Study Guide

The Glass Menagerie Gender

By Tennessee Williams

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"Resume your seat, little sister – I want you to stay fresh and pretty – for gentlemen callers!" (1.14, Amanda).

Amanda believes in the importance of a woman’s appearance.

"One Sunday afternoon in Blue Mountain – your mother received – seventeen! – gentlemen callers! Why, sometimes there weren’t enough chairs to accommodate them all. We had to send the n***** over to bring in folding chairs from the parish house." (1.21, Amanda).

Amanda judges a woman’s worth by how much attention she receives from men.

Image on screen, Amanda as a girl on a porch, greeting callers. (Stage directions, Scene One).

Amanda’s character is largely defined by her former attractiveness to men.

"They knew how to entertain their gentlemen callers. It wasn’t enough for a girl to be possessed of a pretty face and a graceful figure – although I wasn’t slighted in either respect. She also needed to have a nimble wit and a tongue to meet all occasions." (1.27, Amanda).

Amanda assigns certain responsibilities to her daughter and her son, according to their genders.

"No, dear, you go in front and study your typewriter chart. Or practice your shorthand a little. Stay fresh and pretty! - It's almost time for our gentlemen callers to start arriving. [She flounces girlishly toward the kitchenette] How many do you suppose we're going to entertain this afternoon?" (1.35, Amanda).

Amanda’s repeated instructions to ‘stay fresh and pretty’ underscore the value she places on attractiveness for women.

"Mother’s afraid I’m going to be an old maid." (1.38, Laura).

Laura recognizes clearly the gender roles she is expected to fill, and her mother’s fears that she may fail to do so.

"I know so well what becomes of unmarried woman who aren't prepared to occupy a position. I've seen such pitiful cases in the South - barely tolerated spinsters living upon the grudging patronage of sister's husband or brother's wife! - stuck away in some little mousetrap of a room - encouraged by one in-law to visit another - little birdlike women without any nest - eating the crust of humility all their life!

Is that the future that we've mapped out for ourselves? I swear it's the only alternative I can think of! [She pauses.] It isn't a very pleasant alternative, is it? [She pauses again.] Of course - some girls do marry." (2.34, Amanda).

Amanda uses the gender roles of her own time to prescribe certain goals and desires for her daughter.

"Girls that aren't cut out for business careers usually wind up married to some nice man. [She gets up with a spark of revival.] Sister, that's what you'll do!" (2.46, Amanda.)

Amanda gets her thoughts on gender roles from observing the outside world.

"...she conducted a vigorous campaign on the telephone, roping in the subscribers to one of those magazines for matrons called The Homemaker’s Companion, the type of journal that features the serialized sublimations of ladies of letters who think in terms of delicate cuplike breasts, slim, tapering waists, rich, creamy thighs, eyes like wood smoke in autumn, fingers that soothe and caress like strains of music, bodies as powerful as Etruscan sculpture." (3.1, Tom).

Amanda’s work is rooted in the same gender roles that fuel her goals for her daughter.

"I guess she’s the type that people call home girls."

"There’s no such type, and if there is, it’s a pity! That is unless the home is hers, with a husband." (4.88, 4.99, Tom and Amanda).

Amanda rates a woman’s worth by her marital status. Interestingly enough, she never addresses where this leaves her herself.

"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).

Because of gender stereotyping, Amanda makes it Tom’s responsibility to look out for his older sister Laura.

"I put her in business college-a dismal failure! Frightened so it made her sick at the stomach. I took her over to the Young People's League at the church. Another fiasco. She spoke to nobody, nobody spoke to her. Now all she does is fool with those pieces of glass and play those worn-out records. What kind of life is that for a girl to lead?" (4.93, Amanda).

Amanda’s plans for Laura are based not on a desire for her daughter’s own satisfaction, but a fulfillment of the gender roles she sees in the world around her.

"Do you realize he’s the first young man we’ve introduced to your sister? It’s terrible, disgraceful that poor little sister has never received a single gentleman caller!" (5. 61, Amanda).

Amanda places the responsibility on Tom to help Laura fulfill the duties of her gender.

"Character’s what to look for in a man." (5.107, Amanda).

While Amanda values looks for women, she does not for men.

"However, he’ll know about Laura when he gets here. When he sees how lovely and sweet and pretty she is, he’ll thank his lucky stars he was asked to dinner." (5.119, Amanda).

While Amanda inquires as to Jim’s character and job, she still sees Laura’s appeal as being in her looks.

Amanda produces two powder puffs which she wraps in handkerchiefs and stuffs in Laura’s bosom. (Scene Six, stage directions).

While Jim will later recognize Laura for her individuality, Amanda tries to make her into a cookie-cutter woman.

"You make it seem like we were setting a trap."

"All pretty girls are a trap, a pretty trap, and men expect them to be."

Legend on screen: "A Pretty Trap." (6.14, 6.15, Laura and Amanda, Scene Six stage directions).

Amanda believes in using looks, not personality, to attract men.

"Now look at yourself, young lady. This is the prettiest you will ever be!" (6.15, Amanda).

Amanda takes pride in physical appearance over all else.

"It’s rare for a girl as sweet an’ pretty as Laura to be domestic! But Laura is, thank heavens, not only pretty but also very domestic." (6.139, Amanda).

Amanda exaggerates and fabricates qualities to make her daughter seem more attractive.

"Look how big my shadow is when I stretch!" (7.214, Jim).

While Laura doesn’t fit the gender roles prescribed to her, Jim fits a typical masculine role.

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