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The Glass Menagerie Summary


The action of The Glass Menagerie takes place in the Wingfield family's apartment in St. Louis, 1937. The events of the play are framed by memory - Tom Wingfield is the play's narrator, and usually smokes and stands on the fire escape as he delivers his monologues. The narrator addresses us from the undated and eternal present, although at the play's first production (1944-5), Tom's constant indirect references to the violence of the Second World War would have been powerfully current. The action of the play centers on Tom, his mother Amanda, and his sister Laura. In 1937 they live together in a small apartment in St. Louis. Their father abandoned them years earlier, and Tom is now the family's breadwinner. He works at the Continental Shoemakers warehouse during the day, but he disappears nightly "to the movies." Amanda is a loving mother, but her meddling and nagging are hard to live with for Tom, who is a grown man and who earns the wages that support the entire family. Laura is a frightened and terribly shy girl, with unbelievably weak nerves. She is also slightly lame in one leg, and she seldom leaves the apartment of her own volition. She busies herself caring for her "glass menagerie," a collection of delicate little glass animals. Amanda dreams constantly of the long-ago days when she was a young Southern belle and the darling of her small town's social scene. She enrolled Laura in classes at Rubicam's Business College, hoping that a career in business would make Laura self-sufficient. She discovers that Laura stopped attending class a long time ago, because the speed tests on the typewriter terrified her. After the fiasco at Rubicam's Amanda gives up on a business career for Laura and puts all her hopes into finding a husband for her. Amanda's relationship with Tom is difficult. Tom longs to be free - like his father - to abandon Amanda and Laura and set off into the world. He has stayed because of his responsibility for them, but his mother's nagging and his frail sister's idiosyncrasies make the apartment a depressing and oppressive place. Tom also hates his job. His only escape comes from his frequent visits to the movies, but his nightly disappearances anger and baffle Amanda. He fights with Amanda all the time, and the situation at home grows more unbearable. Amanda, sensing that Tom wants to leave, tries to make a deal with him. If Tom and Amanda can find a husband for Laura, a man who can take care of her, then Tom will be free of his responsibility to them. Amanda asks Tom to bring home gentlemen callers to meet Laura. Tom brings home Jim O'Connor, a fellow employee at the warehouse. He is an outgoing and enthusiastic man on whom Laura had a terrible crush in high school. Jim chats with Laura, growing increasingly flirtatious, until he finally kisses her. Then he admits that he has a fiancand cannot call again. For fragile Laura, the news is devastating. Amanda is furious, and after Jim leaves she accuses Tom of playing a cruel joke on them. Amanda and Tom have one final fight, and not long afterward Tom leaves for good. In his closing monologue, he admits that he cannot escape the memory of his sister. Though he abandoned her years ago, Laura still haunts him.

About The Glass Menagerie


The Glass Menagerie was written in 1944, based on reworked material from one of Williams' short stories, "Portrait of a Girl in Glass," and his screenplay, The Gentleman Caller. In the weeks leading up to opening night (December 26, 1944 in Chicago), Williams had deep doubts about the production - the theater did not expect the play to last more than a few nights, and the producers prepared a closing notice in response to the weak advance sales. But two critics loved the show, and returned almost nightly to monitor the production. Meanwhile, they gave the play enthusiastic reviews and continued to praise it daily in their respective papers. By mid-January, tickets to the show were some of the hottest items in Chicago, nearly impossible to obtain. Later in 1945, the play opened in New York with similar success. On opening night in New York, the cast received an unbelievable twenty-five curtain calls. Tennessee Williams did not express strong admiration for any early American playwrights; his greatest dramatic influence was the brilliant Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. Chekhov, with his elegant juxtaposition of the humorous and the tragic, his lonely characters, and his dark sensibilities, was a powerful inspiration for Tennessee Williams' work. Additionally, the novelist D.H. Lawrence offered Williams a depiction of sexuality as a potent force of life; Lawrence is referenced in The Glass Menagerie as one of the writers favored by Tom. The American poet Hart Crane was another important influence on Williams; with Crane's dramatic life, open homosexuality, and determination to create poetry that did not mimic European sensibilities, Williams found a great source of inspiration. Williams also belongs to the tradition of great Southern writers who have invigorated literary language with the lyricism of Southern English. Like Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams wanted to challenge some of the conventions of naturalistic theatre. Summer and Smoke (1948), Camino Real (1953), and The Glass Menagerie (1944), among others, provided some of the early testing ground for Williams' innovations. The Glass Menagerie uses music, screen projections, and lighting effects to create the haunting and dream-like atmosphere appropriate for a "memory play." Like Eugene O'Neill's Emperor Jones and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Williams' play explores ways of using the stage to depict the interior life and memories of a character. Tom, as narrator, moves in and out of the action of the play. There are not realistic rules for the convention: we also see events that Tom did not directly witness. The screen projections seem heavy-handed, but at the time their use would have seemed to be a cutting-edge innovation. The projections use film-like effects and the power of photography (art forms that are much younger than drama) in a theatrical setting. In The Glass Menagerie, Williams' skillful use of the narrator and his creation of a dream-like, illusory atmosphere help to create a powerful representation of family, memory, and loss. The Glass Menagerie is loosely autobiographical. The characters all have some basis in the real-life family of Tennessee Williams: Edwina is the hopeful and demanding Amanda, Rose is the frail and shy Laura (whose nickname, "Blue Roses," refers directly back to Williams' real-life sister), and distant and cold Cornelius is the faithless and absent father. Tom is Williams' surrogate. Williams actually worked in a shoe warehouse in St. Louis, and there actually was a disastrous evening with the only gentleman caller who ever came for Rose. Thomas was also Tennessee Williams' real name, and the name "Thomas" means twin - making Tom the surrogate not only for Williams but also possibly for the audience. He is our eye into the Wingfields' situation. His dilemma forms a central conflict of the play, as he faces an agonizing choice between responsibility for his family and living his own life. The play is replete with lyrical symbolism. The glass menagerie, in its fragility and delicate beauty, is a symbol for Laura. She is oddly beautiful and, like her glass pieces, easy to destroy. The fire escape is most closely linked to Tom's character and to the theme of escape. Laura stumbles on the escape, while Tom uses it to get out of the apartment and into the outside world. He goes down the fire escape one last time at the end of the play, and he stands on the landing during his monologues. His position there metaphorically illustrates his position between his family and the outside world, between his responsibility and the need to live his own life. The play is non-naturalistic, playing with stage conventions and making use of special effects like music and slide projections. By writing a "memory play," Tennessee Williams freed himself from the restraints of naturalistic theatre. The theme of memory is important: for Amanda, memory is a kind of escape. For Tom, the older Tom who narrates the events of the play, memory is the thing that cannot be escaped, for he is still haunted by memories of the sister he abandoned years ago.

