THE GLASS MENAGERIE -Tennessee Williams

An Introduction to Tennessee Williams :

— Tennessee Williams, original name Thomas Lanier Williams, (born March 26, 1911, Columbus, Miss., U.S. – died Feb. 25, 1983, New York City), American dramatist whose plays reveal a world of human frustration in which sex and violence underlie an atmosphere of romantic gentility.

Williams became interested in playwriting while at the University of Missouri (Columbia) and Washington University (St. Louis) and worked at it even during the Depression while employed in a St. Louis shoe factory. Little theatre groups produced some of his work, encouraging him to study dramatic writing at the University of Iowa, where he earned a B.A. in 1938.

His first recognition came when American Blues (1939), a group of one-act plays, won a Group Theatre award. Williams, however, continued to work at jobs ranging from theatre usher to Hollywood scriptwriter until success came with The Glass Menagerie (1944). In it, Williams portrayed a declassed Southern family living in a tenement. The play is about the failure of a domineering mother, Amanda, living upon her delusions of a romantic past, and her cynical son, Tom, to secure a suitor for Tom’s crippled and painfully shy sister, Laura, who lives in a fantasy world with a collection of glass animals.

Williams’ next major play, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), won a Pulitzer Prize. It is a study of the mental and moral ruin of Blanche Du Bois, another former Southern belle, whose genteel pretensions are no match for the harsh realities symbolized by her brutish brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski.

In 1953, Camino Real, a complex work set in a mythical, microcosmic town whose inhabitants include Lord Byron and Don Quixote, was a commercial failure, but his Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), which exposes the emotional lies governing relationships in the family of a wealthy Southern planter, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and was successfully filmed, as was The Night of the Iguana (1961), the story of a defrocked minister turned sleazy tour guide, who finds God in a cheap Mexican hotel. Suddenly Last Summer (1958) deals with lobotomy, pederasty, and cannibalism, and in Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), the gigolo hero is castrated for having infected a Southern politician’s daughter with venereal disease.

Williams was in ill health frequently during the 1960s, compounded by years of addiction to sleeping pills and liquor, problems that he struggled to overcome after a severe mental and physical breakdown in 1969. His later plays were unsuccessful, closing soon to poor reviews. They include Vieux Carré (1977), about down-and-outs in New Orleans; A Lovely Sunday for Crève Coeur(1978–79), about a fading belle in St. Louis during the Great Depression, and Clothes for a Summer Hotel (1980), centring on Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, and on the people they knew.

Williams also wrote two novels, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1950) and Moise and the World of Reason (1975), essays, poetry, film scripts, short stories, and an autobiography, Memoirs (1975). His works won four Drama Critics’ awards and were widely translated and performed around the world.

An Introduction to 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 dreamlike 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 filmlike 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 stumblės on the escape, while Tom ces 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.



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.


– 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.

Summary: Scene 2

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.


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, nonexistent 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 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.

Summary:Scene 3

 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 ge eman 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

a 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 ciimb 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 long-lasting.

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.

a 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 good-looking, 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.


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. a

Summary:Scene 6

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 ferms, 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.


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.

Summary: Scene 7

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 indusmy. 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 pf playing a practical joke on them, by intentionally bringing in another woman’s fiancé to 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.



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.

A Critical Analysis of The Glass Menagerie Presented as a memory play, The Glass Menagerie complements the poet’s lifelong perception of and fascination with illusion and reality and shows William’s notion on the subjectivity of memory. In the post World War II backdrop of trauma and disillusionment and equipped with the heritage of Freud’s psychoanalysis theory, the functioning of the memory became an important theme in theatre as well as in other arts. American theatre when compared to other art forms was slow to change and hand in hand with Kingsley Amis, Tennessee Williams embraced the post war genre of realism and horror. With Williams’ The Glass Menagerie a significant breakthrough was attend in the dramatic technique and form: “The play stood at the nexus of old melodramatic form and the modern psychological theatre.” (Aronson, 2000) Theatre as a time art’ is closely connected with the act of remembering for time arts try to capture the “flowing character of all temporarily, order experience” (Murphy and Kovach, Favorini, 2007) Favorini in Memory in Play (2008) tries to feel the gap by discussing the dramatic construction of memory throughout history and forms a notable contribution on the co-relation between drama and memory. Jacobs and Crasner 2006 deliberated upon the innovative staging in relation to the memory aspect and inspects the role of psychological dimension of memory in The Glass Menagerie.

