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In the list of characters at the start of the play, Amanda is introduced as
A little woman of great but confused vitality clinging frantically to another time and place.
Amanda appears throughout the play as a lively garrulous character, but she is, essentially, lost. Deserted by her husband, trapped in a run-down St Louis apartment, she nevertheless spends her days chatting brightly, forever reminiscing about her sparkling youth in the South, constantly exhorting her son Tom to improve himself and making plans for her daughter Laura’s future.
However all Amanda’s plans and ideas seem doomed to fail. For one thing, Laura is anything but the kind of bright vivacious young girl that she herself was, although she keeps on trying to mould her in her own image, conjuring up all manner of suitors for her.
Amanda appear foolish and almost cruel sometimes in her failure to accept what her daughter is really like, a quite pathologically shy character. Like her endless recollections of her youth, this might be cited as another example of the way that she refuses to face up to unpalatable reality, However, she is genuinely concerned for her daughter’s future and tries her best to get her settled. She does not shirk that responsibility. She is not so lost in her visions of the past that she cannot plan for the future, although she is unsuccessful.
Similarly, although Amanda always antagonizes her son by her constant nagging, it is understandable that she wants him to face practicalities and set his aims higher, for instance when she suggests he save up for a study course instead of frittering away money on smoking. She does appear quite self-righteous and moralistic when she attempts to censor his reading material, but it is the way she has been brought up, and generally people in that time who prided themselves on their respectable and genteel backgrounds, as Amanda unfailingly does, were not a little shocked by the level of sexual frankness to be found in the work of writers like D H Lawrence, whom Tom reads.
Amanda does manage to alienate her son altogether by the end of the play, it seems, but earlier, in a rare instance she opens up to him:
I know your ambitions do not lie in the warehouse, that like everybody in the whole wide world – you’ve had to – make sacrifices, but – Tom – Tom – life’s not easy, it calls for - Spartan endurance! There’s so many things in my heart that I cannot describe to you! I’ve never told you but I – loved your father…. (scene 4)
This is Amanda at her most vulnerable. She admits her constant heartache at the loss of her husband, who swept her off her feet and then turned out to be a worthless drifter. She shows, too, that she has understanding of Tom’s situation, she recognizes his needs and desires. Unfortunately, this rare moment of confidentiality between mother and son does not last long, but it does give a crucial glimpse of a different Amanda under her usual bright and often exasperating exterior.
Amanda has had to endure quite a lot in her life, but she tries not to give up. Her more admirable qualities are foregrounded at the end of the play. After Jim’s visit goes disastrously wrong and Tom leaves for good, she does what she can to comfort her daughter, and in doing so she gains a certain ‘dignity and tragic beauty' (scene 7).
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