Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 382
Here are some important quotes from Tea and Sympathy, a play by Robert Anderson.
BILL: All right, so a woman doesn't notice these things. But a man knows a queer when he sees one. (27)
Bill derides Laura in their conversation about a student named Tom. Bill wants to throw Tom out of the school, as Bill suspects Tom is gay, and he makes himself superior to his wife by claiming that he understands the situation while his wife is too naive. In reality, Bill has suspicions about his own sexuality, and his wife, Laura, sees Tom in a more nuanced way than Bill does.
LAURA: Do you know, Bill, I bet he doesn't even know the meaning of the word—queer. (27)
In this same conversation, Laura, Bill's wife, sees Tom in a more sensitive, complete way and doesn't simply label Tom based on his apparent sexual preferences.
HERB: Now when you came here, I told you to make friends slowly. I told you to make sure they were the right kinds of friends. You're known by the company you keep. Remember I said that? (35)
Herb, Tom's father, desperately wants his son to be masculine. He cares more about the impression Tom makes on others than about Tom's own needs and happiness.
HERB: I suppose you think it's going to be fun for me to have to live this down back home. It'll get around, and it'll affect me too. So we've got to see this thing through together. You've got to do your part. Get your hair cut. (37)
Again, Herb is mainly concerned about appearances. He isn't concerned that his son's teacher is getting dismissed or that his son might be upset or confused about the events going on around him.
LAURA: I'm going away—I'll probably never see you again. I'm leaving Bill . . . For a lot of reasons—one of them, what he's done to you. But before I left, I wanted you to know, for your own comfort, you're more of a man now than he ever was or ever will be. (86)
Laura wants to comfort Tom, and she does so by reaffirming his masculinity and by defining masculinity as being oneself. Bill, her husband, defines masculinity as being tough and unyielding, and she is leaving him as a result.
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