Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
of Work and Publication Year
Glass Menagerie is
a stage play in the form of a tragedy involving the three main characters.
The play debuted in 1944 at the Civic Theatre in Chicago. Random House
published the work in 1945.
introductory address to the audience by one of the main characters, Tom
Wingfield, takes place in the 1940s. The action in the play takes place
in the winter and spring of 1937 in an apartment in a dreary tenement in
The Glass Menagerie on "Portrait of a Girl in Glass,"
a short story he wrote in 1943 and published in 1948. Both works drew upon
Williams's own experiences. When he was growing up, he was close to his
sister, Rose, who resembled the fragile and psychologically disturbed Laura
Wingfield in "The Glass Menagerie." His mother resembled Laura's mother,
Amanda. Williams himself resembled Laura's brother, Tom Wingfield. Williams
was even nicknamed Tom in his youth.
Wingfield: A merchant marine who introduces the play and is one of
its three main characters. Tom became a sailor at an undisclosed time after
he left home following an argument with his mother. He explains that the
action in the play takes place in the 1930s, when he lived in a St. Louis
apartment with his mother, Amanda, and his sister, Laura. The play presents
his recollections of the winter and spring of 1937. In that year, he worked
in a shoe factory to support himself, his sister, and his mother. He hated
his job, argued frequently with his mother, and looked forward to a day
when he could leave home and strike out on his own. Tom likes to write
poetry. In fact, he was fired from his job at the shoe factory for writing
a poem on the lid of a shoebox.
Wingfield: Tom's older sister by two years. She is incredibly shy and
shrinks from any contact with everyday life outside the Wingfield apartment.
She likes to spend time taking care of her collection of glass animal figurines
(a glass menagerie) and playing old records on a Victrola. One of her legs
is lame, and she wears a brace on it.
Wingfield: Mother of Tom and Laura. She is the opposite of her daughter—outspoken
and assertive. At one time, she was a charming belle with many wooers.
But in in 1937, she is an abandoned wife forced to live humbly among the
gray, desperate masses of the Great Depression. She constantly nitpicks
and nags Tom about every aspect of his life—the
way he eats, the way he entertains himself, and so on. Amanda takes comfort
in memories of earlier days, when the sun was rising on her instead of
going down. She hopes to marry Laura to an eligible bachelor.
O'Connor: Tom Wingfield's friend and co-worker, who accepts an invitation
to dinner at the Wingfield apartment. Tom extended the invitation as part
of Amanda's efforts to match Laura with a marriageable young man.
Wingfield: Army veteran and telephone-company employee who abandoned
the family. Although he is not an onstage character in the play, Amanda
and Tom refer to him frequently. A photograph of him hangs on a wall on
Tom Wingfield's Introduction
Wingfield walks onstage wearing the uniform of a merchant marine. He lights
a cigarette and tells the audience that he is turning back time to the
1930s, when the vast American middle class was struggling to cope with
the Great Depression.
Spain there was revolution," he says. “Here there was only shouting and
confusion. In Spain there was Guernica. Here there were disturbances of
labour, sometimes pretty violent, in otherwise peaceful cities such as
Chicago, Cleveland, Saint Louis. . . ."
says he is the narrator of the play and also a character in it. He then
identifies the other characters: his mother, Amanda; his sister, Laura;
and a gentleman caller (Jim O'Connor). Another character—his father—has
no part in the play, Tom says. However, a photograph of him smiling and
wearing a World War I infantryman cap is displayed prominently on a wall
in the Wingfield apartment. He was a telephone-company employee who abandoned
the family “a long time ago," Tom says. Since then, the family has heard
from him only once. He sent a postcard from Mazatlan, Mexico, which said,
play then begins. It presents scenes that Tom remembers and occasionally
comments on. The play also presents scenes in the Wingfield apartment that
Tom did not witness.
and Tom Wingfield are eating at a table with their mother mother, Amanda,
in the dining room of their apartment in a tenement building. When Amanda
tells her son to chew his food properly, he rises and tells her that her
constant nitpicking makes him race through meals. She says he has the temper
of a Metropolitan Opera singer. As he leaves the table to get a cigarette,
she tells him she has not excused him. He goes for the cigarette anyway,
and she says he smokes too much.
rises to get the dessert, blancmange, but Amanda goes for it instead, saying
she wants her daughter “to stay fresh and pretty for gentlemen callers."
One never knows when a gentleman will come calling, she says.
with the dessert, she says she once received seventeen callers one Sunday
afternoon at Blue Mountain. Tom, who is smoking on the landing of the fire
escape across the alley from Paradise Dance Hall, asks how she entertained
them all. She says she did so with intelligent and witty conversation.
of her beaux were gentlemen, she says, and some were prominent planters
in the Mississippi Delta. She tells Tom about several of her callers—one
who became vice president of a bank, another who drowned and left his wife
$150,000 in government bonds, and another—Bates Cutrere—who was shot in
a quarrel and left his wife between 8,000 and 10,000 acres of land. Amanda
says Bates was in love with her, not his wife, and had a picture of her
on the day he died. Then there was Duncan J. Fitzhugh, who went to New
York and earned a reputation as the Wolf of Wall Street. Amanda could have
married him, she says.
sits at a table polishing her collection of glass figurines of animals.
