A play by Tennessee Williams. It involves the attempt of the family of a socially isolated and physically handicapped girl to have the girl married away to a suitor. The girl, psychologically instable, keeps a collection of glass animals that lead to the title. The animals in the glass menagerie are symbolic. It was first made into a film in 1950, and starred Kirk Douglas.

One of Tennessee Williams' first major successful plays was The Glass Menagerie, a dream-like piece about a struggling mother and her two children living in St. Louis. Amanda Wingfield, the mother in The Glass Menagerie, is a southern woman who revels in her fond memories of the past but fears for the future of her two children, Tom and Laura. On the surface Amanda might appear to be no more than a harsh, bickering mother, but this portion of her character stems from the tragedies in her past. Amanda is a strong and hopeful woman with traditional southern values, and she cares for her children but allows herself to worry too much about their future.

The mother might at first appear only paranoid and frail, but she also has strength in her character. Her alcoholic husband abandoned Amanda and her children years before, and in order to live decently in an apartment in St. Louis, Amanda works as a telephone saleswoman. She also relies on her son's income to help support the three of them. Although Amanda sometimes retreats back into memories of her better days, she accepts the reality of her present circumstances and does her best to deal with them. Amanda tries to manage the bad circumstances by encouraging Tom to work harder at the warehouse and Laura to get typing instruction at "Rubicam's Business College." Although Laura is severely introverted and quits the business school, Amanda still maintains hope for her daughter's future. Laura has a very slight limp that prevents her from feeling secure with herself, and Amanda attempts to give her daughter more courage by telling her that she "just has a little defect- hardly noticeable, even." She also tries to keep hope by claiming that "girls that aren't cut out for business careers usually wind up married to some nice man." Statements such as this seem silly and too optimistic, but in order for her strength and patience to endure, Amanda must rely on her hopes and optimism to help both her and her children. At times Amanda mentally escapes into her better days with all her gentlemen callers, however she perceives her present problems and does have the capacity to deal with them. This is certainly a quality of strength in Amanda, though often her persistence is extremely irritating to her son, Tom.

Amanda's character is greatly influenced by her traditional values and Christian morals. This personality trait is what most often causes the worst arguments between her and Tom. Tom, who Amanda remarks constantly as being "more and more like his father," drinks, smokes, and brings home books by D.H. Lawrence. All of these actions drive Amanda wild, not only because of her Christian ideals, but because her husband did the exact same things. She worries the most over Tom's drinking habits and asks him to promise to "never become a drunkard." She constantly berates Tom with remarks about how Christian adults should behave and how he should aim for "superior things, things of the mind and the spirit." However, Tom believes in instinct, and he repeatedly gets angry by Amanda's pressures on how to behave and what to believe. One of their first major arguments in the play begins with Tom swearing and Amanda "shrilly" telling him not to. Tom then yells at Amanda for "confiscating" his books, and Amanda rails that she won't allow "the output of diseased minds" in her house. This is what outrages Tom; he doesn't feel as if he has any freedom or that he truly has anything of his own. He even remarks to Laura one evening that he needs to get out of "this two-by-four situation." Tom feels as if he is caged up by his mother. Amanda tries to force Tom to act more like a Christian, but her intolerance of his actions and beliefs only anger him and encourage him to leave.

Amanda constantly frets over Laura's failures in school and Church activities because she sees a bleak future ahead of her daughter. Amanda tells Tom that Laura "just drifts along doing nothing," and that it "frightens her terribly." In the second scene of the first act, after Amanda has discovered that Laura is not attending her typing classes, she explains how worried she is by telling Laura that they will be dependent all their lives, and that she's "seen such pitiful cases in the South- barely tolerated spinsters living upon the grudging patronage of sister's husband or brother's wife." This speech reveals how horribly worried Amanda is and explains why she pesters her children so much about their futures. Amanda herself even claims, "My devotion has made me a witch and so I make myself hateful to my children."

Amanda has a strong personality and she is truly devoted to her children and their futures, but she cannot force her own hopes and wishes into their lives. Tom and Laura will continue to act as they are, and though Amanda cares for them and tries to maintain a Christian household, she simply cannot make her two children, who are adults, comply with everything she asks. The whole play is Tom's memory, which gives it a distant, fantasy-like feel. The Glass Menagerie offers a wonderful portrayal of a family and its differences. I performed the character of Amanda Wingfield in a school production my senior year of high school, so the play carries a lot of memories for me.

node your homework

This essay has adapted from an older essay of mine, discussing the dramatic treatment of characters who "look back with longing to a time that has been sweetened in the remembering" in plays written by Tennessee Williams.

