The Glass Menagerie Book summary

Tennessee Williams




The Glass Menagerie is the first play by Tennessee Williams that gained recognition and paved the way for him toward an illustrious career as a playwright and author. At the outset, the narrator, who happens to be named Tom, much like Tennessee in his early life, informs the audience that this is a Memory play. The audience watches the action through a thin curtain, or scrim, depicting an atmosphere of memory. The play is deeply autobiographical and reflects several conditions from the author’s own disturbed family life. The play is the story of a depression-era family set in a lower middle-class St. Louis neighborhood.

Laura Wingfield from the play is also called “Blue Roses” by one of the characters in the play. This is a nod to Tennessee William’s sister, Rose. He wrote the play soon after Rose had her lobotomy, and blamed himself for not being there to help her throughout his life. In the final lines of the play, the narrator informs the audience that he had been more loyal to Laura than he had intended, as he had continued to think of her throughout his life.


Plot Summary


The Glass Menagerie is narrated by Tom Wingfield, who appears on stage in a merchant sailor’s uniform, and reveals that this is a memory play. He leads the audience through his life in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of St. Louis, where he lived with his mother and sister. Tom had worked in a shoe warehouse then, and was forced to be provided for his family because his father who worked in the telephone department had abandoned them. His mother, Amanda Wingfield, had come from a wealthy family in the South and often spoke about all the wealthy men that had been interested in marrying her before she had met her husband. She was deeply scarred by her husband’s abandonment, and this affected her interaction with her children. She controlled all aspects of their lives and forced them to lead their lives according to her wishes.

Tom did not wish to work at the shoe warehouse and wanted to be an author as he spent a great amount of his time at home working on his manuscripts with the typewriter. He went to the movies, and often drank, to escape from the feeling of frustration that he had in his life. He often argued with his mother about his drinking, and his staying out late for the movies. On the other hand, Laura Wingfield is extremely reclusive and has a very difficult time being around other people. She is self-conscious about her leg brace, and cannot bring herself to attend Business College because she throws up during one of her classes in the first week. She pretends to go to the business school because she is afraid of disappointing her mother. However, Amanda eventually discovers that Laura hasn’t been going to college, and becomes extremely worried about her future. She decides that the next course of action must be marriage, and begins to work up a plan to have Laura married to a nice man at the earliest opportunity. Meanwhile, Laura is mainly concerned with polishing her collection of glass animals.

Amanda finds out that Tom intends to join the Merchant Sailors as she has gone through her letters, and insists that he first aid her in finding a man for Laura before he departs. She tells him that he must ensure that Laura is going to be cared for, even in his absence. She asks him to find a kind man from the warehouse, who doesn’t drink and invite him over for dinner so that they could try to arrange for Laura to be married to him. Tom is reluctant but because of his mother’s insistence, he decides to invite Jim O’Connor for dinner. He explains to the audience that Jim had been in the same high school as him and Laura, but he did not believe that Jim knew he had a sister, and that Laura was his sister. He had heard Laura talking about Jim, but he wasn’t aware that Laura had secretly liked Jim very much. Laura had known Jim because they shared some classes, and Jim had called her ‘blue roses.’

Amanda is delighted to hear that they are going to have a gentleman caller and does her very best to temporarily make their apartment appealing and luxurious. She makes a similar effort to Laura’s appearance so that Laura appears to gain a temporary and ephemeral beauty. Contrary to her mother’s attitude, Laura is terrified to learn that Jim will be coming for dinner at her house and begs her mother that she be excused from attending dinner, but Amanda dismisses all of her arguments. Eventually, Jim and Tom arrive for dinner and are greeted by the shy Laura. Tom soon confesses to Jim that he intends to leave behind his job at the warehouse, as well as his family. He reveals that he has used the money for the apartment’s electricity bill to pay his subscription to the Merchant Sailors.

Laura is too faint to appear for dinner, but Jim and Laura have an opportunity to speak alone when the lights in the apartment go out after dinner. Jim recognizes her from high school and they discuss what life has been like for them since the end of their secondary education. Jim encourages Laura, praises her, and they end up doing the waltz around the living room. At the end of the dance, Jim kisses Laura, and she grows faint with joy. However, Jim regretfully informs her that he has a fiancé and leaves. He informs Amanda as well, and just as soon as the guest leaves, Amanda turns her ire on Tom. She accuses them of playing a joke on his mother and sister and refuses to hear that he hadn’t been aware of Jim’s marital status since he had never talked about it before. He decides to go to the movies, and Amanda curses him for his selfishness. Tom exits the apartment and watches from the landing as Amanda tries to placate Laura. He tells the audience that he abandoned his family soon after that night, and yet he remained more loyal to Laura than he had intended. The play closes as Laura blows out the candles in the apartment.

  • Author(s)

    Tennessee Williams
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Late Modernism, Drama


Random House

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