The relationship between mother and daughter in Williams' play is a brutal one. Essentially, the mother, Amanda, wishes that her daughter, Laura, is exactly like her. The problem is that this could not be further from reality. Amanda constantly compares Laura to how she was when she was a young woman. The mother seeks to relive her youth, to an extent, through her child. She does this by talking about how many suitors she had as a girl of age, trying to impress upon Laura what men want, and even being overbearing to the extent of annoying when a gentleman caller comes by their home. The relationship between them is brutal to witness because the reader knows that Laura will never be like Amanda and the mother will never be able to fully accept that her daughter is different. Whereas Amanda wants Laura to follow a traditional path to "get a man," Laura is more interested in animals, and her collection of glass figurines, as well as seeing life in her own way. This collision between the past conceptions of woman as seen in Amanda, where women were "required" by social norms to act and carry themselves in a certain manner for a certain end, and the more modern vision of woman as seen in Laura, one where individuals possess choice to pursue whatever paths they wish, is what forms the relationship between mother and daughter.
It is a psychologically complex relationship that exists between Amanda and her daughter Laura in Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie. While Amanda cares for her child, she is at times rather cruel to her. A deeply flawed character because she distorts reality to fit her desires, Amanda often does not acknowledge Laura's own will. For instance, in Scene 2, as Amanda does not have the courage to attend the DAR meeting, she instead visits the Rubicum Business College where Laura is enrolled. However, there she discovers that Laura has not been attending class. After tearing up the typing charts that are on the wall, Amanda, having stared at Laura and drawn a deep breath and dabbed at her eyes with a handerchief, asks her daughter,
"What are we going to do, what is going to become of us, what is the future?...I'm just bewildered---by life."
When Laura explains that she became so upset that she had thrown up, she attempts to declare her independence and explain that she has gone to the parks and the art museum:
"It wasn't as bad as it sounds. I went inside places and warmed up....I visited the penguins every day!"
Ignoring this, Amanda cruelly replies,"You did all this....just for deception?" Hurt, Laura looks down, and confesses, "I couldn't face it." But, Amanda critically asks of Laura,
"So what are we going to do the rest of our lives? Stay home and watch the parades go by?....We won't have a business career--we've given that us because it gave us nervous indigestion!...What is there left but dependency all our lives!"
Besides Amanda's cruelty to Laura in her disappointment, there is the element of worry for herself and her own future that enters Amanda's lines. For, once the business college is no longer an option for Laura, Amanda calculates that Laura simply needs to develop charm so that she can find a husband. In this way, both Laura and she will be cared for.
In Scene 4, Amanda uses Laura to communicate with Tom indirectly. This tension bothers the delicate Laura. Then, in Scene 7 while ostensibly wishing for a gentleman caller for Laura, and while dressing Laura to make her look her prettiest, Amanda exploits Laura as she attempts to recreate her own youth when the caller comes.
But, before he arrives, Amanda refreshes the apartment with covers for the furniture, new curtains and sofa pillows, and a lovely rose-colored paper lantern with a new floor lamp. When the caller does arrive, Amanda emerges in "a girlish frock of yellow voile with a blue silk sash," a dress she had worn when gentlemen called upon her. Again, she has ignored Laura's will and attempted to satisfy her own imaginings.
In a rather turbulent relationship with her daughter, Amanda wants comfort for herself, she does not acknowledge her daughter's own will, and she selfishly refuses to see Laura for who she really is. Yet, while she is cruel and tries to manipulate her daughter so that she will be self-sufficient as well as able to financially assist her mother, Amanda does make sacrifices for her daughter. First of all, she has worked at Famous and Barr, a retail store, in order to pay for the $50.00 course that Laura has not taken. Secondly, she is willing to sacrifice and perform the drudgery of selling magazine subscriptions over the phone.
Like Laura, Amanda lives in illusions, but she sometimes forces these illusions and aberrations and peculiarities upon her daughter. Indeed, theirs is a conflicting relationship.