Character List
Amanda Wingfield Once a Southern belle who was the darling of her small town's social scene, Amanda is now an abandoned wife and single mother living in a small apartment in St. Louis. She dreams of her past and of her daughter's future, but seems unwilling to recognize the painful harsh realities of the present. She is a loving mother, but her demands make life difficult for Laura and unbearable for Tom. Amanda finally senses Tom's stirrings to leave and makes a deal with him - that if he can find a suitable replacement for himself in the form of a husband for Laura, then he can disappear for good. In all reality, then, Amanda is holding her son hostage - threatening his future in order to ensure her own. Laura Wingfield Crippled from childhood, Laura walks with the aid of a leg brace. Laura is painfully shy, unable to face the world outside of the tiny Wingfield apartment. She spends her time polishing her collection of tiny glass animals, her "glass menagerie." Her presence is almost ghostly, and her inability to connect with others outside of her family makes her dependent on Tom and Amanda. Jim's nickname for her, "Blue Roses," suggests both her odd beauty and her isolation, as blue roses exist nowhere in the real world. She is in many ways like Rose, Tennessee Williams' real-life sister. As a parallel to Rose, then, Laura becomes helpless and impossibly passive - rendered to a fate entirely dictated by Tom's own decisions. Laura's passivity, meanwhile, incurs a tremendous amount of guilt and repressed rage in Tom, who has trouble leaving as long as he thinks of his sister. Tom Wingfield Tom is an aspiring poet who works in the Continental Shoemakers warehouse. He is the narrator of the play and the action of the play is framed by Tom's memory. Tom loves his mother and sister, but he feels trapped at home. They are dependent on his wages and as long as he stays with them he feels he can never have a life of his own. Nightly, he disappears to "go to the movies." As the play continues, Tom feels increasingly imprisoned and his mother begins to sense his stirrings. She makes him a deal - as long as he finds a husband for Laura, he's free to escape. But Tom is trapped by his own guilt for leaving and his own repressed rage for being put in a position where his freedom comes at the expense of his own conscience. Jim O'Connor Jim is the long-awaited gentleman caller for Laura - and the supposed prospect for her matrimony. He is outgoing, enthusiastic, and believes in self-improvement. He kisses Laura and raises her hopes that they might be together, before he finally reveals to her that he is engaged. Tom describes him as a person more connected to the real world than any of the other characters, but Jim is also a symbol for the "expected something that we live for."

Glossary of Terms
discreet showing prudence or circumspection eloquent well-spoken gallant brave, noble, chivalrous gesticulate to gesture imperious dominating in a haughty manner incandescant glowing inducted introduced into office insolence rudeness jaunty easy and sprightly jonquils Southern name for daffodils Menagerie collection of wild or unusual animals monogrammed stitched with initials motley

assorted, mismatched, varied paragon a model of excellence portieres heavy curtain hung across a doorway querulous full of complaints slacken to loosen solitary alone stumblejohn a mild exclamation used to show anger supercilious disdainful or contemptuous tenement a run-down and overcrowded apartment house turgid inflated, overblown veranda balcony victrola a brand of phonograph vivacity liveliness

Major Themes
Escape Tom wishes to escape from his life, just as the magician escaped from the coffin. He is most impressed by the magician's ability to escape without destroying the box or removing a single nail, and he marvels that anyone can accomplish such a feat. Tom's goal is to likewise extricate himself from his life without damage to the coffin that is his family Amanda and Laura make him feel buried alive but in the end this turns out to be impossible. Tom escapes, but he remains haunted by the memory, a bent nail forever poking at his conscience. Laura and Amanda, on the other hand, have no possibility of escape - they are both trapped in that coffin by financial insecurity and lack of social opportunity, but Amanda feels it most acutely because it is she who has known and can imagine the outside world. Ultimately, Tom realizes that escape cannot come without an internal price - that there is no such thing as freedom without a terrible cost. Responsibility to Family The principal tension in the Wingfield family is responsibility who is accountable for, and to whom. Tom struggles the most with his role as the breadwinner and caretaker of the family, as it keeps him from expressing himself and living his own life. But Amanda also feels the strain of having a daughter that she will always have to care for, and this is the fear that motivates her desperate search for a husband on which to foist Laura. Mr. Wingfield escapes his responsibility by running away without a trace, while Laura, on the other side of the spectrum, is responsible only for her little glass animals, leaving Tom and Amanda to carry the weight. Try as Tom might, this responsibility is not something easily shirked. Although he ceases to be responsible for his family when he leaves them, he never stops feeling responsible to them. Abandonment Each member of the Wingfield family has experienced abandonment. As a unit, they were all abandoned by Mr. Wingfield when he left the family, but this especially applies to Amanda for her, being abandoned by her husband meant being abandoned by her childhood understanding of men and the world. Laura has been abandoned by the world at large, falling into her own quiet little rhythm outside the perimeter of everyday society. Jim, her one entrance into the real world, also deserts her, pushing her farther back into a hermetic existence. Finally, Tom fears being abandoned by his dreams and goals, and chooses instead to abandon his family the way his father did becoming another looming absence in the Wingfield family, tantamount to the man whose portrait hovers over the sitting room. Blue Roses Laura's high school nickname symbolizes her outcast status delicate and beautiful as a rose, but of an impossible, non-existent form. This symbolism contrasts with her mother's connection to jonquils, or daffodils a beautiful yet commonplace flower. Laura, the blue rose, is a misfit, something that can't exist in the real world, no matter how lovely it is as an idea. This symbol also extends to the glass unicorn, a figure that is also beautiful and impossible, and easily broken. Laura, however, is impossibly passive, as well, unable to fit into or take initiative in the normal world. No matter how beautiful or delicate she is, the world rejects her and ultimately will leave her all alone, unappreciated.

Illusions and Reality Amanda is caught up in the illusion of her genteel old Southern upbringing, which has taught her that a man will support a woman and that there are certain foolproof rules for snagging one. Her experience, however, proves this to the contrary - specifically, when her husband runs out on the family and leaves her to fend for herself, and later when Laura's shyness prevents her from normal socialization. Still, Amanda never stops believing that a gentleman will soon call upon her and make everything right. At the same time, she inflicts these illusions and reality on her children - insisting that if Tom finds a husband for Laura, it will take care of all their problems. The idea that Tom can solve all their problems with a replacement is itself an illusion, one that's quickly eradicated by reality once he brings home a caller for Laura. Memory The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, and Tom makes it clear from the beginning that we are seeing events through the lens of his memories, heightening emotions and drawing out significances as memories do. We are also privy, however, to memories within memories the recollections of Amanda as she speaks of her girlhood, and her futile attempts to relive it. Even Jim is trapped in a cycle of memory, as he yearns to recapture the glory days of his high school career and becomes attached to those who remember him from that time. In the end, however, we are left with the haunting image of Tom's last memories, as he describes the figure of Laura following him through the rest of his guilt-stricken life. Shattering The symbol of shattering glass is used in two contrasting yet prominent ways in Williams' script. The first time a glass animal is broken corresponds to the shattering of illusions Tom's angry speech about where he goes at night, and the Wingfields' first realization that he will inevitably leave them. But when the unicorn breaks, it is in a moment of rare confidence for Laura, as she is dancing with Jim. In that case, the breaking of the glass is a breaking of the shell that holds her in and the piercing of a hole in her defenses that welcomes a great amount of pain. In the end, Tom reveals in his final recollections that he will forever associate his sister with bits of colored glass behind shop windows glass hidden (protected?) behind more glass, something too delicate to touch the outside world.

