Introduction to The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie is a play by Tennessee Williams. First performed in Chicago in 1944, the play launched Williams’s career, transforming him from a struggling and relatively unknown dramatist into one of the twentieth century’s most respected playwrights. The play owes much of its success to local Chicago art critics, whose positive reviews helped bring the play to Broadway in New York City. It remains one of Williams’s best-known works, and the success he achieved with The Glass Menagerie paved the way for future successes, including A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

The Glass Menagerie is notable for its unusually detailed stage directions and unconventional narrative. Williams described it as a “memory play,” since the narrator, Tom Wingfield, relates the events of the play as they happened in his own memories. This gives the play a high degree of subjectivity, and the stage directions emphasize the ephemeral and oftentimes illusory quality of memory. Tom occupies the role of both narrator and character, shifting between taking part in the action and communicating directly with the audience. 

Like many of Williams’s plays, The Glass Menagerie also contains autobiographical elements. Like Tom, Williams was an aspiring writer who had a difficult relationship with his mother. He was horrified to learn that his disabled sister, Rose, was lobotomized in 1943. The relationship between Tom and Laura Wingfield, including Tom's regrets over abandoning Laura at the end of the play, is often regarded as representative of Williams's guilt over what happened to his own sister.

A Brief Biography of Tennessee Williams

In Tennessee Williams's work, the South looms large. Soaked in heat, sexuality, and liquor, Williams’s plays are populated by desperate, fragile women (A Streetcar Named Desire; The Glass Menagerie) and brooding, conflicted, often alcoholic men (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; Night of the Iguana). Like many playwrights, he found his later work largely rebuffed, but many of his plays from the 1940s and 1950s are considered seminal. A Streetcar Named Desire remains of particular importance because of the intersection of Williams, actor Marlon Brando (whose performances in the play and the film were iconic and launched his career), and director Elia Kazan, who brought some of Williams’s best works to both stage and screen.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie

In scene 6, Jim tells Tom that he needs to "wake up" if he does not want to be out of a job. Tom is someone who is openly dissatisfied with the menial work he does. He writes poems on the job. He...

Latest answer posted November 11, 2021, 11:41 am (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

Laura has the idea that Jim is engaged to a girl from Soldan High School named Emily Meisenbach. Laura says Emily was the best-dressed girl at school. However, she notes that she never her liked...

Latest answer posted November 11, 2021, 11:37 am (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

One reason why Amanda wants Laura to get married is because she wants someone to provide for her in her old age. As she gets older, Amanda grows increasingly concerned about who will take care of...

Latest answer posted November 11, 2021, 11:26 am (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

Laura gives Jim the broken glass unicorn shortly after he tells her he cannot call on her again because he is engaged. When a stunned Jim asks why she wants him to have it, Laura replies that it's...

Latest answer posted November 11, 2021, 11:25 am (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

In Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie, Jim O'Connor comes to the Wingfield home for supper one evening. Jim and Laura Wingfield went to high school together, and Laura had a crush on him...

Latest answer posted November 11, 2021, 2:28 pm (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

Near the end of the play, Jim reveals to Laura that he is serious about another girl, Betty. Tom was pressured into bringing Jim home by his mother, who is desperate for Laura to get married....

Latest answer posted November 10, 2021, 12:33 pm (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

In The Glass Menagerie, Amanda Wingfield does not allow either Tom or Laura herself to call Laura “crippled.” At one point, she tells Laura that she is not crippled. She merely has “a little...

Latest answer posted November 9, 2021, 4:24 pm (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

Tom is arguably a heroic figure, though a flawed and tragic one. He is free-spirited and creative despite the squalid conditions in which he finds himself. The opposition of his mother, chained to...

Latest answer posted November 10, 2021, 11:32 am (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

A major conflict in The Glass Menagerie is that of fantasy versus reality. Amanda does not want to live in reality because it is too harsh for her to deal with, so she reverts to fantasies that...

Latest answer posted November 10, 2021, 12:48 pm (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

One remembrance of Mr. Wingfield is a blown-up portrait of him on the living room wall, dressed as a World War I soldier and smiling. As Tom says in the play's opening, introducing the characters...

Latest answer posted November 10, 2021, 12:23 pm (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

Tom's father, Mr. Wingfield, drank and abandoned his family to go to Mexico when Tom and Laura were children, leaving the family to struggle financially as well as to deal with the scar of his...

Latest answer posted November 10, 2021, 11:49 am (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

In the final scene of Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie, Jim gets caught up in a moment of shared memories, atmosphere, and friendship, and he kisses Laura. Jim O'Connor is at the Wingfield...

Latest answer posted November 8, 2021, 6:24 pm (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

The climax of The Glass Menagerie occurs during a scene between Laura and Jim. The Wingfields have put their hopes on Jim, expecting he will court and then eventually marry Laura, who would seem to...

Latest answer posted November 8, 2021, 11:48 am (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

In The Glass Menagerie, Amanda Wingfield has expectations about herself, her life, and her children, but these expectations are not met. Amanda was once a beautiful Southern belle who thought her...

Latest answer posted November 8, 2021, 3:35 pm (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

The glass menagerie is the play's ultimate symbol of Laura Wingfield's complicated personality. The fanciful nature of the menagerie evokes Laura's flights of fancy. She is someone who often...

Latest answer posted November 8, 2021, 11:30 am (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

Amanda in The Glass Menagerie tries to be a good mother and thinks that she is being one. However, her refusal to face reality actually causes continual difficulties for Tom and Laura. Amanda...

Latest answer posted November 9, 2021, 12:02 pm (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie is a memory play. In fact, it is the first memory play, defining the conventions of the genre. In his introductory stage directions, Tennessee Williams specifies that memory is...

Latest answer posted November 9, 2021, 12:43 pm (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

Amanda grew up in Blue Mountain, and it has come to symbolize for her all that was good in her past and all she has lost in the present. Amanda often talks of her home in Blue Mountain with its...

Latest answer posted November 8, 2021, 12:05 pm (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

The Wingfields have been poor since the father and breadwinner left, a situation made worse by the Great Depression. They depend on Tom to support them with his job working at the Continental Shoe...

Latest answer posted November 9, 2021, 12:00 pm (UTC)

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The Glass Menagerie

Amanda sends Laura out to buy butter. When Laura asks if she should get anything else, Amanda says no and tells her to charge the butter. Laura protests, saying the grocer always makes it difficult...

Latest answer posted November 9, 2021, 12:22 pm (UTC)

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Summary