like members of a glass menagerie, cut off in an unfulfilled,
desperate and fragile world of their own.

Character Profiles
Jim O'Connor Jim O'Connor is a friend of Tom's from the warehouse where they both work. Tennessee Williams
describes him in his notes to the play as "A nice, ordinary young man." Jim is the "gentleman caller" who is
invited to dinner by Tom, and in whom Amanda places her hopes for finding a husband for Laura.
Jim was an outstanding success in high school, and everyone thought he would succeed in life. However, in the
six years that have elapsed since he graduated, he has found life much tougher than he might have expected. At
the warehouse, he is a shipping clerk, which is only a slightly better position than Tom's. However, Jim is a
cheerful, optimistic young man, who is determined to get on in life. He is studying public speaking and radio
engineering at night school, and wants to go into the fledgling television industry. When he visits the Wingfield
family, Jim does his best to draw Laura out of her shell, but his enthusiasm runs away with him and he makes
the mistake of kissing her. He then has to explain that he must disappoint her because he has a steady girlfriend
named Betty.
Amanda Wingfield Amanda Wingfield is the mother of Tom and Amanda. Amanda spent her youth in the south,
and in a way she continues to live there, endlessly telling her children stories of her life back in those days. Her
desire to live in the past is perhaps not surprising, given that it was so much more enjoyable than the life she has
in the present-living on limited means in an apartment in a rundown area of St. Louis.
Amanda's husband deserted her sixteen years ago, and she is scared that Tom will turn out like his father. But
she does not realize that by her constant attempts to manage his life for him, she is driving him away. Amanda is
resourceful and energetic, and her sole ambition is that her son and daughter should be successful and happy.
But her attempts to marry off Laura to Jim are a terrible failure and leave her desolate, although she still
manages to put a brave face on things.
Laura Wingfield Laura Wingfield is Amanda's daughter. She is an extremely shy young woman in her early
twenties. Following a childhood illness she is crippled, and wears a leg brace. Laura is so withdrawn, so unable to
make contact with reality, that she spends her time playing with her collection of glass animals and listening to
gramophone records. The failure of her encounter with Jim makes her even more withdrawn. Tennessee
Williams wrote of her, "she is like a piece of her own glass collection, too exquisitely fragile to move from the
Tom Wingfield Tom Wingfield is the narrator of the play as well as a character in it. He is Amanda's son and
Laura's brother. Tom is a poet, and he feels stifled by his unrewarding job at the warehouse and the tense
situation at home, where he is always quarreling with his controlling mother. He wants to escape his situation,
just as his father managed to escape many years before. His goal is to join the merchant marine, and he is
prepared to be ruthless in accomplishing his goal-for example, paying his dues to the seaman's union with the
money that should have been used to pay the electricity bill. But even though he does manage to leave the family
home, he does not find happiness. As he travels from city to city, he cannot forget the sister he left behind.

Metaphor Analysis
The Glass Menagerie
The collection of little glass animals that Laura keeps and fusses over are symbols of her own fragility and the
unreal life she lives. Her favorite ornament is the unicorn, and this takes the symbolism further, since the
unicorn is a creature of myth, not of reality. The unicorn in fact represents Laura herself. The unicorn is like a
horse but it is not a horse; it has a peculiarity (its horn) that sets it apart from other horses. So too Laura is not
like other girls. In scene 7, the symbolism becomes important for the meaning of the play. Jim accidentally
breaks the unicorn, and without its distinguishing horn, it looks more like a horse. This symbolizes how Jim is
trying to draw Laura out of herself, to make her more normal. But his strategy does not work. Instead of a
normal horse and a normal girl, there is just a broken ornament (given to Jim as a souvenir) that used to be a
unicorn, and a girl whose dreams have been shattered and is now even less normal than ever.

