In What Ways is Amanda an Unlikely Heroine?
Of the various characters in the play, Amanda Wingfield seems to inspire the least respect or sympathy. A silly woman who lives in the past and glories in her romantic memories of Blue Mountain and her days as a Southern belle, Amanda torments her grown children with her impossible expectations and nagging. She seems oblivious to Tom’s and Laura’s feelings, and she refuses to listen when they attempt to express them. For Tom and Laura, life in the Wingfields’ shabby St. Louis apartment is often made unbearable by the force of Amanda’s personality and her unrelenting demands.
Despite Amanda’s silliness and overbearing behavior, however, she should not be dismissed as the villainess of the play. There are traits in Amanda’s character that make her more than a caricature of obstinacy and ignorance. Understanding the emotions that motivate Amanda make it possible to see that she, too, deserves some respect and sympathy.
The primary emotion that dictates Amanda’s behavior is fear—fear of surviving the Depression, fear that Tom will abandon the family as his father had left them, and fear that Laura, unable to make her own way in the world, will somehow be destroyed. Amanda lives in fear, and her fear makes her “hateful” to her children. Moreover, her fears are not imaginary; Amanda denies many realities in her life, but her family’s dire situation during the Depression is a reality she faces every day. In her efforts to control Tom and Laura, Amanda is attempting to engineer the survival of her family. When reality overwhelms her, she escapes into her memories of the past.
There is love and courage in Amanda. Unlike her husband, she did not abandon their children, and although she had been abandoned, she did not hate him; his picture hangs in the Wingfield apartment. Amanda’s concerns for Laura’s future are born of love for her daughter. She refuses to listen when Tom speaks of Laura’s fragile nature and inability to function in life because acknowledging Laura’s condition is to acknowledge the possibility that her daughter can’t be saved. Throughout the play, Amanda is cast as a woman obsessed, with the past and with impossible, ridiculous dreams of the future. In the concluding scene, however, as she is seen speaking to Laura, Tennessee Williams portrays Amanda in a way that reveals the woman who lives within her:
… her silliness is gone and she has dignity and tragic beauty …. Amanda’s gestures are slow and graceful, almost dancelike as she comforts the daughter …. She glances a moment at the father’s picture—then withdraws through the portieres.
Tom is gone, and Amanda’s dreams for Laura have been crushed, but in defeat, Amanda’s ability to love prevails.