Scene 1
Summary: Williams opens with extensive stage directions that set the scene of the play. He describes the Wingfield apartment, a small unit in a crowded urban area of St. Louis. Visible outside are a fire escape and narrow alleys flanking the building; through the transparent fourth wall, the audience can see the Wingfield living room and dining room. A large photograph of the family's absent father is on the wall. Also visible is a large collection of transparent glass animals, Laura's "glass menagerie," for which the play is named. There is a phonograph, along with some old records, and a stenography chart with a typewriter. During the opening, the transparent fourth wall ascends out of sight. Tom emerges, dressed as a merchant sailor. In his first speech, he contrasts himself to a magician, giving "truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion," and establishes himself as a poet and the narrator of the play. He tells the audience that the play takes place in the thirties, when there was war in Spain and a different kind of turmoil in America. He warns that the play is a work of memory, and therefore is not realistic. There will be music, unrealistic lighting, certain events amplified and emphasized. He describes the characters: Amanda, his mother; Laura, his sister; a gentleman caller who will appear later in the play; and Tom's and Laura's absent father, who never appears, but is nonetheless an important figure in the play. Their father occasionally sends the family postcards from all over the world; the last one contained a two-word message of "Hello! Goodbye!" He abandoned the family many years ago. As the action begins with Amanda calling Tom to the dinner table, the tension in the family immediately becomes apparent. Amanda is a sympathetic character, but she is also demanding of her children and often quite silly - instructing Tom, although he is a grown man whose wages support their family, how to chew his food. Laura tries to clear the table, but Amanda tells her to sit and be the lady while she does the work. As Tom goes out to smoke a cigarette, Amanda tells a story she has often told before, about one day in her youth when she received seventeen gentleman callers in a single afternoon. She names them, tells what they went on to do with their lives, and reminds her children miserably that she, who had her pick, chose their father. She then asks Laura when Laura's own gentleman callers are going to start arriving, and Laura responds nervously that she has none. The question clearly makes Tom uncomfortable. Amanda responds with incredulity to Laura's insistence that she is not as popular as her mother was back in the small town of Blue Mountain. The scene closes with Laura remarking wistfully to Tom that their mother is afraid that Laura will be an old maid. Analysis From the beginning, the figure of the narrator shows that Williams' play will not follow the conventions of realistic theatre. The narrator breaks the conceptual "fourth wall" of naturalistic drama by addressing the audience directly. Tom also tells us that he is going to give the audience truth disguised as illusion, making the audience conscious of the chimerical quality of theatre. By playing with the theme of memory and its distortions, Williams is free to use music, monologues, and projected images to haunting effect. Tom, as narrator, tells the audience that the gentleman caller is a real person - more real, in many ways, than any other character - but he also tells the audience that the gentleman is a symbol for the "expected something that we live for," the thing for which we are always waiting and hoping. This naming of a character as both real entity and symbol is characteristic of Williams' work; both of these aspects of the gentleman caller are important to the overall impact of the play. The allusion to Guernica and the turmoil in Spain, juxtaposed to the uneasy peace in America, establishes a tense atmosphere as the play's background. The Americans of the thirties lived in relative peace, if economic hardship, but for the 1944-5 audience of the play's first production, the thirties would have been seen as the calm before the storm of World War II. The allusion to Guernica (bombed by Germany, ally of the fascist forces in Spain; the carnage was famously depicted in a painting by Pablo Picasso) serves as a reminder that before long war will be coming to everyone, the United States included.

There is symmetry between the uneasy peace of the time period and the uneasy peace in the Wingfield house. Just as America stirs restlessly with the uneasy peace before the Second World War, Tom seethes with the need to escape his home and set out into the world, as his father did before him. The fire escape, a visually prominent part of the set, is an important symbol for the imprisonment that Tom feels and the possibility of a way out. In his stage directions, Williams characteristically imbues the fire escape with symbolic weight, saying that the buildings are burning with the "implacable fires of human desperation." Tom addresses the audience from the fire escape, and his positioning there, standing alone between the outside world and the space of the apartment, points to the painful choice he makes later in the play. In order to escape, he must escape alone and leave his mother and sister behind. Originally, the script called for the use of a projector, which, during each scene, showed images to emphasize certain motifs and symbols. This projector was not used in the original Broadway production, but some productions since have used the idea and the instructions for the device remain in the script. For example, while Amanda is speaking, the script says that a projected image of Amanda as a young girl appears. These photographic images and projected text emphasize the symbolic elements of the play as well as the theme of memory; in the case of Amanda's image, we are given memory within memory, a memory framed by the larger memory of the play itself. The audience is therefore twice removed from the world of the image, contributing to the dream-like and ghostly atmosphere of the play. While the projected image gives added force to Amanda's words, showing the audience a visual representation alongside the images created by Amanda's speech, these visual images become symbolic of memory's paradoxical nature. On one hand, the visual image is real, right before our eyes, and full of evocative power; on the other hand, it is only a photograph from a distant past and is therefore frozen and lifeless. Amanda is always returning mentally to this past, which is immaterial and far-removed from her current reality. Her reaction to Laura shows that she is strangely in denial about the nature of her own daughter. Laura is crippled, able to walk only slowly and with great effort, and emotionally she is terribly fragile. The contrast between the vivacious and talkative Amanda and her timid, soft-spoken daughter could not be starker. Tom has a tender relationship with Laura; when Tom expresses frustration at the start of Amanda's story about her gentlemen callers, it is Laura who persuades Tom to humor their mother. The relationship between Tom and Amanda is tense. In this scene, he seems to be struggling to tolerate her, and while Amanda is loving, she is also demanding beyond reason. Her insistence that Laura stay put while Amanda plays "the darky" reveals her extremely provincial Southern upbringing. In her youth she was wealthy enough to have servants, but now, with her husband gone, she is struggling to make ends meet. Indeed, she wants to relive her past through Laura, transplanting the quaint life she had in Blue Mountain to the urban setting of St. Louis. Clearly, Amanda seems oblivious to Tom's unhappiness and Laura's painful shyness.