The visual and performing arts in America developed a unique American voice in the first half of 20th century during the modernist period as art trended to turn to abstraction for modernist artists perceived themselves in a world they failed to comprehend or depict in their art. In the words of critic Dwight McDonald (1946): “Naturalism is no longer adequate either aesthetically to morally to cope with the modern horror.” When most Avant-garde art supplanted the established art forms that preceded it American theatrical showed a less radical appearance. Theatre had maintained till then a much closer relation to a realistic dimension for it explored human emotions and interactions essentially communicated through its protagonist. Nevertheless post-world war II stagecraft perceived realistic drama becoming “feeble and impotent” (Aronson) As literature became increasingly concerned about exploring the darker dimensions of the human psyche and strove to examine through Freud’s perception of psychoanalysis,

Although Williams believed in the in appropriation of naturalism atre, he chooses not to supersede it with anti-theatricality but odds for a combination of psychology and melodrama. The characters are anti-heroes, family dysfunctional and the narrative an exploration of the psychology of people living at the marginal fringes of society and champion the depictions of the breakdown of the American dreams.

The Glass Menagerie exists within the post-war form of “domestic realism” In which the family as the representative of the American society is portrayed as one disintegrated or even as a failed institution. On the other hand Williams reinvents the genre adding a poetic layer. Inform Williams’ contrast “an essentially melodramatic vocabulary of the lost past.” (Aronson) With a revolutionary idea of the introduction of memory and the fluidity of its transition.


In the light of Williams’ career and the tradition of American theatre, The Glass Menagerie expanded the boundaries of theatricality itself. In his career as a playwright, his combination of lyricism/ poetic language and experimentalism revolutionized American drama in the post World War II scenario. The original nature of his theatrical imagination gives Williams a pivotal role on the American theatre and together with Edward Albee and Arthur Millar became the most prominent American dramatists of the second half of the 20th century.

Exploring the role of memory and narration, Mahlu Mertens comments, “On one hand theatre’s fundamental mode of repetition makes it a child of memory for to perform a play is in itself an activity of remembering. On the other hand, the theatrical metaphor is used as an explanatory model for memory; remembering is described as an act of scenic imagination.” In the production notes, the playwright Williams amuses “unconventional techniques in drama have only one valid aim, and that is a closer approach to truth… The straight realistic play… has some virtue of a photographic likeness. Everyone should know nowadays the unimportance of the photographic in art: that 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” In the play episodic memory takes the central stage. 

Of the declarative memory which is “the system that provides the basic for constant recollection of facts and events” (Jacobs, 2002), the episodic memory is a subcategory of. Already in 1908 Freud observes in his article Creative Writers and Daydreaming, Freud observes that the episodic memory is not ortly bearer of objectively saved unalterable past events. It functions more like an amalgamation of impressions that transform together with the evolution in and the needs of the rememberer. A share characteristic of creative writing and the declarative memory is therefore the “Past, present and future and stung together as it were, on the thread of the wish that runs through them” (Freud, 1908)

Another important term described within the play is that of the “Personal myth” which the psychoanalyst Kris described “(a) coherent of autobiographical memories, a picture of one’s course of life as part of the self representation (that) has attracted a particular investment, it is defensive inasmuch as it prevents certain experiences and groups of impulses from reaching consciousness. At the same time, the autobiographical self-image has taken place of a repressed fantasy…” (Kris, 1956) He originally associated the term with behaviour observe in his patients but to a certain macrocosmic level everyone creates his personal myth for people are fond of their own experiences and infuses the personal memory into a narrative in an attempt to expound his being.

