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"The Glass Menagerie" Character / Plot Summary

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What is The Glass Menagerie?
The play is a melancholy family drama written by Tennessee Williams. It was first performed on Broadway in 1945, meeting with astounding box-office success and a Drama Critics Circle Award.

The Characters: In the introduction of The Glass Menagerie, the playwright describes the personalities of the drama’s main characters.

Amanda Wingfield: Mother of two adult children, Tom and Laura.

 

  • “A little woman of great vitality clinging frantically to another time and place...”
  • “Her life is paranoia…”
  • “Her foolishness makes her unwittingly cruel…”
  • “There is tenderness in her slight person…”

 

Laura Wingfield: Six years out of high school. Incredibly shy and introverted. She fixates on her collection of glass figurines.

 

  • She has “failed to establish contact with reality…”
  • “A childhood illness has left her crippled, one leg slightly shorter than the other…”
  • “She is like a piece of her own glass collection, too exquisitely fragile…”

 

Tom Wingfield: The poetic, frustrated son who works at a mindless warehouse job, supporting his family after his father left home for good. He also serves as the play’s narrator.

 

  • “His nature is not remorseless…”
  • “To escape from a trap (his overbearing mother and crippled sister) he has to act without pity.”

 

Jim O’Connor: The gentleman caller who has dinner with the Wingfields during the second part of the play. He is described as a “nice, ordinary young man.”

Setting:
The entire play takes place in the Wingfield’s meager apartment, located next to an alley in St. Louis. When Tom begins narrating he draws the audience back to the 1930s.

Plot Summary:
Mrs. Wingfield’s husband abandoned the family “a long time ago.” He sent a postcard from Mazatlan, Mexico that simply read: “Hello – and Good-bye!” With the absence of the father, their home has become emotionally and financially stagnant.

Amanda clearly loves her children. However, she constantly reprimands her son about his personality, his fledgling job, and even his eating habits.

 

Tom: I haven’t enjoyed one bite of this dinner because of your constant directions on how to eat it. It’s you that makes me rush through meals with your hawk-like attention to every bite I take.

 

Even though Tom’s sister is painfully shy, Amanda expects Laura to be more outgoing. The mother, in contrast, is very sociable and reminisces about her days as a southern belle who once received seventeen gentlemen callers in a single day.

Laura has no hopes or ambitions for her future. She quit her typing class because she was too shy to take the speed exam. Laura’s only apparent interest seems to be her old music records and her “glass menagerie,” a collection of animal figurines.

Meanwhile, Tom is itching to leave the household and seek adventure in the wide open world, instead of being held prisoner by his dependent family and a dead-end job. He often stays out late at night, claiming to go to the movies. (Whether or not he watches the movies or engages in some sort of covert activity is debatable).

Amanda wants Tom to find a suitor for Laura. Tom scoffs at the idea at first, but by evening he informs his mother that a gentleman caller will be visiting the following night.

Jim O’Connor, the potential suitor, went to high school with both Tom and Laura. During that time, Laura had a crush on the handsome young man. Before Jim visits, Amanda dresses in a beautiful gown, reminding herself of her once glorious youth. When Jim arrives, Laura is petrified to see him again. She can barely answer the door. When she finally does, Jim shows no trace of remembrance.

Out on the fire escape, Jim and Tom discuss their futures. Jim is taking a course on public speaking to become an executive. Tom reveals that he will soon be joining the merchant marines, thereby abandoning his mother and sister. In fact, he purposefully failed to pay the electricity bill in order to join the seaman’s union.

 

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