Study Guide

The Glass Menagerie

By Tennessee Williams

The Glass Menagerie Introduction

Hey, Shmoopers, is your family a fantastic, non-troubled group of people with whom you've never ever had a fight, or felt resentful toward?

If you answered "yes," then quit reading now, go write a book that tells us all how to get along so wonderfully, and make a zillion dollars.

If you answered "no," though, well first of all, welcome to the real world and 99.999% of the population and, secondly, have we got a play for you.

The Glass Menagerie first appeared on Broadway on 1945 and pretty much blew the critics' collective socks off. Then those bare-footed critics turned right around and awarded this play the prestigious Critics' Circle Award. As a result, the career of a young, unknown playwright named Tennessee Williams was launched, rocketing him into the theatrical stratosphere to become one of the best-known dramatists in the history of American literature.

In a lot of ways, this play also set the stage (see what we did there?) for famous works to come by Williams. His major themes—the decline of the South, familial strife, delusion, and a longing for the good ol' days—are all on display here, as told through the tumultuous family dynamic of the Wingfields. Already down a father, the family's mother, Amanda, heaps expectations upon daughter Laura and son Tom until, like poor Laura's glass unicorn, the family shatters into pieces.

Later turned into a film with dreamboat director Paul Newman, it's not what you might call a "feel-good" play, but it is an important, influential, and very moving portrait of how a family—without love and mutual understanding to hold it together—can fall apart at the seams.

What is The Glass Menagerie About and Why Should I Care?

OK, so you never lived in the Great Depression. We didn’t either. Or abandoned your family for Jolly-Roger-style adventure. But have you ever called your mother a mean name in the heat of the moment? Or tried to live your own personal life but gotten hassled about it?

So you can totally appreciate Tom’s situation. We mean, the guy is twenty-one and stuck in a little apartment with a mother who won’t let him drink and a sister who is desperately single. Can you imagine trying to juggle all that? Toss in dreams of being a writer, the fact that your father abandoned you, and a boring job in a shoe warehouse. The point is, things suck for Tom. But at the same time, he really has an obligation – the family will completely suffer without him. Pretty compelling, if you ask us.

The Glass Menagerie Resources

Movie or TV Productions

1950 Movie
This version of The Glass Menagerie took some liberties with Tennessee Williams’s original script.

1973 Movie
A film version of The Glass Menagerie with Katharine Hepburn as Amanda.

1987 Movie
This film adaptation of the play was directed by Paul Newman and stars John Malkovich as Tom.

Images

Another Stage Set-up
Welcome to the Wingfield living room.

An Older Playbill
This playbill has pictures of the four main characters.

Tennessee Williams
Here’s the man himself, writing.

Documents

"somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond"
Check out the full e.e. cummings poem that the epigraph comes from.

"in time of daffodils"
Now check out the poem we were talking about with the daffodils and jonquils in it.