In The Glass Menagerie where the relation between the characters and their past attains the centre stage; Williams associated the term “memory play”. Although he does not provide a definite definition but ascribed the desired effects and implications: “because of its considerably delicate or tenuous material, atmospheric touches and subtleties of direction play a particularly important part.” It maybe related with Favorini’s definition “One in which the intention to remember and/or forget comes prominently to the fore, with or without the aid of a remembering narrator; in which the phenomenon of memory is a distinct and central area of the drama’s attention… or in which memory or forgetting serves as a crucial factor in self-formation and/or self-deconstruction.” (2008)

Although the term “memory play” was coined by Williams, it was not completely a new genre. Indirectly the term referred to the connection between theatre and memory extend from the beginning of stagecraft. Theatre was defined by the Greeks being one of the arts as a daughter of Mnemosyni, the personification of memory. In Greek drama anagnorisis forms an integral part of the dramaturgy, and this tragic recognition can be defined as an “existential repositioning of an individual vis-a-vis the past” (Favorini, 2008) for the Greek plays perpetually dramatized the notion of memory and remembrance.

In medieval culture remembering also occupied an important position for the oral modality of the arts went hand in hand with the training of memory. A thematic remembering was important for plays open surface exemplum. During the Renaissance, Shakespearean plays also toyed with the theme of memory as in Hamlet for example the protagonist asks himself “Must I remember?” The Glass Menagerie reshapes the tradition by shifting attention from the simple recollection of memories to a reconstruction of them. In psychotherapy Freud has illustrated the fluid nature of characters and memory that can be adapted to fit the self image. The insight of psychotherapy is combined with the character construction based on memories by Williams to create an essentially subjective play with a protagonist struggling to reconcile in self image with his memories. The time is “now and the past” where memory and the act of its recoñection is not only a theme but the very basis of the entire play: .where the unreliability of the rememberer influences the construction of the plot.

On one level, can the play be read as the personal myth of Tom, the narrator- protagonist while on another; it serves as the personal myth constructed by Williams to deal with his own past. Through this, the playwright appears to argue that “autobiography”, or organised declarative memory is an elaborate fiction based on facts and that through the creative use of memory, “fiction is at heart emotional autobiography” (Jacobs, 2002) As Jacobs evaluates, the play is the narrative manifestation of a personal myth and transforms experiences in ways that are of psychological necessity. A ” coherent set of autobiographical memories, a picture of ones course of life” builds up ones self image, for the preservation of which some experiences are oppressed or transformed.

This defence mechanism is, in the play, functional the recollections of memories originate in Tom’s justification for his leaving. Secondly, he attempts to create a space for his sister to be her old self again; paradoxically enabling memories to “keep alive in the present what is dead and gone forever” (Jacobs, 2012) And finally, he tries to create a story of his memories that makes them bearable and allows him to journey forward. Tom uses the plasticity of the memory to his advantage by creating a fictional space to store the bitter reality without forgetting them. The play thus inextricable entwine autobiography and autobiographical; memory to supplant Tom’s emotional needs, “for memory is seated predominantly in the heart.”


Autobiographical memories refer to memories “specific, personal, long lasting and (usually) of significance to the self system” (Nelson, 1993) The fact that The Glass Menagerie is a presentation of autobiographical memory further complicates the dramatic construction through its point of view. While traditional theatre makes the spectators aware about the difference between showing and seeing, the desired viewpoint in The Glass Menagerie differs in this aspect for the viewer has to identify his viewpoint as the seeing eye of Tom, the narrator. It thus more resembles the cinematic technique of the camera choosing the viewer’s viewpoint. “Cinema encourages a more direct perceptual identification with the seeing eye of the camera, theatre divides and disperse the possibilities of identification, in the process problematizing both identification and point of view” (Freedman, 1991) Tom is, as Crandell puts it, “not only the cinematic I who sees and speaks within the fictive narrative, but also the cinematic eye.”

