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

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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).

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The Glass Menagerie

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