Theme Analysis
Imprisonment and Escape
The Wingfields' apartment is like a prison from which Amanda and Laura are unable to escape. By the end of the
play, they are even more deeply enmeshed in their claustrophobic, closed world than they were at the beginning.
Amanda's great hope was that Laura would graduate from a business college and pursue a career as a secretary,
but once she finds out that Laura was too shy even to attend classes, she pins all her hopes on finding Laura a
husband. When that scheme fails too, all hope seems lost. A life of worry, economic insecurity and dependency
seems inevitable.
As a contrast to this, an image of escape is presented throughout the play, in the form of the photograph of the
father that hangs on the wall. But when Tom follows his father's example and walks out on his family, he finds
that however far he travels, he remains trapped by the reach of memory. He cannot forget his sister and her
plight. So in the end there is no escape from the family prison for any of the three characters.
Illusions and Reality
The two women in the play, Amanda and her daughter, Laura, live inside their own illusions because the outside
world is too painful for them to face. Amanda lives in another time and place, the genteel, idealized world of the
south during her youth. But St. Louis during the 1930s is a different proposition altogether, and Amanda fails to
make the adjustment. She endlessly repeats exaggerated tales of the south, and her numerous "gentlemen
callers." She assumes that what worked for her (even though the man she chose walked out on her) will work for
Laura too, even though times have changed. Tom tries to force her to face the facts that Laura is different than
other girls, but Amanda refuses to accept this. All she can do is wish on the moon that things will turn out the
way she wants them to.
Laura is even more deeply enmeshed in an illusory world than her mother. Too shy and too lacking in self-
confidence to cope with the real world, she retreats to an inner world. She talks of her glass animals as if they are
real beings, and her only other interest is in playing the old gramophone records that her father left behind. It is
hard to imagine what the future might hold for her.
The American Dream
Set against the economic frustration of the Wingfield family, which leads to a closed circle of experience, is the
ideal of the American Dream, which points ever upward. In spite of her impoverished life in the St. Louis of the
1930s, Amanda is a believer in the Dream. She tells Tom that he simply has to work hard, and he will succeed.
But the poetic, imaginative Tom is not the sort of man to cultivate a normal career leading to success and wealth.
Those are not his goals. The idea of the American Dream is represented more by Jim. He is in love with the
achievements and the promise of technology, and he has embraced the spirit of self-help and advancement
through education. He believes that his life is on an upward trajectory, and that if he studies and plays his cards
right, he can go as far as he wants to go in his career.

