The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

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Teaching Approaches

The Glass Menagerie as a Memory Play: The Glass Menagerie was revolutionary for introducing a new dramatic form: the memory play. Tom, who is a main character in the play, narrates the story from his own perspective many years later, after he has lived the action on stage. He bookends the play with monologues which speak directly to the audience and break the fourth wall. He watches from the fringes of the set as his sister and mother recreate his memories. He moves fluidly between his two roles—from narrator to participant, and back again. When he narrates the final moments of the play, he describes the effects of distance and hindsight on his memories as a whole. This structure allows the play to develop crucial motifs about the power of memory and nostalgia. 

  • For discussion: How does the audience understand that The Glass Menagerie is based on memory? What stage directions and props support this theme? What other production elements could contribute to it? 
  • For discussion: How does the memory play touch on themes of nostalgia and memory? Since Tom is the narrator of the play, how does his point of view control the play? Is Tom a reliable narrator? Why or why not? Imagine if the play was told from Laura’s or Amanda’s perspective. How might that change the course or tone of the play? 
  • For discussion: What does Williams mean when he writes that the scene “dissolves” in the play’s final moments? How would you interpret this on stage? What other aspects of the memory play seem like they might be challenging to stage? 
  • For discussion: In Williams’s opinion, how is memory different from reality? Do you agree with how Williams depicts memory? Why or why not? How do you remember your past? 

Avoiding the Present as a Theme: Each of the Wingfields in The Glass Menagerie frequently, even obsessively, reminisces about the past or envisions the future: Amanda daydreams about her youth in Blue Mountain; Laura recalls her high school years when she was in love with Jim; Tom imagines leaving his family and job to become a poet and live a life of adventure. Each of these characters’ perceptions of time is skewed and causes rifts within the family. For example, Amanda’s grandiose memories push her children away, because they cannot live up to the pressures of the idealized past. Because the Wingfields are preoccupied with either the past or the future, none of them are able to express themselves in the present. 

  • For discussion: After Tom tells Amanda he has found a gentleman caller for Laura, Amanda tells him, “You are the only young man that I know of who ignores the fact that the future becomes the present, the present the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don’t plan for it!” How does this phrase encapsulate Amanda’s opinion of the past? How does Amanda obsess over the past? How does her nostalgia create tension between her and Laura? Her and Tom? 
  • For discussion: Tom dreams of a life beyond the St. Louis alley. What does Tom desire for himself? Why does he leave his family at the end of the play? How does Tom’s memory of his father affect his decision to leave the family? In what ways is Tom similar to his father? 
  • For discussion: How do Laura’s memories of the past affect how she interacts with Jim in the play? Why is she so nervous? How does Amanda escalate Laura’s fears? 
  • For discussion: While Amanda reminisces about the past and Tom plans for his future, Laura’s memories of high school are tainted by shame, and she is unable to envision a future for herself. How might Laura be trapped by her present? How could she break out of this trap? Does that seem likely? What sort of relationship with time does Williams seem to be advocating for? 
  • For discussion: Jim, the gentleman caller, talks about both his past and his future with Tom and Laura. How do his recollections and envisionings differ from those of the Wingfields? How does this affect his characterization ? Does Williams seem to consider his...

(The entire section is 2,567 words.)