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The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams

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Last Updated on September 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 866

Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, The Glass Menagerie has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its challenging spots—discussions of difficult family dynamics and explorations into motifs like deception—teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. Studying The Glass Menagerie will give them a unique insight into various dramatic techniques, and important themes surrounding memory, reality, and illusion. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1944
  • Recommended Grade Levels: 10-12th grade
  • Approximate Word Count: 20,700 
  • Author: Tennessee Williams
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Genre: Drama
  • Literary Period: Late Modernism
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society, Person vs. Self
  • Narration: First-Person; Tom Wingfield narrates and participates in the play
  • Setting: St. Louis, Missouri; 1937
  • Structure or Dominant Literary Devices: Memory Play
  • Mood: Tragic, Regretful, Hopeless, Nostalgic

Structure of the Text

The Memory Play: One of Williams’s greatest contributions to the literary world was a new dramatic form he developed called the “memory play.” Tom Wingfield, the protagonist, narrates the story directly to the audience and explicitly frames it as based on his memories. Modeling the subjectivity of memory, the play distorts reality and takes creative liberties: Tom speaks directly to the audience through the fourth wall and Williams incorporates production elements like sentimental music and screen projections to convey the haziness of memory. As the stage directions demonstrate in the first scene, “being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.” 

Stage Directions: Stage directions are frequently published with plays to give readers an idea of what the play is meant to look like staged. Sometimes they are written by a play’s author, and sometimes they are added after a premiere or major production of the play to describe what occurred that specific time. Williams was very particular about his stage directions, using them to convey as much about the tone of a play as about its production needs. Throughout The Glass Menagerie, stage directions inform everything from music to line delivery, allowing readers an almost novelistic experience of the text. 

Texts that Go Well with The Glass Menagerie

A Streetcar Named Desire is considered another one of Tennessee Williams’s greatest plays. Written in 1947, the play follows Blanche DuBois as she moves in with her sister, Stella, and her sister’s husband, Stanley. As the play proceeds, the animosity between Stanley and Blanche grows until Blanche suffers a mental breakdown. Similarly to The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire uses symbols, lighting, and music to explore themes of dissolution and memory and to present moments of theatrical expressionism. 

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof won Tennessee Williams the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955. Not only is it one of William’s most popular plays, it was also his personal favorite. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof explores the toxic relationships between wealthy patriarch Big Daddy Pollitt, his son Brick, and his daughter-in-law Maggie. Themes of deception and sexuality are explored in greater depth than in The Glass Menagerie, but characters express similar feelings of entrapment and repression. 

Fences, written by August Wilson in 1985, is a play set in 1950s Pittsburgh. Like The Glass Menagerie, the play portrays tumultuous family relationships, as Troy Maxson cheats on his wife and severs his relationship with his son. 

Long Day’s Journey Into Night, by Eugene O’Neill, is similar to The Glass...

(This entire section contains 866 words.)

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Menagerieas a semi-autobiographical work. First performed in 1956, the play centers on four characters based on O’Neill’s family. The plot takes place over the course of one day, as two sons and their parents grapple with issues like alcoholism, promiscuity, and illness. 

A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry, is a 1959 play that explores familial relationships. On the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s, the matriarch of the Youngers must decide what to do with a $10,000 insurance check she receives after her husband’s death. Her decisions cause tension within the family. 

Summer and Smoke, by Tennessee Williams, is a 1949 play that combines the poetic expression of The Glass Menagerie with the violent realism of A Streetcar Named Desire. The play centers on Alma Winemiller, a minister’s daughter, who experiences a tumultuous romance with her childhood neighbor, John. 

The Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekhov, is a 1903 play similar to The Glass Menagerie in its hopeless, dismal tone. In this “Chekhovian comedy,” Madame Lyuba Ranevskaya and her family must decide whether to sell her cherry orchard in order to pay off her debts. The end of the play, much like The Glass Menagerie, is bleak and tragic. 

Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett, was first performed in 1953 and is one of the most recognizable works of late modernism post-World War II. Throughout the play, Vladimir and Estragon search futilely for a character named Godot, who never appears. The play’s themes and meanings are often debated, although most agree that it demonstrates the bleakness and desperation that characterized the literary period following WWII.


Key Plot Points