Scene 2
Summary: Laura is polishing her collection of glass animals, and Amanda returns home visibly disturbed. She has made an unsettling discovery. On the way to her D.A.R. meeting (Daughters of the American Revolution), Amanda stopped at Rubicam's Business College, where Laura has supposedly been taking lessons, to tell the teachers that Laura has a cold and to ask about Laura's progress. Amanda discovered that Laura has not been going to class everyday, but instead dropped out of the school after only a few days of attendance. The teacher remembered Laura only as the shy girl who trembled so much that she couldn't hit the keys. Amanda, bemoaning the waste of fifty dollars for the tuition, asks Laura where she has been everyday. Laura, clearly shaken and guilt-stricken, admits that she has spent all of these days walking in the park or going to museums, keeping up the deception because she could not bear Amanda's disappointment. Amanda talks about her fears - economically, Laura has no way of supporting herself, and women without husbands and jobs end up dependent on resentful relatives. She asks if Laura has ever liked a boy, and Laura responds shyly that in high school she had a crush on a boy named Jim. He used to call her "Blue Roses," having misheard her when she told him that she had been ill with an attack of pleurosis. However, the yearbook says that Jim and his high school girlfriend were engaged, and so Laura assumes that the two of them must be married. Amanda tells Laura that she must try to find a husband. Laura reacts doubtfully and with great sadness, responding that she is crippled and therefore cannot find a husband. Amanda reminds Laura that she has told her daughter never to use the word "cripple," and says that Laura should overcome her "little defect" by cultivating charm.

Analysis This is the first scene where the audience sees Laura taking care of her glass menagerie. The glass menagerie is the most important symbol for Laura and her fragility. Her engagement with the tiny animals reveals how painfully afraid she is of interaction with other humans. The qualities of glass parallel Laura's characteristics: like the tiny glass animals, she is delicate, beautiful in her oddness and terribly fragile. The little collection, like Laura, is locked completely in the realm of the home. The animals must be kept on a little shelf and polished; there is only one place where they truly belong. In a similar way, Laura is kept and cared for, dependent on her mother and brother for financial support. The Blue Roses are another important symbol of Laura. The image of blue roses is a beautiful one, and it is the image that is indicated as being on the screen at the start of Scene Two. But blue roses are also pure fantasy, non-existent in the real world. Laura, like a blue rose, is special, unique even, but she is also cut off from real life. Laura's attempt to learn job skills at Rubicam's Business College was a terrible failure. Her true crippling ailment is not her leg but her shyness, and this anxiety becomes manifest as physical illness. Laura could not bear to continue going to class. Her subsequent deception and fear of her own mother's disappointment shows how oppressive Amanda can be; although Amanda is not intentionally cruel and means to be only loving, her investment in her children and her need to live through them is a terrible burden for both Tom and Laura. Amanda's anxieties show the difficulty of their financial situation. She is sincerely fearful of what will become of Laura, now that Laura has given up any hope of a career. Amanda works, but the Wingfield family is dependent on Tom's wages. This dependency puts Tom in a difficult position, and we'll see more of that difficulty in Scene Three. Throughout the play, Amanda vacillates between a realistic appraisal of her situation and a willful blindness towards the truth. Here, early in the play, we see Amanda in brutally honest form - she knows, deep down, that Laura is not going to be easy to marry off, and her attempts to make Laura support herself have failed. It is after this crushing disappointment that Amanda begins to retreat back into the illusion of a gentleman caller swooping in to save the day.

Scene 3
Summary: Tom addresses the audience from the fire escape, telling us about Amanda's determined preparation for a gentleman caller. Mention of the gentleman caller pops into every conversation in the Wingfield apartment, and the stage is haunted by the gentleman caller's projected image. Because it will take money to make their home presentable, Amanda takes a job searching for subscribers to The Homemaker's Companion, a magazine for women. We see Amanda speaking on the telephone to a woman whose subscription is about to run out. Amanda tells the woman that she needs to renew her subscription, trying to convince her with the prospect of a new serial novel that has just begun. Amanda alludes to Gone With the Wind, comparing the new serial to the famous story of Scarlett O'Hara. Eventually, the potential subscriber hangs up on Amanda. We then cut to a very different scene, of Tom and Amanda locked in a vicious argument, which is already in progress. A horrified Laura watches as Tom and Amanda scream at each other. Tom expresses outrage that Amanda confiscated his books. Amanda is not cowed, saying that she will not allow any books by "Mr. Lawrence" in her home. Tom responds that he is the one who pays the rent, and that he is the one who has given up his dreams to support their family. Stage directions indicate that the upright typewriter is surrounded by manuscripts in a state of disarray, and that the battle between Tom and Amanda was probably instigated by Amanda's interruption of Tom's writing. Amanda is also outraged because she does not know where Tom goes at night. She does not believe his claim that he spends his nights out at the movies, and she is angered by the drunken state in which he often returns home. She fears that his nights out jeopardize his day job, and that if he loses his job their security will be threatened. Tom fires back with anger and frustration that he goes to work every morning even though he hates it. And to Amanda's doubt about where he goes every night, Tom answers with a sarcastic speech that is one of the play's most famous and memorable moments. With bitter sarcasm, he warns her that by night he is a czar of the underworld (known and feared as "Killer Wingfield" and "El Diablo") and that his enemies plan to dynamite the Wingfield apartment. He calls his mother a witch. As he is trying to leave the apartment, he accidentally knocks over the glass menagerie. Amanda storms off, enraged, and Tom remorsefully helps Laura pick up pieces of her collection. Analysis The idea of a gentleman caller becomes Amanda's obsession and the great hope for the Wingfields to attain financial security. With a husband, Laura will be provided for and the two women will no longer be dependent on Tom. However, Amanda's ambition for Laura shows the level of her disconnection from real life and the fragility of her dreams. Even if Laura could find a husband, it is strange that Amanda should have so much faith that a husband for Laura would mean security for their family. After all, Amanda's own husband was faithless, and his decision to leave their family led to their current predicament. The "Mr. Lawrence" Amanda refers to is D.H. Lawrence, one of the most important influences on Tennessee Williams. The allusion to D.H. Lawrence tells us about Tom's needs. Lawrence's work was daring and provocative, especially for its time. Novels such as Lady Chatterley's Lover depicted sexuality as a powerful force, and Tom's interest in Lawrence's work suggests both Tom's literary ambitions and his frustration. Tom is trapped in the apartment, with no outlets at home for the ambitions or desires of a young man. One of the play's important themes is the conflict between the desire to live one's own life and the responsibility for one's family. Tom's wages pay the bills, but Amanda continues to treat him as a child. She confiscates his books, and during their argument she attempts to control their discussion as an adult controls an argument with a little boy.