As a critic in the essay The Fragility of Memory in The Glass Menagerie comments, “From the writer himself, full of misery, memory and dark dreamy lighting and music, The Glass Menagerie, is one of America’s most brave, and yet poignant plays. Memory is by far the most dominating theme in the sevenscene play. Followed by fragility and the result of turmoil on the Wingfield family, the play shows the damage of American culture as well as a dramatic interpretation with the “only valid aim” of getting “closer to the truth”. The narrative stars the narrator- protagonist Tom, the rebellious son and daydreamer, staying out late and going to the movies, but fails to abandon his sense of guilt, and supports his sister Laura, his mother Amanda, neurotic, but always meaning well; controlling, but always desiring more for her children after the abandonment of her husband. Tom’s sister Laura, a recluse who spends most of her time cleaning and admiring her glass animals provides a perfect picture of her frail mind and vast imagination. Together these three characters sum up the epitome of broken, regretful, and forgotten Americans. “The lighting in the play is not realistic,” writes Williams in the production notes. The lighting follows the trajectory of memory by laying emphasis upon certain objects or actors to focus shafts of light on while keeping others dim to single out and focus on whatever it permits to completely show the “pristine clarity” (Williams) that was used in “early religious saints or Madonnas” (Williams) The dim lighting was a product of Tom’s mind and how dreamy it truly was. Williams who states about the music that “The tune is like circus music,” (Williams) in actuality dwells upon the finality of circus music on the viewer’s brain that “weaves in and out of your preoccupied consciousness” (Williams xxi) even at a great distance or after leaving the show while being aware of the irony of his statement. The music is meant to be the “lightest, most delicate music in the world,” and even the saddest. It becomes a reference point of nostalgia, but also provides a connection of allusion to the narrator. Williams compares the title song “The Glass Menagerie” to a person’s thoughts which resembles pieces of gracefully spun glass, of its beauty and its complementary fragility. Williams also added a screen device for projecting images and titles throughout the play “to signify his admirations for a play navigated by memory and to prove that like most remembrances, the mind can view and find any image or text that it so desires. The screen is an allusion and completes what is already a pensive and dark play. His vague interpretation of Tom’s memory shows that like the actual human brain, it is indescribable and virtually undiscovered.” Memory, like dreams, leaves one waking up in a sweat and a deep sickening feeling of nostalgia. The Glass Menagerie endeavours to trap into that feeling, and although it may not be the answer to all of life’s plentiful questions, it is Williams’s truth, and therefore legitimate. Conversely, in the book The Dramatic World of Tennessee Williams, Francis Donahue states that Williams “meant more accurately “reverie,’ which implies that small events of small importance in themselves, are recalled, relived, and treasured because they serve to symbolize and heighten basic experiences” Benjamin Nelson, in his short essay The Play is Memory in the book titled Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Glass Menagerie, signifies an even deeper fragility of memory. He writes that man has very little reason to live because of a fragmented universe (Parker). That nothing can be done about it and a man’s life is an “atonement for the human condition” (Parker). This thought relates back to the stage setting of transparent walls and missing furniture. It shows how glass like and fragile the characters are. Laura, perhaps the most obvious example of atoning for the human condition, resorts back to her dreams and imagination. She devotes her life to the safe keeping of her precious glass animals, even claiming it as an accomplishment to her one and only Gentleman Caller, Jim corresponds to Donahue’s statement of the Wingfield’s being “trapped in a determined universe” (Parker) and that they were “doomed the minute they were born” (Parker) is closer to the truth Williams was so desperately searching to find. The memoaries of the past, even if they aren’t happy, are always portrayed to reveal a happier, more relaxed time; much like the concept of American culture and the history of the country.