Q ANSWERS222222222222222222222222222222222222

Essay Q&A
1. The Glass Menagerie "seems to derive its continued if wavering force from its partly repressed representation
of the quasi-incestuous and doomed love" between Tom and Laura" (Harold Bloom). Discuss.
As far as the text of the play is concerned, the only time Tom really expresses his feelings about Laura is at the
end, when he confesses that even though he has escaped from the stifling effect of the family home, he cannot
forget Laura. So many things remind him of her, and he is tormented by the memory: "Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried
to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!" This suggests a strong emotional
connection between brother and sister, and probably a feeling of guilt on the part of Tom for having deserted her.
And the word he uses, "faithful," seems an unusual one for a brother to use about a sister. The idea of being
faithful is more usually applied to relationships between lovers or spouses rather than siblings. However, this
passage is not in itself an indicator of an incestuous or even "quasi-incestuous" love. During the play Tom does
not, in the text, show any unusual attachment to his sister.
However, the script of a play is only the bare bones of what it becomes in performance. There may be
opportunities for the actors playing Tom and Laura to suggest a relationship between the two that might come
close to the "partly repressed" incestuous love that Bloom writes about. This opportunity was indeed taken in the
celebrated 1973 television production, starring Katharine Hepburn as Amanda. At the beginning of scene 4,
when Tom returned at five in the morning and entertained Laura with tales of what had happened at the theater,
there was a flirtatious manner between them that suggested something more than conventional love between
In short, the playwright does not seem to have presented the relationship between Tom and Laura as "quasi-
incestuous" in any consistent, obvious manner. However, it is possible to suggest such a relationship in
2. Discuss Williams's use during the play of a screen bearing images or titles.
Williams wanted productions of the play to use at certain moments a screen on which were projected slides
bearing images or titles. The purpose, according to Williams's production notes, was to stress the most important
points in each scene. He realized that his play was rather episodic and he was concerned that the audience might
lose track of the structure of the play, making it seem fragmentary. Williams wrote: "The legend or image upon
the screen will strengthen the effect of what is merely allusion in the writing and allow the primary point to be
made more simply and lightly than if the entire responsibility were on the spoken word."
Directors and scholars have generally been unenthusiastic about this innovation of Williams. The screens (also
described as legends) were omitted from the Broadway production of 1945, which Williams did not regret since
Laurette Taylor's performance as Amanda was so powerful that he felt the production could be simplified.
Directors since have usually followed this lead, although Williams retained the use of the legends in the Reading
Edition of the play.
Many of the legends seem unnecessary. When Amanda reminisces about her youth, the image, "Amanda as a girl
on a porch, greeting callers," does not add much to the audience's understanding. Similarly, "A swarm of
typewriters," the legend that is to appear as Amanda begins her story of her visit to Rubicam's business college,
adds little to the story, since Amanda immediately goes on to explain that she went to see the typing instructor.
More use can be seen for an image stating (or illustrating) "Crippled", when Laura utters the word, since
Williams wrote that Laura's lameness can be merely suggested on the stage. And when Tom says he likes a lot of
adventure, the image that appears, "Sailing vessel with Jolly Roger," suggests Tom's later departure for the sea.
In general, however, the verdict of time has been that the legends are not necessary and add little if anything to
the effect of the play.
3. Discuss Williams's use of non-realist techniques in The Glass Menagerie.
Williams repeatedly stressed that he was not writing realistic drama. In his production notes to The Glass
Menagerie he disparaged realism in drama, comparing it to a mere photographic likeness, whereas "truth, life, or
reality is an organic thing which the poetic imagination can represent or suggest, in essence, only through
transformation, through changing into other forms than those which were merely present in appearance."
At the very outset, Tom addresses the audience directly. This is a breach of realistic convention, in which the
actors are obliged to pretend that the audience does not exist. Tom also hints at the nonrealistic nature of the
play when he says that in contrast to a stage magician who provides illusion in the guise of truth, "I give you truth
in the pleasant disguise of illusion." Tom also brings out the nonrealistic dimension when he makes it clear that
although he is narrating from the present, the characters and situations he is re-creating are from the past.
There are other occasions when Williams deliberately disrupts any sense of realism in the play. In scene 1, for
example, when Amanda and Laura are seated at the table, "eating is indicated by gestures without food or
Music plays a large part in the play, especially the "glass menagerie" music that is heard in connection with
Laura. Tom deliberately brings attention to this breach of realism: "In memory everything seems to happen to
music. That explains the fiddle in the wings."
Williams also uses lighting in non-realistic ways. The stage is dim, but shafts of light illuminate selected areas or
characters. Lighting often serves to keep Laura as the center of attention even when this is not apparent from the
action in the scene. For example, as Williams himself points out in the production notes, in the quarrel between
Tom and Amanda (scene 3), a scene that does not directly involve Laura, the light shines on her nonetheless. So
too in the supper scene, when Laura lies on the sofa, taking no part in the conversation, the light is still focused
on her.
4. What does The Glass Menagerie reveal about the lives of women during this time period?
The world depicted in the play is one in which men can shape their lives as they choose, even if it means
behaving irresponsibly, while women must accept a circumscribed and dependent position. For a woman such as
Amanda, deserted by her husband sixteen years ago, the economic situation is precarious. Amanda depends on
her son to pay the rent and the other bills for their apartment. When she wants to bring in some income, she is
reduced to selling magazine subscriptions from her own home.
Laura's position shows even more clearly the limited opportunities open to women during this time period.
Although she does have the chance to attend a business college, what she learns there is shorthand and typing,
which would be sufficient to get her a job as a secretary (to a male executive) but no more. When she drops out of
college, her prospects are even worse. All she can hope for is to snare a man who will support her, and for that
she must develop her feminine wiles. According to Amanda, all women should be a trap for men ("and men
expect them to be," she says).
But the reality is that men are not trapped by women, since they are able to escape any situation that is not of
their liking, with little consequence. The prime example of this is the father, Amanda's husband, who left his job
with the telephone company and deserted his family. Interestingly, Amanda, far from despising him, seems to
retain much affection for him, since she displays his over-sized portrait prominently on the mantel and points it
out to Jim with some pride. If she feels any anger toward her husband, she does not show it. She lives in a world
where it seems accepted that men will behave in this way, and there is little women can do about it.
Tom follows in his father's footsteps. He is prepared to be ruthless in planning his escape, paying his union dues
with the money that should have paid the electricity bill. He has a freedom that Amanda and Laura can never
have, simply because he is a man.
The world depicted in the play, of strictly segregated roles for men and women, typifies pre-World War II
America. After the war, as more women remained in the workforce, roles and expectations based on gender
gradually began to change. By the 1960s, the world depicted in The Glass Menagerie was rapidly becoming out of
5. What role does religious symbolism play in The Glass Menagerie?
Religious symbols and allusions hover in the background of the play and contribute to its meaning. Amanda
regards herself as a Christian. When she sympathizes with the women she talks to about her subscription drive,
she calls them "Christian martyrs," which may give a clue to how Amanda sees herself. Laura tells her that when
she is disappointed she gets that "awful suffering look on [her] face, like the picture of Jesus' mother in the
All Christians, especially suffering ones, await the coming of the savior, and this is the role in which Amanda
casts Jim O'Connor. Scene 5, in which Tom breaks the news that Jim is coming for dinner, begins with the
legend "Annunciation," a term which refers to the message brought by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary.
The person to be redeemed is of course Laura. She is also described in religious terms. According to Williams's
production notes, the light that shines on her during the play should have "a peculiar pristine clarity, such as
light used in the early religious portraits of female saints and madonnas."
But Jim O'Connor is unable to live up to the status that Amanda ascribes to him. When he and Laura are alone
together he offers her not the wine and bread of the holy sacraments, but wine and chewing gum. And he
preaches only a secular gospel of self-help rather than salvation through divine grace.
Whereas Christ the savior is presented in Christian scriptures as the light of the world, in The Glass Menagerie,
the lights are always going out. When it transpires that Jim is unavailable for Laura, the "holy candles in the altar
of Laura's face have been snuffed out." The lights go out at the dinner table too, a foreshadowing of how the
world will soon be plunged into the darkness of World War II. Tom's final speech ends with candles being blown
out. The only light now in the world is that of lightning, not the divine light.
The religious symbols and allusions therefore serve to give only false hope. They enhance the pessimism of the