Tom's nightly disappearance "to the movies" has been played in different ways, depending on the production. While his later discussion of his frustration with movies suggests that he goes to the movies at least part of the time, some critics have argued that Tom might be spending his nights exploring the city's hidden gay world. The text does not give enough evidence to make a definitive argument either way. In his monologues to the audience, Tom does not give firm indication of where he used to spend his nights. Nothing in the text rules out the possibility that Tom spends his nights seeking out men for sexual encounters. He never really directly denies that he is going somewhere other than the movies, and with the audience he never addresses the question of whether or not he really goes to the movies. He also arrives home at hours - five in the morning, in one scene when it seems unlikely that a movie would just be ending. His anger at being questioned does not help to shed light on the matter: he would be angry if he was telling the truth about going to the movies, and he would be angry if he had something to hide. Critics who favor the sexual interpretation of Tom's nightly disappearances often cite Tennessee Williams' youth and his grappling with his own sexuality. The play is in many other respects autobiographical, and Tom is Williams' surrogate he even bears Tennessee Williams' real name. If Tom were gay, his frustration with home would be even greater. Tom would feel even more isolated and restless, unable to tell the truth to his mother and sister. When Tom accidentally breaks some of the pieces in the glass menagerie, the incident foreshadows Laura's heartbreak later on. The event emphasizes the collection's fragility, and so metaphorically we are reminded of Laura's own fragility. Tom is the one responsible, and the pain of his position is made clear. As much as he would like to live his own life, his actions have a deleterious effect on the well-being and security of his mother and sister. By being reckless, he can destroy the pretend-world of his sister.

Scene 4
Summary: As the church bell strikes five am, a drunken Tom stumbles home. The script does not make clear exactly how much time has passed between Scene Four and the argument that ended Scene Three, but it has been no more than a few days. Laura, who sleeps on the couch, hears him and opens the door for him. Tom insists that he has been at the movies all night. When Laura expresses doubt that her brother could really have been at the movies all this time, Tom tells her about the length of the program and the magician that he went to see. He gives her a rainbow colored scarf as a souvenir from the magic show. The magician's most impressive trick was to escape from a coffin without removing a single nail. Tom is awestruck by the trick, and shares his wonder with Laura: "You know it don't take much intelligence to get yourself into a nailed-up coffin, Laura. But who in hell ever got himself out of one without removing one nail?" Cut to one hour later. After the church bell strikes six times, we hear Amanda calling out "Rise and Shine!" After just an hour of sleep, an exhausted Tom stumbles out of bed for another day of work at the warehouse. Laura, who has been sent to wake him, begs Tom to apologize to Amanda. Meanwhile, Amanda is calling out from the kitchenette for Laura to go get butter from the grocery store. Laura, exiting on the fire escape, slips and cries out. The noise gives Tom and Amanda a scare, but Laura seems to be fine. Awkwardly, Tom tries to apologize to Amanda as he takes his morning coffee. Amanda feels that she suffers and struggles for the sake of her children, and that her efforts go unappreciated by Tom. Tom tries to tell her that he doesn't hate her and that he understands her feelings. Amanda also tells Tom he cannot fail; without him, she cannot keep the family together. She believes that if Tom applies himself he will succeed; the idea of her children's success is an exhilarating one for her, and she becomes breathless just speaking about it. Amanda also asks Tom to promise that he will never be a drunkard. She exhorts him to eat, but he refuses everything except for black coffee, implying that he is hungover. Amanda is concerned. She tells Tom that Laura thinks he is unhappy. She asks why - and if - he goes to the movies every night. Tom responds that he likes lots of adventure, and that his job at the warehouse does not provide any. Amanda is worried that Tom will abandon them. Fearful for Laura's future, Amanda tells Tom that he can leave if he can find a replacement - a gentleman caller for Laura, who will eventually marry her and provide for her. Amanda exhorts Tom to overcome selfishness. An increasingly frustrated Tom tries to break off the conversation and go to work, but not before he begrudgingly agrees to look for a gentleman caller for his sister. Analysis Tom's fascination with the movies and the magician reveals his need for fantasy and escapism. Tom is always dreaming of fantastic places far from St. Louis, but for now he can only escape through the illusions offered by the movie house and the stage magician. He dreams of leaving home, but his responsibilities for his sister and his mother have so far kept him tied to the Wingfield apartment. What Tom sees at the magic show is directly connected to the theme of conflict between Tom's responsibility for his family and his need to live his own life. The magician's most impressive trick becomes a symbol for what Tom wishes he could do - to make a clean, easy escape, without destroying the coffin or removing any nails. The use of the coffin as a symbol for Tom's predicament shows the depth of his unhappiness. He feels spiritually dead, despising his work and stifled by the atmosphere at home. In his talk with Amanda, he suggests that his work emasculates him, making it impossible for him to follow the instincts of a man. The magician is able to escape the coffin without the messiness of having to remove nails, which would damage the coffin. Tom can escape, but only at great cost - he would have to abandon his sister and mother and leave them to an uncertain fate. Tom is in awe of the magician because he does not have to choose; he can escape without causing any harm, a feat that might be impossible for Tom.

Laura's vulnerability is emphasized in that symbolic space most closely linked to Tom, the fire escape. Tom will later climb down the fire escape one final time, leaving the apartment forever. But in her one attempt to even step briefly on to the symbolic space of the fire escape, Laura stumbles. This fall symbolizes her inability to fend for herself in the outside world, and the ultimate hopelessness of her situation. The scene balances Tom's frustration with his home situation against the tenderness the Wingfields feel for each other. Laura is able to exhort Tom to apologize, and at the start of his conversation with Amanda, Tom's affection for his mother is clear. As their conversation continues, however, the old rifts seem inescapable. There is a moment of dramatic irony when Amanda tries to get Tom to eat and to promise that he will not become a drunkard; the audience knows, although Amanda does not, that Tom is probably horribly hung over and that he came home drunk only a few hours ago. This moment shows the greatness of the divide between mother and son; she knows nothing of his state, and so her attempts to care for him are met with irritability. Tension escalates gradually but steadily, suggesting that no peace between Tom and Amanda can ever be easy or longlasting. Amanda is still fixating on the idea of the gentleman caller. She proposes a swap; Tom's freedom in exchange for a husband for Laura. Amanda is still putting her security into the hands of men. Indeed, perhaps she sees no alternative. Although her old husband's irresponsibility and Tom's increasing restlessness would seem to argue against the reliability of male providers, Amanda is still hoping to find an ideal husband for her daughter. This hope will prove to be misplaced. Even the gentleman caller, when he finally comes, will be careless with Laura.