Bert Cadullo writes in his essay Through the Looking Glass: the Role of Memory in The Glass Menagerie that Tom’s memories are “impressionistic” rather than “expressionistic.” considering his memories to be in the fashion of old Hollywood movies and “flashback films.” He writes on to say that the style of the flashbacks are set in a “representational world we all recognize and accept” perpetuating the propaganda of American culture and the happier times we all wish to still be living in. Cadullo feels that it is a non-realistic interpretation for even if it is a memory; it is but a fabricated one. Esther Merle Jackson in The Broken World of Tennessee Williams, agrees with Cadullo in the sense that The Glass Menagerie “is not a psychological account, but rather a synthetic image, a vision carefully composed by montage”. Jackson believes “the story is a movie projected from an imaginary camera straight from the eye that has turned on itself and “backwards into the memory”. She compares Williams to Proust and compares how Williams pieces the images of the past together from the fragments of a “shattered consciousness”. Her most interesting point is stating that The Glass Menagerie is “made of diverse perspectives,” for even though it seems to be one intrinsic conscience; it is more than it appears for much like a dream or a memory for Jackson believes the play to be a summary of a “poetic journey” or a journey to the truth.

“Yes I have tricks in my pocket, I have things in up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”


The thrust of William’s theatre largely depends on the authorial contribution to the nonverbal elements to be realized in a stage performance. The nonverbal elements communicated through the secondary text are often overlooked. The conventional pedagogical method seems to have ignored the multidimensional nature of dramatic art and has concentrated chiefly on its literary aspects. But Williams’ mphasis on the definition of the nonverbal part of his plays demands that these elements should be started with meticulous attention. The deft touch with which William rewrote and restructures his private family history to create a more universally accessible narrative was mirrored, very importantly by the similarly free handed approach he took in rewriting the norms of theatrical conventions. As The Glass Menagerie revolutionised the stylistic innovation of plays. Clive Bernes, The New York Times critic commented when reviewing the 1975 Broadway Revival of the memory play, “There was a new dawn for the American Theatre. And naturally dawns always survive.”

Williams’ notebook for the period leading up his writing of the play includes an important meditation on his travel to find a new working method. Realistic theatre, he believed, was dull and prosaic and his concern was to crate a kind of stage poetry. He had concluded, however, that he needed to seek“apocalypse without delirium”, by exploring muted understatements rather than elaborate spectacles. Something like the “sculptural drama”, where one visualizes reduced mobility on stage with the formation of statuesque attitudes or tableaux, resembling a restrained types of dance, with motion toned down to only the essential or significant. It was from this principle hat Williams derived the episodic structure for The Glass Menagerie breaking his narrative into seven scenes, each of which could serve to depict a distilled, “sculptural image” of a situation, of a relational dynamic between characters. The scenes barely call for much physical action, and to prevent them becoming merely duly static, great precision is required from directors in creating on stage the kind of moving portraiture that William calls for, so as to encapsulate visually the emotional circumstances of each scene.

– The charged stillness and deliberate understatement of the play helps to focus the audience’s attention on the subtleties of the immediate moment. “The lack of action in The Glass Menagerie is a bit baffling at the first” Noted the New York Herald Tribune, “but it becomes of no consequence as one gets to know the family.” Lightning and semitransparent sets to create a heightened, even dream-like, new form of stage realism – which became known internationally, for a time as “the American Style”- was first seen in The Glass Menagerie, and then subsequently developed in other Williams’ plays such as A Streetcar Named Desire, and by other playwrights like Arthur Miller, who freely acknowledged the profound influence of Williams’ work on the development of own ideas for Death of a Salesman. One of the key staging devices in all these works was the use of gauze scenery, which when lit from the front can create the illusion of a solid wall, but can then vanish almost completely when lit from behind.

