Symbolic illustration of Laura's hands holding a glass unicorn

The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams

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In The Glass Menagerie, why is the "gentleman caller" important?

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In the first scene of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, Amanda, the mother of Tom and Laura, tells Laura that she needs to stay fresh for her gentleman callers.  Laura reminds her mother that she does not expect anyone to come to see her.  Amanda, who lives in the past, recalls the times when she would receive several gentlemen in one afternoon.  Her persistence about Laura having a gentleman in her life is unwittingly cruel.

Laura lives in a world of glass and illusion.  A childhood illness left one of her legs shorter than the other, and she has to wear a brace.  Fragile and sensitive—Laura‘s shyness is in contrast to her mother’s excitable and overbearing nature.  With no skills to ward off conflict, Laura is forced to listen to her mother and brother constantly embroiled in arguments. 

The entire focus of the play is to find a “gentleman caller” or husband for Laura. Amanda forces Tom, the narrator and son, to bring someone home from work.  There is a big preparation for his coming. Then, finally, the time arrives for “him” to arrive.  

When Tom tells his mother that a “gentleman caller” is coming the next day, Amanda is beside herself.  She buys and prepares and huge meal and spends all day in preparation for his coming. Hopefully, this is the dream come true for Laura, and she will now have a future. 

When the "gentleman caller," Jim, appears, Laura is at first terribly frightened and sick at the thought of entertaining him as company. Once she grows accustomed to his warmth and friendliness, however, she actually includes him in her world more than she emerges into his. This is the first time her inner charm appears.

Jim is charmed by Laura’s demure vulnerability.  His philosophy of life is positive and he believes in the social graces.  It is unclear whether he really is drawn to Laura; or because of his values and personality he is treating Laura with compassion.

When Jim related his vision for the future, it is obvious that he is shallow, materialistic, and wildly optimistic.  Is this a world in which Laura could exist? Finally, after Jim kisses Laura, he unloads the fact that he is involved and engaged to someone else.  He quickly takes his leave. 

Amanda: Things have a way of turning out so badly. I don’t believe that I would play the Victoria.  Well, well, well, our gentleman caller was engaged to be married! Tom!

The gentleman caller has made an early departure. What a wonderful joke you played on us!

Tom: How do you mean?

Amanda: You didn’t mention that he was engaged.

The "gentleman caller" represented the hopes of Amanda more than Laura.  If left to herself, Laura would live on in her world of  imaginary animals and their shiny beauty. 

Amanda wanted to be sure that Laura would always be looked after. When Jim leaves, Amanda’s hopes are dashed.  She blames Tom for not knowing more about Jim.  Tom is sick of the fighting and leaves and never returns. 

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