In The Glass Menagerie what conflicts does Tennessee Williams develop in the first three scenes of the play?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is immediately apparent in the first scene of this play that there is conflict between Amanda Wingfield and her son. Although he is an adult, she badgers him about his table manners, telling him "If you have to push with something, the thing to push with is a crust...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

It is immediately apparent in the first scene of this play that there is conflict between Amanda Wingfield and her son. Although he is an adult, she badgers him about his table manners, telling him "If you have to push with something, the thing to push with is a crust of bread" among other directives. Tom objects, telling her "I haven't enjoyed one bite of this dinner because of your constant directions on how to eat it." Their bickering continues as he leaves the table to smoke a cigarette, and in response, she tells him "you smoke too much." Amanda is a micromanager with little self-awareness. When Laura tries to dispel the bad feeling by offering to bring in the dessert, she is rebuffed by Amanda. The unhealthy dynamic among the three is established by Amanda's persistent efforts to dominate her adult children.

Amanda's unhappiness with the way her life has turned out is another source of conflict. She speaks of her popularity as a young woman and how she chose the wrong man when she chose the husband and father who has left them. The family's financial struggles are clear, and the conflict is deepened then Amanda discovers, in scene two, Laura's deception. She has dropped out of, but pretended to attend, the business school to which her mother has paid $50 of tuition.

In scene three, the conflict between Amanda and Tom escalates. She will not allow him his own pursuits, although he toils in a factory to help the family afloat. He has literary interests that she will not support; she returns to the library a D.H. Lawrence book he has been reading, calling it "filth." It is clear that Tom feels emasculated, infantilized and trapped by his mother's incessant controlling behavior. He feels so oppressed that he tells her he envies the dead when he hears her voice every morning.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie is a play fraught with conflict; however, Tom's internal conflict of being torn between his desire to fulfill his dreams and his sense of responsibility to his mother and sister is pivotal to the play as it generates external conflicts between Tom and his sister and Tom and his mother. And, while Laura and Amanda come into conflict with Tom, they themselves have internal conflicts, as well.


The tension between Amanda and Tom is introduced early in this scene as Amanda criticizes his table manners and his smoking; Tom responds in disgust.  When Laura offers to clear the table, Amanda tells her to "stay fresh" for any "gentleman callers" who might appear.  This statement reflects Amanda's delusions about Laura as well as illustrating her internal conflict of living in illusions from her past as she reminisces of her having such gentlemen callers in her youth.


In this scene Laura washes and wipes her collection of glass animals, but when she hears Amanda coming, she seats herself stiffly an the diagram of a typewriter keyboard that she is supposed to be learning.  When Amanda enters and rolls her eyes, shaking her head, Laura becomes nervous.  Clearly an external conflict between daughter and mother develop as Amanda has learned that Laura has not been attending Rubicam's Business College as she has told her mother.  Because she is so terribly sensitive, Laura has been incapable of taking a speed test and has completely broken down, she has never gone back.  She tells her mother, "I couldn't face it."  Laura's timidity and lack of self-confidence cause her much inner conflict.  Her crippled leg, of course, also contributes to Laura's poor self image, but Amanda tells Laura that all she has to do is "develop charm."


For Amanda, the idea of getting a gentleman caller dominates her thinking as she perceives Laura's marrying as a solution to Laura's problems as well as Tom's.  With Laura married, Amanda can be taken care of in her old age, and Tom, then, can be free to pursue his dreams.  In the fires of this desire and her desperation, Amanda sells magazine subscriptions in order to refurbish the apartment. Neither Laura nor Tom want Amanda to go through all that she does. 

In this scene, Amanda argues with Tom over a D. H. Lawrence novel that she returned to the library because Tom was reading literature for his prurient interests.  They argue; Tom tells Amanda that he will not listen as he is going out.  This argument upsets Laura who desperately asks Tom not to leave.  Nevertheless, Tom departs as Amanda exclaims, "I'm at the end of my patience!"

Throughout the first three scenes, the main conflicts are within Tom (internal) and between his mother and him (external).  Caught in the middle of these conflicts is Laura, who simply wants to escape reality (internal) and just live quietly with her family (external).  Amanda wants the happier world of her youth in which she has had attention and comfort (internal) and she wants security from Tom or Laura (external); Tom desires neither--like his father, he wants to flee, so he can find a place where he can fulfill his own personal dreams (internal) and not have to be responsible for others (external).

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team