Williams made explicit use of this device in writing the stage direction for The Glass Menagerie, so that scenes behind that gauze would appear or dissolve magically as they might in ones memory. Such devices as to Meilziner , the legendary set and lightning designer who work with both Williams and Miller, stressed “were not just stage tricks” when used by Williams, but “A true reflection of the contemporary playwrights interest in- and at times obsession with the exploration of the inner man – a phrase familiar among the artists of expressionism.” The Glass Menagerie thus draws on an hybridises elements of realism, expressionism, and surrealism to create what it deals more than fifty years on- a highly original theatrical experience and a pioneer in the field of memory play.

uses the first scene of the play to introduce the mnemonic nature of the play. The desired perspective of the play remains the same for it does not present reality, but a subjective experience of it, focalised through the narrator Tom: “(Tom) addresses the audience. To begin with, I turn back time… I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it. The other characters are my mother, Amanda, My sister, Laura, and a gentleman caller… He is the most realistic character in the play, being an emissary from a world of realthat we are somehow set apart from. But since I have poet’s weakness for symbols, I am using this character also as a symbol; he is the long delayed but always expected something that we live for”

Once the audience recognises the play as Tom’s memory, the deft touch of Williams seduce the audience to adopt Tom’s point of view as its own. This process resembles the “suture” in cinema. Thus, Williams “ascribes to a character within the drama, the control of the theatrical apparatus and at the same time, denies the existence of the playwright” (Crandell, 1998)

“Time is short and it doesn’t return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it, and the monosyllable of the clock is loss, unless you denote your heart to its opposition.” – Tennessee Williams.

Every literature is a memory play. Being a memory play, The Glass Menagerie can be presented with an unusual freedom of convention. Expressionism and all other unconventional technique dominates, having only one valid aim and that is a closer approach to truth. And as the play employs unconventional techniques, it is not trying to escape its responsibility of dealing with reality but it actually attempts to find a closer, more penetrating approach and vivid expression of things as they are.

The play opens with a scene setting narration from the story who comes out of the shadows as the stage magician, promising to explain the tricks in his pocket. Tom is dressed as a merchant sailor as if suggesting to us the idea of his being a merchant who deals in dreams, in whose bag we may find dreams and strangely recognize them as our own. Analysing the switching between monologue and scene, King comments in Irony and Distance in The Glass Menagerie that the playwright includes both non realistic and meta-theatrical elements in the opening scene to underline the mnemonic structure. Tom makes it clear that the play is a nostalgic portrayal of his “emotions recollected in tranquilities”. Tom is a creature of the shadows who never really admits what he has his tricks up his sleeves. He says that the play is memory and we know that it is also about forgetting. In another version of The Glass Menagerie, a short story titled Portrait of a Girl in Glass, the narrator is more honest about what he remembers – “In five years time I have forgotten about home. I had forgotten. I couldn’t carry it with me.” This is what To would say to except that he is unable to shake his memory of home as he is never able to forget his sister – ‘Oh Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intend to be.” Being a memory play, the narrator of the play, Tom also becomes a character in it. Tom, the narrator looks back with fond nostalgia and also with haunted guilt. Tom narrates the events recollected and reconstructed by his memory of them, memories which he remembers in order to forget. As his final speech makes particularly clear, Tom constantly reliving the past in his present. Tom tells us about the fifth character who doesn’t appear in the play, it is his father whose larger than life portrait looms over the living room setting. It seems to suggest that the size of the image has grown artificially large in his memory thereby reflecting the length of the shadow which the father’s memory still casts over the characters in the play. For Tom, Jim’s visits and the unfortunate incident that followed was the teller Tom, straw which finally broke his restrains. We thus understand that the entire play had been a general confession for Tom to relieve his guilt for leaving his family stranded to pursue his own dreams. Indeed he makes it tragically clear to us that escape didn’t mean freedom for him at all for he is relentlessly chain to his past the entire play it seems to the readers or audience that it has been an attempt on Tom’s part to exorcise the ghost of that night and now that the play is over the past reveals itself in the present as a painful pantomime and all that the audience is left with, his collapse of communication that the play has to communicate.

