Study Guide

The Glass Menagerie Family

By Tennessee Williams

Family

"A blown-up photograph of the father hangs on the wall of the living room, to the left of the archway. It is the face of a very handsome young man in a doughboy's First World War cap. He is gallantly smiling, ineluctably smiling, as if to say, "I will be smiling forever." (stage directions, Scene One).

Although he is absent physically, Tom and Laura’s father remains an ever-present member of the family.

There is a fifth character in the play who doesn't appear except in this larger-than-life-size photograph over the mantel. This is our father who left us a long time ago. He was a telephone man who fell in love with long distances; he gave up his job with the telephone company and skipped the light fantastic out of town…

The last we heard of him was a picture postcard from Mazatlan, on the Pacific coast of Mexico, containing a message of two words: "Hello – Goodbye!" and no address. (1.1, Tom).

Tom’s father has failed to fit the traditional role of father in the Wingfield family.

"Honey, don't push with your fingers. If you have to push something, the thing to push with is a crust of bread. And chew - chew! Animals have secretions in their stomach which enable them to digest food without mastication, but human beings are supposed to chew their food before they swallow it down. Eat food leisurely, son, and really enjoy it. A well-cooked meal has lots of delicate flavors that have to be held in the mouth for appreciation. So chew your food and give your salivary glands a chance to function!" (1.6, Amanda).

Amanda takes on an extremely mothering role towards her children, treating them as though they were still young.

"I haven't enjoyed one bite of this dinner because of your constant directions on how to eat it. It's you that make me rush through meals with your hawklike attention to every bite I take. Sickening - spoils my appetite - all this discussion of - animals' secretion - salivary glands - mastication!" (1.7, Tom).

Tom rebels against Amanda’s mothering as though he were a young child.

"You smoke too much." (1.10, Amanda). Amanda constantly harps on Tom with orders and complaints.

"I know what’s coming!"

`"Yes, but let her tell it."

"Again?"

"She loves to tell it."

(1.17-1.20, Tom and Laura).

Laura has a great understanding of her mother and brothers, and often serves as referee between them.

"It isn’t a flood, it’s not a tornado, Mother. I’m just not popular like you were in Blue Mountain." (1.38, Laura).

Laura and Amanda, because of their roles as mother and daughter, are often compared.

Seeing her mother’s expression, Laura touches her lips with a nervous gesture. (Scene Two, stage directions).

Laura feels guilty for being unable to please her mother.

"Oh! I felt so weak I could barely keep on my feet! I had to sit down while they got me a glass of water! Fifty dollars' tuition, all of our plans - my hopes and ambitions for you - just gone up the spout, just gone up the spout like that." (2.16, Amanda).

Amanda fails in her attempts to mold her children as she desires.

"Mother, when you’re disappointed, you get that awful suffering look on your face, like the picture of Jesus’ mother in the museum!" (2.31, Laura).

Laura often displays her insight into her mother’s moods and actions.

[in a tone of frightened apology]: "I'm crippled!"

"Nonsense, Laura, I've told you never, never to use that word. Why, you're not crippled, you just have a little defect - hardly noticeable, even! When people have some slight disadvantage like that, they cultivate other things to make up for it - develop charm - and vivacity - and - charm! That's all you have to do!" (2.47-2.50, Laura and Amanda).

Amanda has a mother’s unconditional love for her children, so much so that she is unable to see anything wrong with her daughter.

"Don’t you use that—"

"—supposed to do!"

"—expression, Not in my—"

"Ohhh!"

"—presence! Have you gone out of your senses?"

"I have, that’s true, driven out!" (3.4-3.9, Amanda and Tom).

Tom and Amanda frequently argue in stereotypical yelling matches of mother and son.

"You will hear more, you—"

"No, I won’t hear more, I’m going out!"

"You come right back in—"

"Out, out, out! Because I’m—"

"Come back here, Tom Wingfield! I’m not through talking to you!"

"Oh, go—"

[desperately]: "--Tom!" (3.22-3.28, Amanda, Tom, and Laura).

Laura watches helplessly as Tom and Amanda fight with each other.

She crosses through the portieres and draws them together behind her. Tom is left with Laura. Laura clings weakly to the mantel with her face averted. Tom stares at her stupidly for a moment. Then he crosses to the shelf. He drops awkwardly on his knees to collect the fallen glass, glancing at Laura as if he would speak but couldn’t. (Scene Three, stage directions).

Even while he is fighting with his mother, Tom maintains family loyalty and love for his sister.

[beseechingly]: "Tom, speak to Mother this morning. Make up with her, apologize, speak to her!" (4.16, Laura)

Laura frequently tries to intervene in Tom and Amanda’s fights.

A second later she cries out. Tom springs up and crosses to the door. Tom opens the door.

"Laura?"

"I'm all right. I slipped, but I'm all right." (Scene Four stage directions, 4.29, 4.30, Tom and Laura).

Tom displays a brotherly concern and protective attitude toward his sister Laura.

[hoarsely]: "Mother. I—I apologize, Mother."

Amanda draws a quick, shuddering breath. Her face works grotesquely. She breaks into childlike tears.

"I’m sorry for what I said, for everything that I said, I didn’t mean it."

[sobbingly]: "My devotion has made me a witch and so I make myself hateful to my children!" (4.32, Tom, Scene Four stage directions, 4.33, Amanda).

