"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).
Amanda’s figure is made more sympathetic because her husband abandoned her.
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 displayed no regret as to his failed marriage with Amanda.
"There was young Champ Laughlin who later became vice president of the Delta Planters Bank. Hadley Stevenson who was drowned in Moon Lake and left his widow one hundred and fifty thousand in government bonds. There were the Cutrere brothers, Wesley and Bates. Bates was one of my bright particular beaux! He got in a quarrel with that wild Wainwright boy. They shot it out on the floor of Moon Lake Casino. Bates was shot through the stomach. Died in the ambulance on his way to Memphis. His widow was also well provided-for, came into eight or ten thousand acres, that’s all. She married him on the rebound – never loved her – carried my picture on him the night he died! And there was that boy that every girl in the Delta had set her cap for! That beautiful, brilliant young Fitzhugh boy from Green County!" (1.29, Amanda).
Amanda’s lengthy description of other marriages hints at a sadness as to her own failed marriage.
"That Fitzhugh boy went North and made a fortune – came to be known as the Wolf of Wall Street! He has the Midas touch, whatever he touched turned to gold! And I could have been Mrs. Duncan J. Fitzhugh, mind you! But – I picked your father!" (1.33, Amanda).
Amanda sees her other potential marriages as lost opportunities.
"Mother's afraid I'm going to be an old maid." (1.38, Laura).
Laura recognizes clearly which life goals her mother has assigned to her.
"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).
Just as she believes it is the duty of the man to bring home money, Amanda thinks it is Laura’s duty to marry.
"I didn’t care for the girl that he went out with. Emily Meisenbach. Emily was the best-dressed girl at Soldan. She never struck me, though, as being sincere…It says in the Personal Section – they’re engaged. That’s – six years ago! They must be married by now." (2.45, Laura).
Laura subtly envies what she thinks is another woman’s marriage to Jim.
"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 sees marriage as a tool for Laura’s safety and security.
"When people have some slight disadvantage like that, they cultivate other things to male up for it - develop charm - and vivacity - and - charm! That's all you have to do!" [She turns again to the photograph]. "One thing your father always had plenty of – was charm!" (2.50, Amanda).
Despite his having left her, Amanda’s comments with regard to her husband are all attempts at being positive.
"After the fiasco at Rubicam’s Business college, the idea of getting a gentlemen caller for Laura began to play a more important part in mother’s calculations. It became an obsession. Like some archetype of the universal unconscious, the image of the gentleman caller haunted our small apartment…" (3.1, Tom).
Just as Tom pursues escape, an ultimately unobtainable goal, so Amanda pursues what is eventually unobtainable as well: a husband for Laura.
Now we see Amanda; her hair is in metal curlers and she is wearing a very old bathrobe, much too large for her slight figure, a relic of the faithless Mr. Wingfield. (Scene Three, stage directions).
Amanda’s failed marriage is ever-present throughout the play, adding to her desperation to find a husband for Laura.
"There’s so many things in my heart that I cannot describe to you! I’ve never told you but I—loved your father…"
[gentle]: "I know that, Mother." (4.61, 4.62, Amanda and Tom).
For Amanda, marriage is not necessarily associated with love.
"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 thinks about marriage and gender roles in very traditional ways.
"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).
Amanda sees a husband for Laura as a replacement for the role Tom currently plays.
"Down at the warehouse, aren’t there—nice young men?" (4.97, Amanda).
Amanda places on Tom the responsibility to find Laura a husband.
"Lots of fellows meet girls whom they don’t marry!"
"Oh, talk sensibly, Tom—and don’t be sarcastic!" (5.82, 5.83).
Amanda uses older and more traditional ideas on dating and marriage, in contrast to Tom.
"That is the way such things are handled to keep a young woman from making a tragic mistake!"
"Then how did you happen to make a tragic mistake?"
"That innocent look of your father’s has everyone fooled! He smiled—the world was enchanted! No girl can do worse than put herself at the mercy of a handsome appearance! I hope that Mr. O’Connor is not too good-looking." (5.101-5.103).
Amanda has very specific requirements for Laura’s potential husband, many of them deriving from the quirks of her own marriage.
"All of my gentlemen callers were sons of planters and so of course I assumed that I would be married to one and raise my family on a large piece of lad with plenty of servants. But man proposes—and woman accepts the proposal! To vary that old, old saying a little bit—I married no planter! I married a man who worked for a telephone company! That gallantly smiling man over there! A telephone man who—fell in love with long distance! Now he travels and I don’t even know where!" (6.139, Amanda).
Even in the presence of guests, Amanda can not stop from discussing her absent husband.
"It said in the ‘Personal’ section that you were—engaged!"
"I know, but I wasn’t impressed by that—propaganda!"
"It wasn’t—the truth?"
"Only in Emily’s optimistic opinion!" (7.171-7.174).
The Glass Menagerie presents marriage as an institution pursued primarily by women.