On the wall is an illustration of a typewriter keyboard she is supposed
to be studying while nursing a cold. Her mother had enrolled her at Rubicam
Business School six weeks earlier so that she could get a job to provide
for herself and her mother. When she hears her mother coming up the fire
escape, she hurriedly hides the figurines and pretends to study the keyboard
illustration. Amanda is wearing a cloth coat with an imitation fur collar
and carrying a large black pocketbook.
Amanda enters, grim-faced and out of sorts, she removes the illustration
from the wall and rips it up. She then informs Laura that on her way to
her D.A.R meeting—at which she was to be installed as an officer—she stopped
at the Rubicam Business School to discuss her daughter's progress with
her teachers. They told her that Laura quit after only a few days because
she was too shy to participate in class. Amanda, paraphrasing a teacher,
says, “Her hands shook so that she couldn't hit the right keys! The first
time we gave a speed-test, she broke down completely [and] was sick at
the stomach and almost had to be carried into the wash-room!"
questioning from her mother, Laura says she spent her school days, from
7:30 to 5, walking in the park even though it was winter. She could not
endure going back to class. However, sometimes she visited the art museum,
the zoo, and a hothouse for tropical flowers. She did not want to face
then talks on about the bleak future that Laura faces but ends up raising
the possibility that Laura will marry someday. She asks her daughter whether
there was ever anyone she liked. Laura tells her about a boy in high school
with whom she occasionally conversed. But he was going with a girl named
Emily Meisenbach. Laura thinks they must be married by now (six years after
graduation). Her mother then decides that Laura will marry too.
Mother . . . I'm crippled," Laura says.
mother replies that Laura has only a small defect, “hardly noticeable."
in the winter and early spring, Amanda sells magazines subscriptions to
make enough money to properly prepare her daughter as an attraction for
day, Tom and his mother argue viciously. She had returned a book he was
reading to the library, a book by D. H. Lawrence which Amanda says was
shamefully obscene. She will not allow such books in the house, she asserts.
Tom reminds her that it is he who pays the rent and supports the family
and, therefore, has a right to read the books he pleases.
they continue to argue, she accuses him of taking part in unseemly activities
whenever he goes out. He pretends to go to the movies, she says, but his
real purpose is to drink. Then he comes in around two in the morning, stumbling
and mumbling, and gets three hours of sleep. He has no right to jeopardize
his job and thus jeopardize the security of the whole family, she says.
He is selfish.
says he gives up all his dreams—all that he would like to do—to work in
a dead-end job at Continental Shoemakers just so he can support the family.
If he decided to think only of himself, he says, he would do what his father
did—leave. Becoming even angrier, he calls his mother an old witch. When
he attempts to put on his coat to leave, he catches his arm in the sleeve,
then hurls it across the room. It falls on a shelf containing Laura's figurines.
There is the sound of shattering glass.
glass!—menagerie," she says.
helps Laura pick up the the figurines while his mother shouts that she
will not speak to him again until he apologizes.
five the next morning, Tom arrives home drunk. His first attempt at opening
the door fails when he drops the key. Laura opens the door and asks where
he has been. To the movies, he tells her. There was a long program—the
feature, a cartoon, a travelogue, a newsreel, coming attractions, and a
stage show with Malvolio the Magician.
about seven, Tom apologizes to his mother while drinking coffee. Amanda,
sobbing, says her devotion to her children has made her hateful to them.
Tom tells her she's not hateful. Having been pacified, Amanda then praises
him for his considerable abilities and makes him promise never to be a
drunkard. After they talk further, Amanda says she is worried about Laura,
who spends all her spare time fooling with her glass menagerie and playing
her father's old records on the Victrola.
Tom asks what he can do about her situation, his mother says, “Overcome
Selfishness! Self, self, self is all that you ever think of !"
Tom gets up and puts on his coat and hat. Before he leaves, Amanda asks
him to find a beau for Laura at the Continental plant. He refuses to cooperate
at first, but after she pleads with him he agrees to see what he can do.
sunset on a spring night, Tom informs his mother that he has arranged for
a young man from Continental to come to dinner the next evening. He is
a shipping clerk named James Delaney O'Connor, who makes good money and
goes to night school to study public speaking and radio engineering. Tom
says, however, that he did not tell him about Laura.
delighted, says, “When he sees how lovely and sweet and pretty she is,
he'll thank his lucky stars be was asked to dinner."
high school, Jim O'Connor was a star basketball player, president of the
senior class and the glee club, captain of the debating team, and a singer
of light opera. Now, however, he works in the warehouse of Continental
Shoes, making only a little more money than Tom. Laura knew Jim in high
school and admired his voice, Tom recalls. But he doesn't think Jim remembers
five Friday evening, Amanda has worked wonders with the apartment—new curtains,
chintz covers on the sofa and chairs, and other touches. She is now crouching
before Laura as she works on the hem of her new dress. Laura looks fragile
but pretty, like translucent glass. Amanda then enlarges Laura's bosom
with powder puffs. Laura protests but ends up wearing the “Gay Deceivers,"
as her mother calls them.
short while later, Amanda reveals herself in a yellow frock with a blue
sash, recapturing a semblance of her youth. She says, “This is the dress
in which I led the cotillion, won the cakewalk twice at Sunset Hill, wore
one spring to the Governor's ball in Jackson!"