Amanda struggles with doing what she believes is best for her children.

[with great enthusiasm]: "Try and you will succeed! [The notion makes her breathless.] Why, you – you’re just full of natural endowments! Both of my children—they’re unusual children! Don’t you think I know it? I’m so—proud! Happy and—feel I’ve—so much to be thankful for…" (4.39, Amanda).

Amanda has a mother’s unconditional love for her children, so much so that she is unable to see anything wrong with her children.

"You can’t put in a day’s work on an empty stomach. You’ve got ten minutes—don’t gulp! Drinking too-hot liquids makes cancer of the stomach…Put cream in." (4.47, Amanda).

Amanda, in her mothering, treats Tom as though he were a child.

"We have to do all that we can to build ourselves up. In these trying times we live in, all that we have to cling to is—each other…" (4.51, Amanda).

Amanda sees the family as a unit of support during tough times.

"A few days ago I came in and she was crying."

"What about?"

"You."

"Me?"

"She has an idea that you’re not happy here." (4.55-4.59, Amanda and Tom).

Just as Tom displays a brotherly concern for Laura, so she feels the same love and concern for her brother.

"And you—when I see you taking after his ways! Staying out late—and—well, you had been drinking the night you were in that—terrifying condition! Laura says that you hate the apartment and that you go out nights to get away from it! Is that true, Tom?" (4.63, Amanda).

While Amanda wants Laura to be more like she was, she fears that Tom will become like his father.

"Oh, I can see the handwriting on the wall as plain as I can see the nose in front of my face! It's terrifying! More and more you remind me of your father! He was out all hours without explanation!-Then left! Goodbye! And me with the bag to hold. I saw that letter you got from the Merchant Marine. I know what you're dreaming of. I'm not standing here blindfolded. Very well, then. Then do it! But not till there's somebody to take your place." (4.91, Amanda).

While Amanda wants Laura to be more like she was, she fears that Tom will become like his father.

"I mean that as soon as Laura has got somebody to take care of her, married, a home of her own, independent-why, then you'll be free to go wherever you please, on land, on sea, whichever way the wind blows you! But until that time you've got to look out for your sister. I don't say me because I'm old and don't matter! I say for your sister because she's young and dependent." (4.93, Amanda).

Despite all her nagging and otherwise unappealing qualities, Amanda displays a real selflessness with regard to her place in the Wingfield family.

"Where is your muffler! Put your wool muffler on!" (4.95, Amanda).

Amanda treats Tom as though he were a child.

"There is only one respect in which I would like you to emulate your father."

"What respect is that?"

"The care he always took of his appearance. He never allowed himself to look untidy." (5.3-5.5, Amanda and Tom).

Amanda repeatedly compares Tom to his father.

"I'll tell you what I wished for on the moon. Success and happiness for my precious children! I wish for that whenever there's a moon, and when there isn't a moon, I wish for it, too." (5.23, Amanda).

Amanda’s maternal instincts direct her every thought and desire.

"What are you doing?"

"I’m brushing that cowlick down! [She attacks his hair with the brush.] (5.82, 5.83, Tom and Amanda).

Amanda treats Tom as though he were a child.

"Laura seems all those things to you and me because she's ours and we love her. We don't even notice she's crippled anymore." (5.122, Tom).

Tom recognizes that familial love can be blinding and misleading.

"Laura Wingfield, you march right to that door!"

"Yes—yes, Mother!" (6.60, 6.61, Amanda and Laura).

Amanda orders and disciplines her children as though they were very young.

"How about your mother?"

"I'm like my father. The bastard son of a bastard! Did you notice how he's grinning in his picture in there? And he's been absent going in sixteen years!" (6.127, 6.128, Jim and Tom).

Tom recognizes that he has become similar to his father.

"That's right, now that you've had us all make such fools of ourselves. The effort, the preparations, all the expense! The new floor lamp, the rug, the clothes for Laura! All for what? To entertain some other girl's fiancé! Go to the movies, go! Don't think about us, an unmarried sister who's crippled and has no job! Don't let anything interfere with your selfish pleasure! Just go, go, go-to the movies!" (7.319, Amanda).

Amanda believes that being a member of a family generates certain obligations.

Tom’s closing speech is timed with what is happening inside the house. We see, as though through soundproof glass, that Amanda appears to be making a comforting speech to Laura, who is huddled upon the sofa. Now that we cannot hear the mother’s speech, she lifts her head to smile at her mother. Amanda’s gestures are slow and graceful, almost dance-like, as she comforts her daughter. At the end of the speech she glances a moment at the father’s picture—then withdraws through the portieres. At the close of Tom’s speech, Laura blows out the candles, ending the play.

Although Amanda often nags and bother her children, her very maternal instincts take on a positive light in the direst of circumstances

"I didn't go to the moon - I went much further-for time is the longest distance between two poles. Not long after that I was fired for writing a poem on the lid of a shoe-box. I left St. Louis. I descended the steps of this fire escape for a last time and followed, from then on, in my father's footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space." (7.321, Tom).

Tom recognizes that he is like his father.

"Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger-anything that can blow your candles out! For nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura--and so, goodbye… (7.321, Tom).

Tom is unable to relieve the guilt of having abandoned his sister.