The timeless appeal of The Glass Menagerie lies in the fact that the play presents neither villains nor victims but characters who all are seeking in their own way “to do the right thing”. This is also what makes the play sentimental and moving for desperate for the desperate irony of the situation is that the individual seeking so often at cross purposes lead them inexorably to create their own individual tragedy. This concept is particularly true of Amanda Wingfield, mother to Tom and Laura. Amanda is a strong yet pathetic woman living in a world of sentimental illusions while stubbornly refusing to accept life with its drabness and absence of hope. She is the most obviously complex and multifaceted of all the characters and Williams acknowledges as much in his initial character notes. His description of “A little woman of great but confused vitality” immediately indicates some of her obvious contradictions as does he notes that “there is much to admire in Amanda as much there is to love and pity as to laugh at”

In Amanda, Williams presents us unapologetically, with a detailed portrait of his own mother Edwina Dabkin Williams. It is necessary for a play’s protagonist to go on an emotional journey and finally to be somehow changed by it but Amanda of all the characters in The Glass Menagerie is the one who changes least. She remains an unchangeable force rather than a dramatic subject capable of emotional evolution. Her concern for her children is often asphyxiating because of her fear of an uncertain future. Living in a world of sentimental illusion Amanda refuses to fully accept the apartment at St. Louis and its actual value with its drabness and absence of hope. Like Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire she is the aging southern belle, lamenting the loss of the old pre civil war days of debutante balls and gentlemen callers. This habit of recollecting the lost days is something which is highly satirical and ironic in Amanda for if she truly portrayed Edwina Williams who was born in 1884, Amanda would have been far too young to remember the pre-war days before 1861. Thus Williams makes it clear that Amanda’s memories are an inextricable mixture of fact and rose tinted fiction. In the play, Amanda regularly recalls how one Sunday afternoon, seventeen gentleman callers had called upon her in Mississippi. She talks of how she could have married anyone of those men. Instead she married a genial man working in a telephone factory who “fell in love with long distances. Far removed from the fertile cultivated soil of the south, Amanda and her family are transplanted to a northern urban area and left to ‘eek a living. The Glass Menagerie is the most consciously autobiographia

woman – cal of Williams play and uncompromising tragic content of the author’s life blends into the literature of the play. Her character is also remarkable for the fact that in her Williams presents a detailed portrayal of his own mother whom he both adored and resented at the same time. In discarding the real father’s part – symbolized by the larger than life photograph on the wall – Williams found it necessary to endow the mother with some masculine practicality. She wants nothing more than to freeze time and in this, she mirrors a region whose mix of past grace and romantic fiction masks a sense of present decay. Indeed in the middle and late thirties, the myth of the antebellum south permeated the best selling novel by Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind. Hers is a mythology not of this world, but a mythology that only works on the fictional Tara. She betrays her deep understanding of their helplessness in a lost world: “I know your ambition do not lie in the warehouse… life’s not easy, it calls for Spartan endurance.” By the end of the play, “Now that we can not hear the mother’s speech” says Williams, “her silliness is gone and she has dignity and tragic beauty”. The various roles that Amanda has been playing for so long the shrewish mother the coquettish belle (with Jim) and the ingratiating salesare also set aside, as if Amanda is most completely human as she lays aside her performance and allows simply humanity to determine her actions. We realize that Amanda is complex as she represents the extremely complex nature of human love as she comforts Laura with a depth of understanding known specially by those who has a capacity to love. The image lingers forever in Tom’s memory as he journeys through time.

