The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
In this post, we will go over the summary of The Glass Menagerie.
The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams’ first successful play, premiered in Chicago in the spring of 1944 before moving to New York three months later. The Glass Menagerie, which he refers to as a memory play, focuses on a family that is similar to Williams’ own family and concentrates on the human emotions that allow a family to function. The Glass Menagerie is a powerful piece that is still widely read and studied today. It contains seven scenes all in one location and four characters.
The Glass Menagerie is a magnificent household tragedy with three separate characters: Amanda, who is powerful and proud, Laura, who is weak and naive, and Tom, who is a realistic dreamer. This piece is more of an elegiac depiction of misery than a searing enactment of taboo. There is no single tragic event here, but rather a pervasive state of sadness. The Glass Managerie illustrates a lack of cooperation rather than a traditional confrontation. We discover no crime in the Wingfield residence, but rather a chronic, agonising social and economic ailment.
This quintessential modern family, the single-parent, fractured home, implodes beneath the weight of its own sadness and slow-moving, yet unstoppable disaster. The reader/audience has the nagging feeling that the situation will never better or the connections will never grow. There is no sun on the horizon, nor is there a break in the clouds. These people are doomed to their fates. Any recognition, peripatea, must inevitably lead to abandonment and dissolution rather than hope and acceptance.
If tragedy always chronicles a change, the only changes that may occur in The Glass Menagerie are hard-wired and unavoidable: the son’s escape (imitating the missing father), institutionalisation of the mentally ill sister, and death of the elderly and increasingly delusional mother. Mother Amanda’s brave and delusory hopes and optimism are countered with this pervasive and nagging sense of the Wingfields’ doom. Perhaps the major conflict in the play is the collision of Amanda’s fruitless optimism and displaced gentility with the family’s shady present.
I have always loved The Glass Menagerie for reinventing tragedy for the modern condition and sensibilities. For a random, no-fault cosmos, this is the no-fault tragedy. There is no antagonist and no unadulterated protagonist, unless Amanda, the matriarch, counts. Amanda is the one figure, whether you like her or not, who pulls the family into its reckoning. Amanda might appear desperate and dishonest to the point of being obnoxious when she schemes to find a boyfriend for her crippled daughter. But, as she makes her unwanted phone calls, employing her southern belle ability for conversation, one feels sorry for her and appreciates how brave and determined she genuinely is.
Although it is never stated explicitly, the memory play’s concluding message is that Amanda’s brand of optimism comes at a cost. It is dangerous to live in one’s dreams. Optimism, like all perishables, can decay. Hope gives way to delusion and hatred. Denial of reality, like denial of breath, is eventually fatal.
Summary of The Glass Menagerie
The Glass Menagerie is set in the Wingfield family’s apartment in St. Louis in 1937. The events are framed by recollection — the play’s narrator, Tom Wingfield, typically smokes and stands on the fire escape while delivering his monologues. Although, at the time of the play’s first premiere (1944-5), Tom’s continual veiled references to the violence of WWII would have been shockingly recent, the narrator addresses us from the undated and timeless present.
Tom, his mother Amanda, and his sister Laura are central to the plot of the play. They share a modest St. Louis apartment in 1937. Their father had abandoned them years before, and Tom is now the breadwinner for the family. During the day, he works at the Continental Shoemakers warehouse, but he goes “to the movies” every night. Amanda is a caring mother, but her interfering and nagging are difficult for Tom, who is an adult and earns the money that supports the entire family. Laura is a terrified and extremely bashful young lady with incredibly frail nerves. She also has a minor limp in one leg and rarely leaves the apartment on her own. She keeps herself occupied by tending to her “glass menagerie,” a collection of beautiful small glass animals.
Amanda has recurring flashbacks to her days as a young Southern belle and the social darling of her little town. She enrolled Laura in studies at Rubicam’s Business College, anticipating that a business profession would enable Laura to be self-sufficient. Laura had quit attending class a long time ago because the typewriter speed exams worried her. Amanda abandons her professional career for Laura after the Rubicam’s fiasco and focuses her efforts only on finding her a spouse.
Amanda and Tom have a tough relationship. Tom longs to be free, like his father, to leave Amanda and Laura behind and explore the world. He has stayed because he feels responsible for them, but his mother’s nagging and his weak sister’s quirks make the flat a sad and unpleasant environment. Tom is likewise dissatisfied with his current position. His regular outings to the cinema provide his sole escape, but his nightly disappearances irritate and perplex Amanda. He is always fighting with Amanda, and the situation at home is becoming increasingly uncomfortable.
Amanda attempts to broker a bargain with Tom, recognising that he wishes to leave. If Tom and Amanda can find Laura a spouse who will take care of her, Tom will be free of his responsibility to them. Amanda requests that Tom bring handsome callers to meet Laura at her house. Jim O’Connor, a fellow warehouse employee, is brought home by Tom. Laura had a huge crush on him in high school. He is an outgoing and enthusiastic man. Jim talks to Laura, becoming increasingly flirty until he kisses her. Then he acknowledges that he has a fiancée and will be unable to call again. The news is upsetting for Laura, who is frail.
Amanda is enraged, and once Jim has left, she accuses Tom of cruelly mocking them. Amanda and Tom had one last battle before Tom departs for good. He reveals in his final monologue that he can not get away from his sister’s memory. Laura haunts him, even though he abandoned her years ago.