The Glass Menagerie was originally produced in Chicago in 1944 and then staged in New York on Broadway in 1945. The text was also published in 1945. This play was the first of Williams's to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, an honor he was given four times. Although The Glass Menagerie also received much popular acclaim, some critics believe that the thematic devices that Williams relies on, such as the legends on the screen, are too heavy-handed.
The Glass Menagerie is autobiographical in its sources. In some ways, this is a coming of age story, with both Tom Wingfield and Laura Wingfield negotiating their roles as young adults. Like many coming of age stories, the major conflicts in this play are both internal and external; Tom cannot choose both the future he desires for himself and the future his mother, Amanda Wingfield, desires for him and for Laura. Emerging through this major conflict between Tom and Amanda are the themes of alienation and loneliness, duty and responsibility, and appearances and reality.
Through its poetic structure and reliance on stage technology, The Glass Menagerie has had a significant impact on later twentieth century drama. Tom serves as both narrator and character, dissolving the present into the past; Williams signals this by exploiting lighting and sound, especially music—technologies which were less available to earlier playwrights. In this sense, the themes of the play are inseparable from its production values