The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

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Key Plot Points

Tom Introduces Himself and Establishes the Play as Memory (Scene 1): Through elaborate stage directions, Williams establishes the physical and metaphysical setting of the play. The action of the play takes place in a St. Louis apartment, part of “one of those vast hive-like conglomerations of cellular living-units.” The Wingfield apartment is flanked on both sides by alleys and features a living room, a set of glass animals, and a photograph of Tom’s father hanging on the wall. However, the play is actually set in Tom Wingfield’s memory. Stage elements such as screen projections, sentimental music, and dim lighting are used to distance the narrative from the strict realism an audience might expect. Tom narrates his story several years after the events of the play, immediately breaking the fourth wall (speaking directly to the audience) to describe the lights, music, and other characters. The first scene centers on the Wingfield family as they sit down for a meal. The dinner is tense: Amanda, Tom’s mother, criticizes Tom’s eating habits, and she pesters Laura, Tom’s sister, for not receiving any gentlemen callers. Amanda reminisces on her past in Blue Mountain when she once received seventeen gentlemen callers in a single afternoon.

Laura Reveals her High School Crush (Scene 2): Laura is polishing her glass animals when Amanda enters the scene, crying theatrically. Amanda has discovered that Laura has been lying about attending business college for the past six weeks. Instead of attending school, the shy and nervous Laura walks around parks and visits the zoo. Amanda worries that Laura has no prospects and will be reduced to spinsterhood. She asks her daughter if she ever liked a boy and Laura replies that she once liked a boy named Jim in high school. Jim called her “Blue Roses” after mishearing Laura say she was diagnosed with “pleurosis.” Amanda states definitively that Laura will “wind up married to some nice man,” and Laura replies doubtfully that she is crippled. Amanda tells her never to use that word and to “develop charm.”

Tom and Amanda Argue (Scene 3): From the fire-escape landing, Tom tells the audience that “the image of the gentleman caller haunted our small apartment.” Believing that the apartment needs redecoration should a gentleman caller stop by, Amanda finds a job selling magazine subscriptions. The tension between Tom and Amanda escalates into a full-blown argument “probably precipitated by his creative labors,” his writing. Amanda accuses Tom of lying when he says that he is going to the movies every night and says that his late nights are jeopardizing his job and by extension the family’s security. Tom retorts that he hates his job and resents the familial responsibility that keeps him there, sarcastically claiming that he is leading a double life as an “honest warehouse worker by day” and a “dynamic tsar of the underworld” by night. Tom calls Amanda a “babbling old witch,” tears off his coat, and accidentally shatters some of Laura’s glass animals. The scene ends as Tom, alone with Laura, silently cleans up the broken glass.

Amanda Asks Tom to Find a Gentleman Caller for Laura (Scene 4): Tom drunkenly returns home after a late night out. Laura opens the door for Tom, who tells her he has spent the whole night watching a long program at the movie theater. The next morning, while Laura is out buying butter, Tom apologizes to Amanda. In turn, Amanda expresses her reliance on Tom, and tells him that he’s becoming more and more like his father, who abandoned the family. She asks where he goes at night and he hesitatingly repeats that he goes to the movies. When pressed as to why, he replies that he likes adventure, something he cannot find in his warehouse job. They argue briefly, with Amanda taking the stance that he should be able to rise above his desire for adventure. As Tom attempts to leave, Amanda stops him and asks him to help Laura find a gentleman...

(The entire section is 1,538 words.)