Please provide a brief summary of the following essay concerning The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This essay introduces the primary theme of the play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams.  Each of the characters retracts from reality to find a less disappointing illusory world.  The play examines the Wingfields led by the mother of the family Amanda, whose dream encompasses the future of her daughter Laura.  Williams portrays the characters as they live in a world they find too painful; so they live through their fantasies.  The author adds that these characters are unable to function in the real world, but neither are they able to find true happiness in their illusions.

The essay takes each of the characters and delineates what he avoids and how he eludes his pain through his own illusions.  All of the characters want some kind of normalcy in their worlds; however, each one finds his reality too dreadful.


Amanda Wingfield

According to Amanda, she was the “belle of the ball” when she was a young girl.  Her mistake was choosing the wrong man to marry.   Her husband left the family without saying goodbye. With the responsibility of the family, Amanda would do anything to help her children find happiness which would relieve her of them.  Often in a combative quarrel with Tom, she asks him for help by finding someone at his factory to date Laura and possibly become her husband.  As the mother of this dysfunctional family,  Amanda finds her happiness in recalling her past.

Laura Wingfield

Because of her “crippled leg with its bulky brace,” Laura retreats into her own world where is not so painfully shy.  Her menagerie diminishes her delicacy and inactivity.  The glass collection comprises her community—this is where she spends her time and energy.  By creating lives for the animals, she reflects the life that she would like to live. The unicorn is her ultimate symbol.  When it loses its horn, Laura reacts:  

"The horn was removed to make him feel less—freakish! . . . Now he will feel more at home with the other horses

Laura longs to be like the unicorn---absolutely normal.

Tom Wingfield

It is through his eyes that the audience sees the world of the Wingfields.  Tom is not a bad man.  His mother has forced him into the role of the “man of the house” since his father left the family. He wants to help to take care of Laura; however, he is weak and wants to be on his own.  Because he acknowledges that his life is frustratingly dull, Tom fantasizes about the future.  

When he leaves the family and joins the merchant marines, Tom hopes he will find happiness.  Tom is haunted by Laura.  He sees both Laura in every city and in his memories that strangle him.  His bright future that he hoped for becomes just as unpleasant as his past.   

The Gentleman Caller

Jim O’Connor comes to supper, invited by Tom to please his mother.  It is a set up to give Laura a chance to find happiness.  For the one evening, Laura becomes another person.  He deceives Laura by not telling her that he has a girlfriend.  After a pleasant conversation, listening to music, looking at her menagerie, a dance and a kiss—Laura is transformed.  Then, Jim realizes that he is going to have to hurt Laura by telling her the truth.  

Jim is more practical than the Wingfields, and he has potentially a brighter future than Tom.  He makes plans and does things to help himself. The gentleman caller is the only character that may be able to actually have a realistic future.

Read the study guide:
The Glass Menagerie

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