Scene 5
Summary: After dinner, Tom reads a paper (the headline reads, "Franco triumphs") as Amanda and Laura clear the table and do the dishes. Amanda nags her son to comb his hair. Tom heads out to the fire escape to smoke, and Amanda complains that he spends too much money on cigarettes; if he saved the money, he would be able to go to night school. Tom replies that he would rather smoke. Tom delivers a speech to the audience about Paradise Dance Hall, across the alley from the Wingfield apartment. Tom describes the music that emanates from the hall, and the rainbow colored lights that are visible from the fire escape. Tom speaks of the carefree world of the dancers, who drank and danced to swing music while the atrocity of Guernica unfolded in Europe. Those dancers, says Tom, could not have known that change would be coming for them, too. Amanda joins Tom on the fire escape. Tom reveals to her that he has found a gentleman caller for Laura. Amanda is thrilled, but Tom also tells her that the gentleman caller is arriving tomorrow evening. Amanda is startled, afraid that she will not have enough time to make the home presentable. For Amanda, this is a major event: she'll send for a new floor lamp, polish her wedding silver, put chintz covers on, wear nice clothes, etc. She begins to grill Tom on the gentleman caller's character; she is particularly concerned that he might be a drunkard. His name is Jim O'Connor. As far as Tom knows, he is not a heavy drinker. He works as a shipping clerk at the warehouse for eighty-five dollars a month (twenty dollars more than Tom's monthly salary). He is not too goodlooking, nor is he ugly. He goes to night school, believes in self-improvement, and has great ambitions. Tom is anxious, however, because he has not mentioned Laura to Jim, and although Amanda has faith in Laura's ability to enchant Jim, Tom has his doubts. Tom asks Amanda not to expect too much of Laura, saying that Tom and Amanda see Laura's beauty because they know her and love her. He mentions that Laura is crippled, and Amanda insists that the word "crippled" is not allowed in the Wingfield home. Tom mentions Laura's peculiar habits - her care of the glass menagerie and her love of their old phonograph records. Tom then departs for the movies. Amanda seems somewhat shaken by Tom's misgivings, but she regains her optimism and calls Laura to come out to the fire escape. Amanda asks Laura to make a wish on the "little silver slipper of a moon," her eyes filling with tears as she tells her daughter to wish for happiness and good fortune.

Analysis The first part of the scene uses the time setting to reinforce a sense of tension and expectation. The newspaper headline, "Franco Triumphs," gives the audience the first specific marker for the time of the play: 1937. In Tom's speech from the fire escape, the symbolic name of Paradise Dance Hall can be read in a number of ways. "Paradise" is an allusion to the lost Garden of Eden, and here the allusion paints the American thirties as a period of innocence before the turmoil of World War II. The dance hall, because it is being described as a memory, creates a sense of loss due to the passage of time. This loss of innocence occurs for the nation - Tom tells us that the dancers could not have known what was coming, and he makes yet another allusion to the carnage of Guernica, which by the time of writing had become a symbol for the violence in which their entire world would soon be enmeshed. On a personal level, Paradise Dance Hall might symbolize more specific loss that Tom has experienced. For the older Tom narrating the play, the fragile world of his family is lost forever. But for the characters living through the action of the play, the Paradise Dance Hall symbolizes hope. This scene, with Amanda and Tom sitting on the fire escape, wishing on the moon and surrounded by the music and lights of the nearby dance hall, is lyrical and beautiful. The rainbow-colored lights and the lively music point to

a world of leisure, ease, and good times. Paradise, from this perspective, is not a thing lost and receding into the past, but is rather a thing that might be gained in the future. Amanda's life story, as she tells it, includes both kinds of Paradise: she longs for the idyllic world of her youth and her seventeen gentleman callers, and she longs for a future fairy-tale ending for her daughter. Through the conventions of the stage, however, the dance hall is always just out of reach. The audience can hear the music, possibly see the lights, and hear characters' descriptions of the place, but the Paradise Dance Hall can only be suggested indirectly, as out of reach for the audience as "Paradise" is for Tom, Amanda, and Laura. With the narrator's added perspective and his remarks about the trouble that will engulf the world, we are made to see the illusory nature of the kind of "Paradise" represented by the dance hall. It is also worth noting that the Paradise Dance Hall is a sort of foreshadowing for Williams' next play, A Streetcar Named Desire. Paradise, dance halls, and colored lights are all prominent symbols in Streetcar, and in that instance operating independently of one another. Further support for the argument that Tom is gay can be found by retrofitting Williams' later associations with these symbols into the earlier play. In Streetcar, paradise (or Elysian Fields) is tied up with sexuality and death; a dance hall is a dreaded place, where Blanche discovered her husband's homosexuality; and colored lights are used as a metaphor for sexual pleasure. Working backwards, it is easy to associate Tom's wistfulness towards the colored lights of Paradise Dance Hall with his sublimated homosexuality. Despite the lessons from Amanda's own unhappy marriage, Amanda imagines that her daughter will be the princess of a Cinderella story. Jim O'Connor, named in Tom's first monologue as a symbol for that special something that we all wait and live for, is supposed to be the prince in Amanda's dreams who rescues Laura and provides her with a happy ending. Amanda is imagining a fairy tale life for her daughter, and when she asks Laura to wish on the "little silver slipper of a moon," her description of the moon is an allusion to Cinderella. Amanda is ignoring the lessons from her own marriage and the obstacle of Laura's awkwardness.

Scene 6
Summary: Tom addresses the audience and talks about Jim. The two men went to the same high school, where Jim was the class hero. In high school he was the basketball star, class president, and male lead in the annual light operas, and now, six years later, his job is not much better than Tom's. He and Tom are on friendly terms, partly because Tom remembers his former glory. Jim's affection for Tom has helped Tom along socially with the other workers, who initially disliked Tom because of his aloofness and oddness. Jim also knows that Tom steals away at work to write poetry, and so he has given Tom the nickname "Shakespeare." Stage directions indicate that the Wingfield apartment looks beautiful. Amanda has worked hard to make the apartment ready for the gentleman caller. There is a brief comical interaction where Amanda encourages Laura to stuff her bra. Amanda dresses in a girlish outfit from her youth. It is the dress in which she led the cotillion, and she speaks feverishly of the days when she spent all her time going to parties and dancing. She also speaks of her youthful obsession with jonquil flowers. The story ends mournfully with Amanda meeting Tom's and Laura's father. Laura, for the first time, hears the name of the gentleman caller, and she realizes that it might be the same Jim on whom she had a crush back in high school. She tells Amanda that if it is the same Jim, she will not come to the table. The idea of facing Jim horrifies her. When the doorbell rings, a terrified Laura argues with an increasingly irate Amanda about who will answer the door. Laura finally lets the two men in but flees after being introduced to Jim. Jim is boisterous and constantly talks about the self-improvement courses in which he is involved. As they wait for the women, he tries to convince Tom to enroll in a public speaking course with him. Tom is uninterested. Jim warns Tom that the boss is not pleased with Tom and he may soon be out of a job. Tom responds that he is preparing for a change. He gives a speech about being tired of the movies: movies tranquilize people, making them content to watch other people's adventures without having any of their own. He tells Jim of his plans to join the Merchant Seamen. This month he has paid his dues to the Merchant Seamen instead of the light bill, and he plans to leave St. Louis. Amanda does not know of his plans, and Jim is incredulous, but before the two men can really talk about it, Amanda enters, dressed as if she were a young Southern belle, and immediately begins to talk Jim's ear off. Tom goes to fetch Laura for supper, but Laura refuses to come to the table. Scene Six ends with Amanda, Jim, and Tom sitting down for dinner. The audience can see Laura in the living room, where she is stretched out on the sofa, trying not to cry. Analysis Amanda's expectations for this evening are very high. The apartment has been made over - with great expense and she has worried Laura by making such a fuss over the evening. Amanda is vicariously reliving her youth, and her longing for that youth is made clear when she dresses in the old frock she wore as a young girl. The escapism of living in the past, however, can never last long for Amanda, since all stories of her glory days end with her married to the faithless Mr. Wingfield. Although Jim is charmed by Amanda, Tom is slightly embarrassed by her behavior. She is not acting her age. Tom is also preparing for his own escape. He now rejects his previous escape of the cinema and its vicarious adventuring, in favor of a more literal escape to the Merchant Seamen. Tom finally sees a route away from Amanda and Laura, adrift at sea without any true destination or goal. (There is also clear gay subtext in the idea that Tom chooses to be aboard a boat of only men for a limitless amount of time.) Jim, meanwhile, disapproves of his plan his life may not have gone where he wanted it to, but at least he is trying to redirect his path, rather than leave it altogether.

