The Glass Menagerie
by Tennessee Williams
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
Laura is painfully shy, Amanda lives in the past, Tom hates his life, and they have no father.
Wow, things completely suck to start off. As with many initial situations, we get the idea that things have been going on like this for a long time – Tom’s been going to the movies and getting scolded for it, Laura’s been allowing her shyness to run her life, and Amanda’s been narrating about her past as if everyone in the world cared as much about jonquils as she did.
Amanda insists that Laura must get married; Tom hates his life and wants to leave.
Now we have this end goal to shoot for – find Laura a husband. The conflict part, or the why-is-this-difficult part, has to do with Laura’s shyness and fragility. We wonder if, in this rough process, she will break like a piece of glass. Oh, and then there’s Tom’s conflict, both with his mother and with the life he is leading at the moment.
Tom gets a gentlemen caller for Laura, but it turns out to be the Jim from her past.
Yes, that does complicate things. Especially since Laura is ridiculously shy with normal people and inhumanly shy with high school heroes she used to be infatuated with.
The gentleman caller connects with Laura, kisses her, breaks the horn off her glass unicorn.
How did we know this was the climax? Well, Williams does call it "the climax of her secret life," with the ‘her’ being Laura. That’s sort of a tip off. Also, this is what we’ve been building towards the whole time – we knew the gentleman caller had to come at some point, and we knew with all this fragile glass all over the place that sooner or later something was going to break.
Jim turns out to be engaged; Amanda yells at Tom.
Just when we thought things were going well. We feel suspense here because there’s this panicky sort of "Oh no! What do we do now?!" Except not "we" so much as Amanda and Laura.
Tom reveals to us rather anticlimactically that he leaves his family shortly after.
This is ‘falling action’ because it doesn’t give you that sense of building towards something. We’re backing away from the big dramatic scenes of yelling and kissing and breaking and instead are looking at the aftermath.
Although he separated himself from his family physically, Tom reveals that he was always haunted by the memory of the sister.
Time to wrap things up. Or, in this case, time for narrator Tom to reveal he was never really able to wrap things up. This conclusion sort of messes with us, because we thought once Tom left the family that would be it. But now we realize our big final end point doesn’t really have such a note of finality to it.