The Glass Menagerie
by Tennessee Williams
Tools of Characterization
Yep, that’s right. Williams is a member of the "let’s just spell it out" camp. To be fair, this depends on whether you’re reading the play or seeing it up on the stage. If you’re reading it, there are short character descriptions in the beginning that tell you how to interpret each character. But even if you’re only seeing it on the stage, Williams helps you out. Tom pretty much blatantly tells Amanda (and therefore the audience) what had previously been subtext about Laura: "Laura is very different…she’s terribly shy and lives in a world of her own…a world of little glass ornaments."
As you might have noticed, Laura constantly lives in a world of little glass ornaments. Her habit reflects her character, since retreating from reality means she is ill-equipped to handle others socially, and the whole glass thing means she’s fragile, as we’ve already discussed at length. Then there’s Tom, whose habit of going to the movies signifies his need to escape from reality. Hmm…this whole escape thing is looking like a family habit.
Because this is a family drama, the characters are characterized by their relations to the others in their family. Laura is subordinate to her mother; therefore, she is passive in nature. Amanda is controlling of her children’s lives and frantic about their futures; therefore, she seeks to control the future since she’s freaking out about the present. Jim refuses at times to talk to his mother; therefore, he escapes reality at times by simply ignoring that it’s there. Got it?
Speech and Dialogue
Southern Accent, Amanda
Notice how Amanda starts talking differently when Jim comes over? She speaks in a Southern accent ("light food an’ light clothes are what warm weather calls fo’"), which, up until that point, we hadn’t really heard come out of her mouth. That’s because she’s reverting to the past, or ‘rejuvenated’ as she tells Jim.
Pedantic Prose vs. Regular Language, Narrator Tom and Character
So narrator Tom tends to speak in language like, "They were having their fingers pressed forcibly down on the fiery Braille alphabet of a dissolving economy," and the Tom interacting with the other characters reads lines like, "How about—supper?" Now, partly you could say that’s because character Tom is talking to other people, and when you’re talking to other people you don’t expound on your ideas in flowery language because they would look at you funny or whack you over the head. And then you would be partly right. But it also helps us, along with some other tools, discern which Tom is speaking.