Tennessee Williams regarded The Glass Menagerie as the only tender play he'd written, and this is probably because it is semi-autobiographical; his real name is Tom (as in the play), Laura is based on his sister Rose, who was mentally crippled, and Amanda was based on his mother. Additionally Williams's father was seldom at home, like the absent father in the play. Indeed as Tom announces at the beginning, "the play is memory" which accounts for the lighting, mood and realism of the drama. The play itself is Tom looking back to another time.

But has the time been sweetened? I think it has, as Tom says the play is "sentimental' and that he is giving us "truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion" with pleasant being the revealing word. Furthermore in the stage directions at the start of scene one we are told that "memory takes a lot of poetic license", and that "memory is seated predominately in the heart", which continues the idea that Tom/Tennessee's memories have ripened.

Amanda is a character whose memories far outweigh the person she has become. Her status in the world has dropped a long way since her childhood, when she entertained gentleman callers, and she is haunted by the spectre of them, and the knowledge that her daughter Laura seems halfway down the path to spinsterhood. At times Amanda appears to be unaware that she is in St. Louis with her dysfunctional daughter, as illustrated when after reminiscing about her happier times she announces, "It's almost time for our gentleman callers to start arriving. How many do you suppose we're going to entertain this afternoon?". The colourless existence she leads has resulted in her retreating into the memories of happier times. This aspect of her character is reflected elsewhere; her remembrance of the fervour that surrounded 'Gone With The Wind' and her comparing the apartment's fire escape to her veranda at her old home in the south.

It is also the memory of her youth that compels her to engineer an escape-route for Laura to prevent her becoming an old maid.

"I've seen such pitiful cases in the South - barely tolerated spinsters... eating the crust of humility all their life."

Such a scenario horrifies Amanda and it is her goal not to let her Laura end up in that situation. Clearly this fear has not "been sweetened in the remembering."

When Amanda is fretting about Tom's 'nights at the movies' it reminds her of her wayward husband, influencing her perceived shortcomings of Tom, concluding in her only favourable memory of her spouse, "He never allowed himself to look untidy". She rebukes Tom for neglecting his future and being seemingly unaware that "past turns into everlasting regret". This is what Amanda feels she has done and she is concerned Tom doesn't repeat this mistake but it is Laura's future that has been sketched by a cartographer.

After Amanda discovers that Jim, the gentleman caller, is coming to dinner, she grasps her chance to relive some of her former glories by dressing up in an old dress that resurrects her happy memories. However she now finds herself in the mothers role, and the absence of servants illustrates to her her present standing and she admits that "all vestige of gracious living" is "gone completely". Amanda does look back on her youth with longing, but her memories are bitter-sweet as she is also regretful over her choice of husband. Her memories are also the catalyst of the play since they lead to Laura and Jim's convergence and the climax of Laura's life.

Jim has, like Amanda, not fulfilled the promise of his youth. At high school he appeared to be destined for big things, as he was president of the senior class and excessively successful in the stage, basketball and debating. However he found things harder in the adult world and six years down the line his position is scarcely better than Tom's.

But unlike Amanda, Jim regards his present situation as a minor setback,

"I am disappointed but I am not discouraged."

He has conquered his inferiority complex that seemed to be brought about after his success wasn't as immediate as he hoped. He wasn't helped by his immense good fortune at high school, where Jim now realises he was spoiled and he has failed to live up to proclamations about his future.

Jim is still fortunate, as he can appreciate his memories of his time at high school, whilst still being self-aware and capable of dictating his own future. His memories have sweetened but Jim is looking to the future, not the past. Jim is also a symbol, as explained by Tom in his opening monologue:

"he is the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for",

and Laura's memory of him that slumbered and grew is reawakened. Jim tries to sweeten Laura's memories of her time at high school by persuading her that her brace wasn't noticeable, and that she isn't crippled. Hopefully this allow Laura's self-confidence to blossom and obtain Amanda's vision of charm and vivacity, but the breaking of the unicorn's horn symbolizes the destruction of the thing that sets her apart, and it looks more likely that Laura will wind up elderly and alone.

Now at least Laura will have the memory of her experience with Jim to accompany her for the rest of her life, while Tom has to cope with the guilt he has over the abandonment of his sister. In 'The Glass Menagerie' the characters draw upon the memory of their experiences to become 'better' people, and the tenderness of the play and sympathy you feel for the characters add to the impact of the theme.

In my view, the play succeeds, as the characters are trapped in situations in which they cannot escape from, unless they hurt people they care for, so remembering past events becomes more important to them while they live relatively empty and frugal lives.

Written in 1996 for CSYS English.

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