Feminist Analysis Of The Glass Menagerie

Feminism theory is a diverse collection of several other theories such as social, political movements and moral
philosophies. The feminism theory usual revolves around gender and sexuality. Of particular interest here is the
gender equality as pertaining to women rights and sexuality particular in areas of political, social, economic and
law rights. The theory aims to understand the nature of inequality and pay close interest on how to enhance the
same. The advocates of new feminism include Mercedes Gutierrez, Janne H. Matlary and Mary Anne Glendon

Playwrights such as Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams among others have captured some aspects of gender
related issues in their works. Most of the universal themes they explore include patriarchy, stereotyping,
objectification, sexual objectification, and oppression. In this essay, the focus is on The Glass Menagerie by
Tennessee Williams. This play demonstrates some gender sensitive issues particular in choice and use of
characters, symbols and their hidden meanings, figurative language use among other literary devices.
Feminism theory will focus on how female characters are impacted by male characters, or how their interaction
helps us understand women’s position; any sign of a patriarchal society; look for symbols, imagery or other
literary elements related to the gender issues.

In the play The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams use both male and female characters which exhibit some
forms of gender related issues particular in feminism perspective. Three main characters used in this essay which
will help us understand the play from feminism point of view are Amanda Wingfield, Laura Wingfield and Tom
Wingfield. Other characters are equally important in development of feminism theory in the play, but will focus
on the above.