But Tom's intentions are a perverse alteration of the deal offered by Amanda. Amanda insisted that he wait until Laura could find a husband. But Tom has only provided a gentleman caller and is already planning to leave. Indeed, he has even stopped paying the bills. He does not have the patience to escape the coffin without busting the nails, and has decided to not even try. We know from Tom's description of Jim that he enjoys praise. Jim was once the big man on campus, and life has yet to prove as rewarding as he'd once found it. He likes the company of people who admire him, and who moreover remember his glory days - much like Amanda, who likewise seeks appreciation for the promise she once showed. Laura, meanwhile, sees Jim as a warden of the past - who can't let her move forward with her hopes and dreams because he is such a potent reminder of her own disappointments. Jim's interaction with Laura in Scene Seven will show how this love of admiration compromises his consideration of others. This scene also features Amanda's second famous speech, about the jonquils. Like her first story about the 17 gentlemen callers, this story also ends when Amanda meets her husband, making her marriage the symbolic end of her life. The imagery of the jonquils is beautiful but also telling another name for the jonquil is the narcissus, derived from the Greek youth who fell in love with his own reflection (think narcissist). Ultimately, Amanda sinks under the weight of her own self-image.

Scene 7
Summary: Half an hour later, as dinner is finishing up, the lights go out. Tom feigns ignorance of the cause. Amanda, unfazed, continues to be as charming as she can. She lights candles and asks Jim to check the fuse box. After Jim tells her that the fuse box looks fine, Amanda suggests that he go spend time with Laura in the living room. As Amanda and Tom do dishes in the kitchen, Laura warms up to Jim, who is charming enough to put her ease. She reminds him that they knew each other in high school, and that he used to call her "Blue Roses." Jim feels ashamed that he did not recognize her at once. They reminisce about the class they had together, a singing class to which Laura, because of her leg, was always late. She always felt that the brace on her leg made a clumping sound "like thunder," but Jim insists that he never noticed it. They have a friendly conversation by candlelight. Jim reveals that he was never engaged, and that his old girlfriend was the one who put the announcement in the yearbook. They no longer see each other. Laura speaks admirably of Jim's voice, and he autographs the program of the show he was in, The Pirates of Penzance. Indeed, she was too shy to bring the program to him back in high school, but she has kept it all these years. Jim tries to give Laura advice about raising her self-esteem, and talks about his plans to get involved with the nascent television industry. He speaks of the numerous courses he is taking, and his interest in programmatic methods for self-improvement. He calls money and power the cycle on which democracy is built. Laura shows Jim her glass collection. They look closely at a little glass unicorn, remarking on how the unicorn must feel odd due to its uniqueness. They put the unicorn down on a different table, for "a change of scenery." Laura bashfully admires Jim, while Jim grows increasingly flirtatious. When he hears the music of the Paradise Dance Hall, he asks her to dance with him. He tries to help her shed her self-consciousness, and the two of them begin to grow close - but suddenly, they jostle the table and knock over the unicorn, breaking off its horn. Jim apologizes but Laura tells him not to worry. She can pretend the unicorn had an operation to make it feel less freakish. Jim speaks admiringly of Laura's character, and then begins to praise her looks. He tells her that she is pretty, and Laura blushes with shy bliss over this unexpected praise. Then, suddenly, Jim kisses her. Immediately, he seems to regret the kiss. Awkwardly, he admits to Laura that he is engaged. Laura's face reveals terrible desolation. She gives him the broken unicorn as a souvenir. Then she goes to the Victrola and winds it up. Amanda rushes in, only to hear Jim's announcement that he has to leave. When Amanda tells Jim that he should come again, he tells her about his plans to marry his current girlfriend. He also mentions that no one at the warehouse knows about the engagement. He leaves. Amanda, furious, calls in Tom. She accuses Tom of playing a practical joke on them, by intentionally bringing in another woman's fiancto disgrace them. She is visibly shaken; the evening has been expensive for the Wingfields, and her dreams for her daughter have been shattered. Angered by her accusations and not willing to put up with her foolishness, Tom tells her that he is going to the movies. She accuses him of selfishness, and says that he never thinks of them, "a mother deserted, an unmarried sister who's crippled and has no job." Infuriated, Tom leaves. Tom, as narrator, then addresses the audience from the fire escape, telling us that soon after that night he went down the fire escape one last time and left St. Louis forever. As he gives this final speech, Amanda and Laura are visible through a transparent fourth wall that drops down into place in front of them. This closing speech is one of the most famous moments in all of Williams' work, and indeed one of the most haunting and beautiful moments in all of American theatre. He talks about time being the "longest distance between two places," and his long search to find something that he himself seems unable to name. He tells the audience that for all of the years since he left, he has been pursued by the memory of Laura. Though he tried to leave his family behind, his memory of his mother and sister continues to haunt him. He finishes by imploring his memory of Laura to blow

