A theatrical piece of distinct power, with some of Tennessee Williams’ most potent lyricism, The Glass Menagerie is a memory play as told to us by Tom Wingfield, a merchant marine looking back on the Depression years he spent with his overbearing Southern genteel mother, Amanda, and his physically disabled, cripplingly shy sister, Laura. While Amanda strives to give her children a life beyond the decrepit St. Louis tenement they inhabit, she is herself trapped by the memory of her life past– a life of cotillions and suitors and wealth, now long gone.
Tom, working at a shoe factory and paying the family’s rent, finds his own escape in drinking and going to the movies, while Laura pours her energy into caring for her delicate glass figurines. Tom, pressured by his mother to help find Laura a suitable husband, invites an acquaintance from the factory to the apartment, a powerful possibility that pushes Amanda deeper into her obsessions and makes Laura even more vulnerable to shattering, exposed like the glass menagerie she treasures. Williams’ intensely personal and brilliantly tender masterpiece exposes the complexity of our memories, and the ways in which we can never truly escape them.
An animated, late middle age Southern belle who alternatively lives vicariously through her daughter’s youth and the memory of her own “glory days”. Amanda was abandoned by her husband, who is trying to raise her two children under harsh financial conditions in harsh times. Amanda yearns for the comforts from her youth and also longs for her children to have the same comforts, but her devotion to them has made her – as she admits at one point – almost “hateful” towards them as she is jealous of her daughter wasting her youth, and her son not behaving with a high work ethic.
Amanda’s son. Tom became bitter young. He works at a shoe warehouse to support his family but is frustrated by his job and aspires to be a poet. He struggles to write for he is sleep-deprived and annoyed. Yet, he escapes from reality through nightly excursions, apparently to the movies but also to local bars. Tom feels both obligated toward yet burdened by his family and longs to escape, and ashamed that he wants to abandon his demanding mother and vulnerable sister like his father.
Amanda’s daughter and Tom’s older sister. A childhood illness has left her with a limp, and she has a mental fragility and an inferiority complex that have isolated her from the outside world. She has created a world of her own symbolized by her collection of glass figurines. The unicorn may represent Laura because it is unique and fragile. She lives in this magical world where she can escape her feelings of inadequacy that are exasperated by her mother’s grandstanding.
An old high-school acquaintance of Tom and Laura. Jim was a popular athlete and actor during his High School days. Years have been less kind him since as he is working as a shipping clerk at the same shoe warehouse as Tom. His hope to shine again is conveyed by his study of public speaking and ideas of self-improvement. He appreciates Laura’s romantic attention so much he “forgets to share he is engaged”. With this last injury, Laura breaks emotionally as her glass unicorn breaks literally.