Amanda Wingfield is the mother of Tom and Mary. A single mother raising her kids through the help of Tom.
She is a woman who is stark in past memory of her childhood and upbringing and unable to adapt to the
modern world. She is financially unstable unlike in the past and must rely on the support of her son, Tom to
support them having been abandoned by the husband. This demonstrates female relying too much on the male
in the society to provide for them and the family. Amanda also shows that women are weak and unable to move
on and adapt to modern realities, rather they live in world of fantasies and illusion clinging to the good past.
Tennessee also portrays women as nagging. This shown when Amanda constantly nags Tom to bring a suitor for
Laura (p…….).

Amanda believes that only a man can take them out of their painful reality. She nags Tom to bring callers to
marry Laura. She believes that a man’s role is to support a woman. This will guarantee her daughter’s future. In
patriarch society, women believe that it’s the male who dominate, and therefore it is their responsibility to take
them out of it. When this fails to happen, women will withdraw to fantasy and illusion.

Laura Wingfield is the daughter of Amanda and a sister to Tom. She is the center of the play and very important
for feminist approach to this play. She has a pure compassion to everyone. Amanda describes her has not selfish
and grudging. She is selflessness (p……..).

Several symbols in the play allude to Laura. She is better placed to bringing out the elements of feminism in the
play. She is portrayed has delicate and fragile just like the glass. To this, Tennessee shows that women are
delicate just like objects and can easily break more so where their emotional feelings are involved. Jim calls Laura
the “Blue Roses”, to show her unusualness and attractiveness. Roses are attractive yet very delicate flowers. Men
refer to women as attractive things and highly delicate (p……).

The glass unicorn is Laura’s valuable collection. This shows her unusualness. Jim tells Laura that unicorns are long
extinct. Laura too is unfit to live in her present world. The unicorn is short-lived during the dance. Jim kisses
Laura and the unicorn breaks and remains without horns. She gives it Jim (scene 7 p…..). This scene
demonstrates the dependency of women especially when their hopes are shattered by their potential suitors. It
like Jim destroyed Laura’s life emotionally. Men are capable of shattering women’s dreams.

Laura’s glass menagerie is the most important symbol used in the play. Her collections are delicate, strange and
almost out of fashion just like her personality. The glass displays different colors when light is subjected to it. This
depends on how you choose to look at it. This portray of women in different views shows that women mean
different things to different people depending on how you look at them. The menagerie is colorful which serves
as escape route to fantasy. Both Tom and Jim think that Laura is more unusual to the world. To them, Laura can
be anything they want her to be. This is how men view women (p….scene five).

Tom Wingfield is the most important male figure in the play. Tom is a brother to Laura. Tom will be used to
demonstrate the male patriarchal society views on their female counterparts. Tom is a poet and a very difficult
character to understand. He is the character whose play is told from his recollections. He sometimes engages the
audience directly. Amanda says that he is not a budding businessman. He normally escapes to movies at night.
He is the male figure of Wingfield household and responsible for their welfare. He wants to escape this role and
eventually does it, but this action haunts him because of the love he has for Laura, Amanda and his job. Women
burden men with the roles of taking their care. Tom departure from his home causes emotional turmoil to
Amanda and Laura, whom some critiques argue that he could be in love with them creating moral implications.
When Amanda discovers that Jim has a girlfriend, he accuses Tom of playing a joke on them. This shatters her
hopes of ever getting a suitor for her daughter.

Tennessee Williams shows that women are really concerned about snagging things and the society is male
dominated. Women have to depend on men for their social, economical and emotional well being. The play
reveals that women tend to escape their predicaments by resorting to nostalgia of childhood memories or
escapism through collection of delicates things which they consider very much valuable. The feminist struggle
has still much to achieve in their quest for gender equality. This play can also reveal that women are not always
actively oppressed, and for the most part women are part of a lot of the actual oppression. The unequal
treatment of women in society originates not in men, but from underneath the obvious surface, where social
structure dwells.