The Glass Menagerie
is a play by Tennessee Williams
which involves five characters, Amanda, Tom, Laura, Jim and the father. Amanda is a southern belle
, who longs for the past and Laura's future. Tom is a dreamer
, who works at the wherehouse and longs for a better life. Laura is an isolated introvert
, who plays with her glass animals to escape reality. Jim is the gentleman caller
, who introduces Laura to the real world and makes her feel normal. The father is Amanda's husband who ran away and represents unrealized hope
. It is a memory play, told by Tom in retrospect.
The Wingfield apartment faces an alley in a lower middle-class St. Louis tenement. There is a fire escape with a landing that serves as a porch. "The scene is memory," indicate the stage directions, and as such the interior is "rather dim and poetic." There is a screen-like surface on which words or images periodically appear. Tom steps on stage dressed as a merchant sailor and speaks directly to the audience. The wall of the apartment is opaque behind him; it becomes translucent as his monologue concludes, revealing the dining room.
Tom's narration is, (again, according to the stage directions themselves), "an undisguised convention of the play...he takes whatever license with dramatic convention is convenient to his purposes." Tom tells us he is the opposite of a magician because he shows us truth disguised as illusion. He sets the scene for the social background for the play, describes his role in it, and introduces the other characters by name. One character in particular, the gentleman caller, Tom singles out as a symbol of unrealized hope. The fifth and final character, the father, does not appear in the play: he skipped town long ago and hasn't been heard from except for a terse postcard farewell from Mexico.
Amanda calls Tom to the dinner table and Tom takes his place. Amanda nags him about the way he chews his food. Laura rises to fetch something, but Amanda insists that she sit down and keep herself fresh for gentlemen callers. Laura says she isn't expecting any gentlemen callers. Amanda sets into what must be an excruciatingly familiar account of the time she entertained seventeen gentlemen callers one Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain. Tom obliges his sister and asks his mother the scripted questions that necessarily punctuate this account. Amanda is apparently oblivious to his tone. She catalogues the men and their subsequent fates, how much money they left their widows, how they died carrying her picture.
Laura offers to clear the table but Amanda tells her to go study her typewriter chart or practice her shorthand. She must stay fresh and pretty, Amanda says gaily, for the callers who will no doubt be arriving soon. Tom groans. Laura opines that none will come. She's simply not as popular as her mother once was. Tom groans again at this humiliating exchange. Laura tells Tom that their mother is afraid that she (Laura) will end up an old maid. The lights dim as the "Glass Menagerie" theme music plays.
An image of blue roses appears on the screen as the scene begins. Laura is polishing her collection of glass as Amanda mounts the steps outside. Amanda's face shows the evidence that something has happened. When Laura hears Amanda, she hides her ornaments and plants herself in front of a diagram of a keyboard.
Amanda goes through a melodramatic routine of tearing up the keyboard diagram and speaking vaguely about deception before Laura can extract what exactly has happened. Amanda did not go to her Daughters of the American Revolution meeting because she stopped by Rubicam Business College to speak to Laura's teachers. The teachers there informed her that Laura had not come to class since the first day, when she had some sort of nervous breakdown and became physically ill. What, Amanda wants to know, has Laura been doing from half past five till after seven every day this winter. Walking, says Laura; going to the zoo, to the tropical plant house, occasionally to the movies. Amanda wants to know why Laura has done all this to deceive her. Laura replies that she can't endure the suffering look Amanda wears when she is disappointed.
Amanda wonders in a hopeless tone what will become of them if Laura refuses a "business career"; will they play with the glass menagerie and listen to Father's old records all day? Will they become begrudged spinsters dependent on some in-law? The alternative is marriage. Laura becomes uncomfortable. Didn't Laura ever like a boy? Amanda wants to know. Once, in high school, a boy named Jim, says Laura. He used to call her Blue Roses after she recovered from an attack of pleurosis. Six years ago he was engaged; he's probably married now.
Nevertheless, this topic revitalizes Amanda. She declares that Laura will end up married to "some nice man." Laura reminds her mother, apologetically, that she is crippled. Amanda won't hear of it, and insists that her daughter never use that word. She might have a slight disadvantage, but she must cultivate charm instead. That's one thing her father had in spades.