In The Glass Menagerie, William presents a study of frustration narrated through the narrator-Tom’s recollections. Amanda Wingfield with her abandonment, Laura with her physically crippled self, Tom with his futile aspiration to be a poet, and Jim with his journey from being a somebody to anybody, are sentenced to splitary confinement inside their own lonely scheme as long as they live on the earth. The mother and the children oscillates between illusion and reality as Williams gives us “Truth in the pleasant guise of illusion”- truth that never spared by the illusion. The fragility of the human experiences is mirrored in the glass toy world in which Laura dwells and consoles her loneliness. Of the three Wingfields reality has by far the weakest grasp on Laura. The private world in which she lives is comprised of glass animals- objects that, like Laura’s inner life are fanciful and delicate. She is a dreamer, much like Walter in A Rassin in the Sun but unlike Walter, Laura does not dream of wealth and power, she simply dreams of beautiful things, not concrete things, but things that inspire feelings of freedom, joy and serenity. Jim used to call her “Blue Roses” and the audiences realize that it is an apt metaphor for her as it symbolizes both her unusualness and allure. Laura is presented as an extremely shy morbid and sensitive person, as fragile as the little glass animals and the old phonograph records which serves as an escape routes from the outside world. Her introvert self is in sharp contrast voluble, forceful and even brutal nature as she dwells in a world of candlelight and fantasy. Laura’s encounter with the machine age is brief and useless. She could no more learn to type better than Tom could ever come to like his job in the warehouse. Yet, unlike Tom, Laura does not seem to feel the ugliness and entombment of their lives. She never steps into the world for fear of it being unbearable. Standing on the brink of it, with her own shell enclosing her, Laura catches the beauty of the world without, restraining herself to belong to it. Williams comments, “Laura’s separation increases till she is like a piece of her own glass collection, too exquisitely fragile to move from the shelf.” She takes her affliction as a dreadful predicament as her own self. This flaw, is symbol of the crippling a sensitive person thrust into a world unwilling to make allowances for sensitivity, becomes he cause of her separation from reality with the result that Laura is the furthest removed from the world. Although her physical handicapped appears to be slight, she has grown accustomed to her abnormality since childhood. Laura’s withdrawal is severe enough to make her unable to cope with living beyond her phonograph and glass collection.

When Laura leaves the apartment to run and errand for her mother, she slips and falls on the fire escape. Even the steps connecting the apartment and the outside world proves dangerous for Laura – her complete vulnerability is something she has resigned to. When Amanda is lost in her own world of illusion – Blue Mountains and the seventeen gentlemen collars – Laura is slightly amused -“mother’s afraid I’m going to be an old maid.” Although she is quite an withdrawn, Laura knows that she is problem both for her mother and her brother and this trouble is the result of what they believe and how they act and the view that they have of her rather than anything she consciously tries to impose on them. There is no desperation or nervous urgency in Laura’s going to “the art museum and the birdhouse at the zoo” to the movies to the green house for tropical flowers. She would be content in her own world, willing to admit anyone such as the gentleman caller – Jim O’Connor whose interest in her glass collection results in a passionate reply – “My glass collection takes of a good deal of time. Glass is something you have to take good care of… most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest little animals in the world. Mother calls them a glass menagerie!” Perceptive of others feelings, Laura senses her mother’s need to romanticize her own past. When Amanda is about to talk of Blue Mountains and seventeen gentlemen callers, tom is exasperated – “I know what’s coming!” And Laura snubs him gently “Yes, but let her tell it.” She stands in between her mother and Tom and suffers in their ugly wrangling. Laura is her own self with Jim and as he enters her world of glass, she journeys into his. Jim response to her differences causes her to forget her disability. When the young man breaks the horn of the unicorn – the one element that had made it unique – she is not disturbed. Symbolically, her calmness represents her desires to be normal and not remain unique individual – distinct from others. As Jim is about to leave, Amanda requests him to come back soon for other good times, but Jim turns down the suggestion, explaining his engagement to another girl whom he plan to marry soon.









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