out her candles, "for nowadays the world is lit by lightning." He says goodbye, although in the script it is unclear whether he is bidding goodbye to the audience or to his sister. Behind him, visible through the transparent wall, Amanda comforts Laura silently throughout Tom's speech. When Tom has finished speaking, Laura blows the candles out, ending the play. Analysis Although a great deal depends on the actor's interpretation, Jim's enthusiasm is selfish and empty-headed. He shamelessly leads Laura on, not maliciously but also without any careful consideration. He enjoys her company because, like Tom, Laura remembers his glory days. His speeches praising self-improvement and night classes are symptomatic of the most unimaginative and vapid interpretation of the American dream - culminating in his appalling praise of the lust for money and power as the cycle on which democracy is built. As Tom said in the opening of the play, Jim is more a part of the real world than anyone in the Wingfield family. He is fully a creature of the world and worldly pursuits. He knows what no one else does - that he is engaged - and he still gives Laura the kiss that raises her hopes before he tells her the truth. Their different memories of school reveal how fatally self-conscious Laura is. The sound of her brace mortified her back in high school, but Jim cannot remember it at all. Jim tries to convince Laura that she is worthwhile and unique. A more gracious interpretation of his character would argue that part of his motivation is a desire for Laura to see how beautiful she is. The glass unicorn, of course, is a clear symbol for Laura. She, like the unicorn, is odd and unique. Both Laura and the unicorn are fragile -and Jim "breaks" both of them. Laura's subsequent gift of the broken unicorn, however, suggests the extent of her affection for him. For Jim, the evening has been insignificant. But Laura has harbored a girlish crush on him for many years - she even saved the program of the play in which he starred and the gift of the unicorn, an item that is a symbol of herself, shows how much she still likes him. It is the gift of an odd and painfully shy girl, for whom kissing Jim (probably her first kiss) was a climactic experience. For a brief moment, the Wingfield apartment was a place of dreams. Amanda experienced a return to her girlhood, Laura showed her long lost love her precious glass menagerie, and the place was full of the music from Paradise Dance Hall. But the unicorn breaks, the music of "Paradise" gives way to the sad sounds of the Victrola, and even Amanda is left without defenses against reality. For the first time, she refers to Laura as "crippled," breaking her own rule, and she seems to acknowledge that Tom will soon leave them. This scene has its share of rose imagery. The new floor lamp has a rose-colored shade; Laura herself is "Blue Roses." The rose-colored light makes Laura look beautiful; she is bathed in rose-colored light, she is "Blue Roses," and she is also, in many ways, the surrogate for Williams' sister - whose name was Rose. Williams uses the rose as a motif for Laura to emphasize her delicateness and her beauty, as well as her worth. The fantastic blue color of the flower shows, however, that Laura is not a being of this world. Laura's association with a candle in the final moment stands in sharp contrast to a world "lit by lightning." The image of lightning suggests a hostile and overpowering world, and in the last scene a storm is brewing outside. Especially as a lone figure juxtaposed to the turmoil of the forties and the war to come, Laura seems hopelessly frail and vulnerable. Tom's closing speech, of course, is a peerless and infamous moment. The descending fourth wall puts a powerful but permeable barrier between Tom and his family. They are behind him, behind him in time and in the physical space of the stage. And yet, Tom cannot seem to shake the memory of them, and they are clearly visible to the audience. Although he has never explicitly spoken of one of the play's most important themes - the conflict between responsibility and the need to live his own life - it is clear that he has not been able to shake the guilt from the decision that he made. The cost of escape has been the burden of memory. For Tom and the audience, it is difficult to forget the final image of frail Laura, illuminated by candlelight on a darkened stage, while the world outside of the apartment faces the beginnings of a great storm.

Suggested Essay Questions


1. Q: How does the breaking of glass animals function as a symbol throughout the play? A: When Tom breaks one of Laura's glass animals, it corresponds with the shattering of his family's illusions about himself. But when Laura accidentally breaks one herself, while dancing with Jim, it suggests that she is poking a small hole into her emotional defenses, and opening herself up to the possibility of love (and of pain). The horn breaking off the unicorn depicts the animal now becoming "normal," while the breaking of the glass also symbolizes Laura's transformation into an ordinary girl who can love and hurt like everyone else. 2. Q: What is the symbolism of the fire escape? A: Clearly the fire escape is the first step out of the Wingfield apartment for Tom. By retreating to the fire escape (by escaping the fire), he can preserve his sanity just a bit longer, until he finally is forced to make a clean break of it and leave altogether. Symbolically, Laura falls on her only attempt to go on to the fire escape. Indeed, she will break and shatter if she ever tries to leave like Tom. 3. Q: In Williams' character descriptions, Jim is described only as "a nice, ordinary young man" while the Wingfields each get much more substantial treatment. Why? A: Because Jim is just that - a nice, ordinary young man, an intentional cipher. His importance is in his ordinariness. Amanda pins all the hopes and dreams of her family on this elusive gentleman caller, completely regardless of who this gentleman caller may be. He is a purely symbolic figure for the Wingfields. 4. Q: The original script of the play included direction for magic-lantern slides, projecting key images and phrases during the action. This device was not used in the original Broadway production, nor most subsequent revivals. What do you think of this device? Would you include it? A: The slides are the one sure sign that Glass Menagerie is a first-time play - all else is tightly crafted professional writing, but the slides declame a lack of confidence in the material on its own. They are clearly unnecessary. 5. Q: Tennessee Williams writes particularly Southern plays, and has a fascination with the faded detritus of the antebellum period. Amanda Wingfield shares much in common with Williams' most famous heroine, A Streetcar Named Desire's Blanche Dubois. Compare these characters. A: Both Amanda and Blanche cling to the mores of a departed social structure, and both escape into this fantasy to avoid the depressing reality of their lives. But Blanche's fantasy presses strongly into psychosis, while Amanda is merely in denial. Notable also is that Blanche remains firmly within her delusions at Streetcar's conclusion, while Amanda ultimately faces the truth of her situation. 6. Parallels can be drawn as well between Jim and A Streetcar Named Desire's Mitch. How are these characters similar in development and function? Aside from both being gentleman callers, these characters are also both thinly drawn types - men who aspire to normalcy and achieve it. They are purposely bland cyphers on which the heroines can cast their charms and illusions.

7. Q: Many Williams plays have a non-present character - Skipper in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Sebastian in Suddenly Last Summer, Allan in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Mr. Wingfield in Glass Menagerie. What is Mr. Wingfield's role in Glass Menagerie, and how does he compare to the other absentee Williams men? A: Mr. Wingfield's non-presence looms over the proceedings, staring out at the apartment and the audience. Likewise, the specter of a husband - Amanda's or Laura's - looms over the Wingfield family's life. However, it is Tom who is more similar to the other absentee Williams men than Mr. Wingfield is. Like Allan and Sebastian, he is a poet. Like all three, he is probably gay. And at the end of the play, he too becomes an absent figure. In this way, Glass Menagerie is an origin story for the absentee men of Williams' later work. 8. Q: So where does Tom go at night? A: It could be the movies, like he says. It could be the dance hall. He could be going to the movies in order to cruise for men. We don't need to know - all we need to know is that he escapes, and his escapes are growing longer and longer, and that eventually, like the dove on the Ark, he won't come back to his cage. 9. Q: How does the social situation of the world at the time of the play's setting affect the characters? A: The play is set in the late 30s, and the outside world is brought in by Tom, who references Guernica and the Spanish Civil War (and audience members know that this was also the time of Hitler's rise to power). The references to the war raging in the world gives urgency to Tom's life - somewhere things are happening, somewhere revolutions are being fought, somewhere heroes are being forged, but here, only the tea is getting cold. 10. Q: One of the last lines of the play is Tom's observation that now the world is lit by lightning. How is this applicable to the play we just saw? A: Lightning allows brief flashes of vision/insight, tableaus surrounded by darkness. Memory - and a memory play - function likewise. Tom has showed us isolated scenes in stark electrical light, far truer than real life could be. The lightning is the lens of memory.

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