Symbolic illustration of Laura's hands holding a glass unicorn

The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams

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The Glass Menagerie Characters

The main characters in The Glass Menagerie are Tom Wingfield, Amanda Wingfield, Laura Wingfield, and Jim O'Connor.

  • Tom Wingfield is his family’s sole financial provider. He dreams of being a poet but is trapped in a job he despises.
  • Amanda Wingfield is a former Southern belle whose husband abandoned the family. She feels trapped and helpless and takes her frustrations out on her children.
  • Laura Wingfield is a shy young woman who escapes life by collecting glass figurines and listening to old records.
  • Jim O’Connor is Tom's coworker. He engages Laura’s fragile emotions and kisses her before revealing he is engaged to another woman.

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Amanda Wingfield

Amanda Wingfield, mother of Tom and Laura, lives in a state of humiliation at having been left by her husband, and her constant admonishing of Laura to be more assertive may reflect her own deep sense of regret at not being more assertive herself. When Mr. Wingfield left, Amanda lost her ability to see herself as a bewitching and attractive young woman deserving of widespread attention, and her vivacious nature is now overbearing. Amanda’s pushy temperament and talkative nature eventually drives Tom away; it is impossible to say if her manner contributed to her husband’s departure or if his departure has exacerbated her difficult personality.

Amanda prefers to live in the past, during a time when she remembers herself as young, beautiful, and charming. The past is also a time before she was married and then abandoned by her husband. Her vanity is sometimes pitiful, and her attempts at gaiety are sometimes overblown; when Amanda’s natural vitality bubbles over, she cannot help but seek attention from men. For example, Amanda’s performance for Jim might be a reflection of her seemingly involuntary reaction to a young man in the house; at the same time, Amanda might simply be overcompensating for Laura’s introversion.

Tom Wingfield

Tom Wingfield is the narrator of the play and Amanda’s son. Tom’s father left when Tom was five or six years old, leaving him without a male role model. Tom was raised solely by Amanda, whose overbearing nature drives him away by the end of the play, and his reaction to Amanda is the opposite of his sister’s. Amanda’s pushiness drains Laura of energy, but it goads Tom into energetic and vitriolic displays of anger.

Tom is a poet. He writes poetry at work at the shoe warehouse, and this literary impulse costs him his job. When Tom is fired, he takes the opportunity to leave his life in Saint Louis. Even before Tom leaves his mother and his sister, he displays behaviors and makes choices that remind his mother of his wayward father; this comparison might work for Amanda, but it is unfair to Tom, who should not have to step in for his absent father. Amanda wants Tom to take on the role of her husband, but he is her son, and his youth and artistic ambition lead him away from her by the end of the play.

Laura Wingfield

Laura is Amanda’s daughter and Tom’s sister. Laura lives with two disabilities: she has a problem with her leg that causes her to walk heavily and with a limp, and she is debilitatingly shy. Laura’s limp makes her painfully self-conscious, and she is fearful of being in public to the point of dysfunction; her instability is evidenced by the fact that her vomiting episode at secretarial school discourages from ever attending class again and her belief that her “clumping” while in high school was noisy and offensive to her classmates.

Laura lives primarily in her inner world, and she copes with her mother’s intensity by withdrawing further into herself, her glass figurines, and her music. Laura’s shyness and fragile psychological condition are exacerbated by her mother’s vivaciousness; Amanda’s energetic manner seems to make Laura retreat even further into herself, sapping Laura’s strength. Laura can become more comfortable around people outside her family, like Jim O’Connor, but his warmth and their shared history are especially disarming. Sadly, the news of Jim’s relationship with a woman named Betty is devastating, and Jim joins Tom and the memory of her father as proof of the unreliability of all men.

Mr. Wingfield

Mr. Wingfield, Amanda’s husband and the father of Tom and Laura, does not make an actual appearance in the play except through the presence of his portrait on the wall. Amanda, his wife, describes him as charismatic and charming, with a ready smile and a stylishly tidy appearance. The fact that he abandoned his wife and two children sixteen years prior to the start of the play suggests that he is selfish and irresponsible. Amanda also describes him as a “drunkard,” which suggests that he has never been reliable, as his alcoholism likely prevented him from being present to his wife and young children.

Jim O’Connor

Jim is Tom’s friend from the shoe warehouse, and when he comes over for dinner, he inadvertently becomes Laura’s first and only “gentleman caller,” a label only Amanda believes is appropriate. By the end of his visit, Jim reveals that he did not know Tom even had a sister and that he, Jim, has a steady girlfriend named Betty. Jim is a high school acquaintance of Laura and Tom’s, and during their school days, he was popular and confident; Laura had a schoolgirl crush on him.

Jim is genuinely warm and kindhearted, but he has a duplicitous nature. In order to save himself humiliating comments, he does not tell Tom, his closest friend at the shoe factory, about his engagement to Betty. This absence of trust between him and Tom suggests that their friendship is based only on a mutual remembering of themselves as they were during easier times. Jim is also vain and susceptible to admiration; he kisses Laura after signing her program, which provides him with a moment of remembering himself as a success story. Jim’s duplicity hurts Laura and Amanda, especially when he regrettably gives in to his impulse to kiss Laura. This intimate moment gives Laura hope that her first gentleman caller may be the answer to her mother’s prayers. Jim’s callous treatment of Laura echoes the callousness of Mr. Wingfield; after all, by kissing Laura, he has also betrayed Betty.

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