Character constellation and characterization in Tennessee Williams "The Glass Menagerie"

Term Paper, 1999

18 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Mainpart
2.1. Amanda
2.1.1. Amanda`s Relationship to her absent Husband
2.1.2. Amanda`s Relationship to Laura
2.1.3. The Relationship between Amanda and Tom
2.2. Tom
2.2.1. Tom`s Relationship to his Father
2.2.2. Tom`s Relationship to Laura
2.2.3. Tom`s Relationship to Jim
2.3. Jim
2.3.1. The Relationship between Amanda and Jim
2.4. Laura
2.4.1. Laura`s Relationship to Amanda
2.4.2. The Relationship between Laura and Jim

3. Conclusion

“At the age of fourteen, I discovered writing as an escape from a world of reality in which I felt acutely uncomfortable. It immediatly became my place of retreat, my cave, my refuge.“ [1]

This quotation by Tennessee Williams mirrors his inability to cope with the challenges and strokes of fate of his real life. For example, he felt responsible for the lobotomie of his sister Rose although he had no knowledge about this operation. Furthermore, he could not cope with his social environment, especially with his father`s incapability to handle his introvert son.

With his first success, the play “The Glass Menagerie“ (1944), Williams holds up the mirror to the Broadway audience of the 1950`s who is not willing to face the reality of the postwar period or to digest it`s experiences with the Second World War. In the same way as this generation flies from their war recollections into a problem repressing fictious world and as Williams escapes from his personal reality through writing, the figures of the drama fly from an unsatisfying life into their dreamworlds.

The play deals with the Wingfield family (Amanda, Tom and Laura), who “share[s] a small apartment in a poor section of St. Louis.“[2] The family members have, through the visit of a gentlemen caller for Laura (Jim), the chance to realize their dreams. But “the friend Tom brings home to meet Laura [...], although he happens to be the boy she secretly admired in high school, turns out, unfortunately, to be already engaged.“[3]

Tennessee Williams`s breakthrough “The Glass Menagerie“ is respected to be one of his best plays, with Broadway performances exceeded only by “A Streetcar named Desire“

In this paper it is to point out the character presentation and character constellation in Tennessee Williams`s “The Glass Menagerie“. Firstly, I am going to analyse the character and then comment on his or her relationship to the other characters and so on. The first character to analyse is Amanda, then follow Tom, Jim, and last but not least, Laura.

2.1 Amanda

One main figure in the drama is Tom and Laura`s mother Amanda, whose husband, a telephone man, “fell in love with long distances“ [19, 3-4] and left the Wingfield family. Only an overdimensional portrait of him over the mantel in the living room remembers the family of his existence. His last sign of life was a “picture postcard from Mazatlan, on the Pacific coast of Mexico, containing a message of two words:`Hello-Goodbye!´and no adress.“ [19,7-10].

“That the father does not appear directly in the play suggests that Tennessee Williams could not view him with sufficient objectivity to portray him.The photograph apparently represents the standard view the outside world caught of the gay, soldierly C.C. Williams, whom his son hated so much that the sweetness would have gone out of the play if he had been included.“[4]

So Amanda was forced to bring her children up on her own. She is the head of the family now which is not an easy job, just because she was a former, spoilt `South American beauty`. Amanda`s life is filled up with taking care of her grown-up children and worrying about the extra money the family needs. Therefore, she spends hours on the telephone to sell “those magazins for matrons called The Homemaker`s Companion“ [37,6-7]. Furthermore, she is going to meetings of the D.A.R., the Daughters of the American Revolution,which is a national-political community, whose members are exclusive descendants of American freedomfighters of the War of Independence. These are the only activities Amanda proceeds with in her real life.

