Symbolic illustration of Laura's hands holding a glass unicorn

The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams

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In The Glass Menagerie, how would you describe Laura's relationship with Amanda?  

In The Glass Menagerie, Laura's relationship with Amanda can be described as being based on a lack of mutual understanding. Indeed, at one point in the play, Amanda even says that she doesn't understand her daughter. This would explain why she tries to turn Laura into a Southern belle despite her not having the personality for it.

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In Tennessee Williams's play The Glass Menagerie, Amanda Wingfield is Laura Wingfield's domineering, manipulative, and, at times, emotionally abusive mother. Amanda's dreams for Laura are the same dreams she had for herself when she was younger, until her husband abandoned the family sixteen years ago and effectively destroyed Amanda's dreams for herself.

Amanda now lives vicariously through Laura, a frail, disabled, painfully self-conscious, introverted, and socially awkward twenty-three-year-old woman who has no dreams for herself. Laura retreats from the world into her room, where she occupies herself with endlessly cleaning and polishing her collection of glass figurines—what Amanda calls, somewhat derisively, her "glass menagerie" (scene 2)—and plays records on her old, wind-up Victrola.

Although Amanda exhibits characteristics of the classic, stereotypical "domineering mother," her other qualities and characteristics are often overlooked. Amanda is a single mother, as she's been for the past sixteen years. During that time, she's been desperately trying to hold her family together and raise Laura and Laura's younger brother, Tom, as best she knows how in an patriarchal society which aggressively and single-mindedly pursues the American dream. This society is wholly at odds with the genteel Southern way of life of the Mississippi delta into which Amanda was born and raised.

When her husband abandoned the family, Amanda was forced out of her role as the subservient, submissive wife and into the dominant role in the family, for which she was woefully unprepared but which she assumed as a matter of necessity, a matter of duty, and an expression of love for her children.

Amanda tries to control every aspect of her children's lives in her sometimes-overbearing manner because she wants a better, more successful life for Laura and Tom than the life she's been forced to accept for herself. Amanda views it as her duty to push Tom to be more successful in his job and to train Laura to be a good potential wife and then help to procure a husband for her, even if she has to force Laura to attend business school against her will and browbeat Tom into bringing home one of his coworkers as a "gentleman caller" for Laura.

Amanda ultimately fails in her quest to provide a better life for her children, but it's not for lack of heartfelt, if sometimes misguided, effort on her part.

In his introductory notes in the acting edition of The Glass Menagerie published by Dramatists Play Service in 1948, Williams offers this guidance in portraying—and analyzing—the character of Amanda:

Her characterization must be carefully created, not copied from type .... There is much to admire in Amanda, and as much to love and pity as there is to laugh at. Certainly she has endurance and a kind of heroism, and though her foolishness makes her unwittingly cruel at times, there is tenderness in her slight person.

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It's clear that Amanda Wingfield and her daughter Laura don't really understand each other. To a large extent, this is because they have completely different personalities. Whereas Amanda is worldly and outgoing, Laura is an emotional and physical cripple for whom the outside world is a scary place with horror lurking around every corner.

Given her own experiences, Amanda is all too aware of the perils and pitfalls of life for a young woman. She figures that's all the more reason, then, for her to prepare Laura for the big bad world outside by getting her to start meeting gentlemen.

Even if one accepts that Amanda's only acting with the best of intentions, it's patently obvious to anyone but herself that Laura's not cut out for such a worldly existence. Amanda may have been a social butterfly back in the day, but that doesn't mean that she can shape her daughter into the ideal Southern belle.

There is an element of manipulation, then, about the mother-daughter relationship here. Amanda wants to recreate her salad days in the form of Laura. But for the reasons we've just been examining, that's simply not going to happen. In the meantime, Amanda and Laura will continue to occupy different planes of reality and fantasy, making it impossible for them to establish a healthy mother-daughter relationship.

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In Tennessee Williams's play The Glass Menagerie, the relationship between Amanda Wingfield and her daughter, Laura, could be described as one based on denial, enabling, and disabling.

It is first based on denial because Amanda Wingfield focuses on trying to make her daughter do the things that typical girls would do without considering the real nature of her daughter, Laura

Amanda expects Laura to go to school, to provide for herself, and to maybe one day get married and have children. She goes as far as signing Laura up in a vocational school, and asking her son, Tom, to bring Jim O'Connor over to meet Laura and entice a love match. Amanda does all of these things while grossly overlooking the fact that Laura has an extreme social anxiety issue, that Laura's crippled foot makes her feel insecure, and that this type of anxiety has taken over her life completely. Had Amanda stopped to really look into it, she would have never placed Laura in such situations where her self-esteem would be dangerously lowered.

Their relationship is also a combination of enabling and disabling based on the same denial problem. Since Amanda is unwilling to properly intervene on behalf of her daughter, she surrenders to Laura's problem by treating her like a child, and by promising Laura a falsely bright future, even knowing that the chances for one are very low.

AMANDA: Resume your seat, little sister, I want you to stay fresh and pretty for gentleman callers!

LAURA: I'm not expecting any gentleman callers.

AMANDA [crossing out to kitchenette. Airily]: Sometimes they come when they are least expected!

On the other hand, Amanda changes her tune throughout the play when things really bring her down, so she criticizes Laura and then feels sorry for both, herself and Laura, making the latter feel even more guilty about having issues.

So what are we going to do the rest of our lives? Stay home and watch the parades go by? Amuse ourselves with the glass menagerie, darling? Eternally play those worn-out phonograph records your father left as a painful reminder of him? We won't have a business career - we've given that up because it gave us nervous indigestion ! [Laughs wearily.]

This hot-cold change of mood in Amanda basically cripples Laura even more, considering that the latter is unable to initiate any personal goal nor feels safe enough to feel worthy of anything. Therefore, while Amanda anxiously tries to bring her daughter into becoming a woman much like Amanda is, herself, she fails miserably with a combination of the denial of Laura's conditions, the enabling of Laura's childish nature, and then the disabling of Laura's self-worth by criticizing her. What Amanda should do instead is to get help for Laura, accept the problem, and hope for the best outcome.

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