Laura asks what Mr. O'Connor's first name is, she becomes suddenly flustered
when she hears her mother say Jim. She asks whether it is the same Jim
O'Connor that Tom knew in high school. Amanda says she thinks they first
became acquainted at the warehouse. Laura says if it is the same one, she
won't make an appearance. But her mother orders her to answer the door
when they arrive. Amanda will be in the kitchen preparing the food.
Tom arrives with Jim, he introduces Jim to Laura, who is exceedingly nervous.
Laura then excuses herself and hurries into another room. When Jim asks
about her strange behavior, Tom explains that she is exceptionally shy.
While awaiting dinner, Tom and Jim talk about work, and Jim warns Tom that
Mr. Mendoza, a boss at Continental Shoes, has been threatening to fire
then discloses that he will soon make a major change in his life. He says
he has joined the Union of Merchant Seamen, paying his dues from money
for the light bill. When Jim asks what will happen when the lights go out,
Tom says he won't be around. He will be leaving just as his father did
sixteen years before.
Amanda comes in, she musters all of her Southern charm and lavishes it
on Jim, then makes excuses for Laura. Laura, she says, has been cooking
the dinner and the heat of the stove made her a bit ill. Laura is in another
room lying on a sofa.
lights go out. Amanda lights candles, and Jim goes with her to check the
fuse box. His finding: All the fuses appear okay. Tom then owns up that
he did not pay the light bill. “Shakespeare probably wrote a poem on the
back of it," Jim says. (Shakespeare is his nickname for Tom because Tom
likes to write poetry.) She then asks Jim to keep Laura company in the
parlor. When he assents, she gives him a candelabrum and some wine.
speaks gently to the very shy girl gently as he sets the candelabrum down
and sits on the floor. He invites Laura to join him. She does, with the
candelabrum between them. He says Laura seems like an old-fashioned girl.
think that's a pretty good type to be," he adds.
Laura compliments him on his singing voice and asks him whether he remembers
the name “Blue Roses," he realizes she went to high school with him. They
were in the same singing class in the auditorium. Laura recalls then that
whenever she entered the auditorium she always made a loud clumping sound
with her lame leg. Jim says he didn't notice. They go on to discuss Jim's
singing, and Laura gets out their yearbook, The Torch, and shows
him his picture as he sings in The Pirates of Penzance. Her shyness
she asks him how Emily Misenbach is, he says, “Oh, that kraut-head . .
. I never see her." He says Laura has an inferiority complex, and that
he had one too until he took his public-speaking course. As four her lame
leg, he says, “A little physical defect is what you have. Hardly noticeable
even! Magnified thousands of times by imagination!"
says he's taking a course in electro-dynamics—that is, radio engineering—and
plans to become part of the television industry when it begins to blossom.
Laura tells him about
her interest—her collection of tiny glass animals, a glass menagerie. When
he sees the figurine of a unicorn, he remarks that they are supposed to
be extinct and adds that the little thing must feel lonesome.
if he does," Laura says, “he doesn't complain about it. He stays on a shelf
with some horses that don't have horns and all of them seem to get along
they hear music coming from the Paradise Dance Hall, Jim talks Laura into
dancing with him. They waltz. Laura seems to be enjoying herself. As they
move about the room, they bump into a table, knocking the glass unicorn
to the floor and breaking off its horn. Laura doesn't mind, though, saying,
“I'll just imagine he had an operation. The horn was removed to make him
tells her she's pretty and kisses her on the lips. A few moments later,
though, he tells her that he is going steady with an Irish Catholic girl
named Betty. He met her the previous summer, he says, and fell in love
with her. Laura is deeply disappointed—in fact, devastated.
in love has made a new man of me," he says.
opens his hand, then closes it around the unicorn, saying she wants him
to have it as a souvenir. Amanda gaily brings in fruit punch and macaroons,
then asks Laura why she looks so serious. Jim says the reason is that they
were having a serious conversation.
Now you're better acquainted," she says.
then says she's going to leave them alone to continue their conversation.
But Jim says he himself is leaving. Amanda, thinking he has to get up early,
a young working man and have to keep working men's hours."
tells her he has two clocks two punch: one for work and one Betty. Amanda
asks who Betty is, and Jim tells her. He says he and Betty will soon get
married. After Jim leaves, Amanda calls Tom and says, “You didn't mention
that he was engaged to be married."
says he was not aware of the engagement. Amanda says it is odd that he
was unaware, considering that he works with Jim and is his very good friend.
When she starts in on one of her rants, Tom crosses over to the door, saying
he is going to the movies.
says, “That's right, now that you've had us make such fools of ourselves.
The effort, the preparations, all the expense ! The new floor lamp, the
rug, the clothes for Laura!"