“Amanda - voluble [94,23-25;95,1-3 ], neurotic, surviving on memories and will“[5] spends most of her time telling stories about her home “Blue Mountain“ in the south of America, where she once received seventeen gentlemen callers at one afternoon. For Amanda (“[t]he mother Williams had chosen to write about in `The Glass Menagerie` was his own.“[6]) “the south forms an image of youth, love, purity, all the ideals that have crumbled along with the mansions and the family fortunes.“[7] Amanda invokes the myth of the glorified south and holds on to it by visiting the meetings of the D.A.R. and by telling her children a hundred times stories of her girlhood. So even in the first scene she is introduced by the “screen legend: `Ou sont les neiges d`antan?`“[23,11], which characterizes all her following statements as outdated. So when she begins to talk about the afternoon when she had seventeen callers, Tom says: “I know what`s coming!“ and Laura replies: “Yes. But let her tell it.“ [21,23-24] “She loves to tell it.“ [22,1].

2.1.1 Amanda´s Relationship to her absent Husband

Amanda is angry about her husband who left her alone with Tom and Laura, especially because she could have married one of the “planters and sons of planters!“ [23,7], who once worshiped her. She believes, her life would have been without so many problems. For instance, there would be no need to care for money or to live in “one of those vast hive-like conglomerations of cellular living-units“ [14,3-4], if she had married a rich man. But having told her children about the further lifes of her earlier gentlemen callers, all of them got rich but died eventually, Amanda somewhat dashed ends with the words: “But - I picked your father !“ [24,18-19]. That shows that Amanda really loved this man, as she tells Tom in scene four [54,17], and that is why married him. “Though deeply hurt by his desertion, Amanda considers her erstwhile husband the embodiment of romance, associating him with that time in her life when the house in Blue Mountain was filled with gentlemen callers and jonquils.“[8] Only that her husband was addicted to drink she still has in mind. That is why she wants Tom to promise her not to drink too much alcohol [52, 23-24]. For Tom is already on the way to become a drunkard.

2.1.2 Amanda`s Relationship to Laura

Amanda`s relation to Laura becomes most obvious in the second scene:

Here Amanda tries to open Laura`s eyes and to force her to stop doing nothing than playing with her glass menagerie or listening to old records [ 32,13-21; 33,1-4 ]. Because Laura has problems to make a career, her mother orders that she has to marry [35,3-6]. Amanda decides for Laura what she has to do with her life, as if it was her own. Now that there is no chance anymore to have the life she earlier could have, Amanda projects her dreams at her daughter Laura, who is a completely different type and does not share her mother`s dreams. So, Amanda adresses her daughter with “(little) sister“ [21,14;21,11] and her behavior and laughter is called “girlish“ [109,25; 115,25] or “childish“ [52,2]. Another fact is that Amanda denies Laura`s handicap (she limps a little bit [71,5-6]) as well as she denies that her daughter`s shyness and withdrawal into a world of music and glass animals, who are as innocent as her, makes a peculiar impression on other people [71, 7-26]. Amanda tries to prepare Laura for life and to get her out of her dreamworld by enroling her for an apprenticeship at the “Rubicam`s Business College“ and, after Laura dropped out of it, by helping her to get married through pushing Tom to ask a worker in the shoe factory for a date with Laura.


[1] Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie, ed. Bernhard Reitz, ( Stuttgard:Phillip Reclam Jun. GmbH&CO.,1984 ) 136. “All page reverences within the text refer to this edition.“

[2] Roger Boxill, Macmillan Modern Dramatics (Hongkong:Macmillan, 1994) 62.

[3] Ibid., 62.

[4] Tischler, Nancy M. “The Glass Menagerie:The Revelation of Quiet Truth“, Harold Bloom.(New York:Chelsea House Publishers,1988) 24.

[5] C.W.E. Bigsby “ Modern American Drama, 1945-1990“ (Cambridge:University Press, 1992) 40.

[6] Bloom, 31.

[7] Ibid., 38.

[8] Tischler, 34.

Excerpt out of 18 pages


Character constellation and characterization in Tennessee Williams "The Glass Menagerie"
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Maria Fernkorn (Author), 1999, Character constellation and characterization in Tennessee Williams "The Glass Menagerie", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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