Constant Reader
WebBoardOrientationReading ListsHome WorksActivities

The Glass Menagerie
by Tennessee Williams

The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
One-act drama by Tennessee Williams, produced in 1944 and published in 1945. Considered by some critics to be Williams' finest drama, The Glass Menagerie launched his career. Amanda Wingfield lives in a St. Louis tenement, clinging to the myth of her early years as a Southern belle. Her daughter Laura, who wears a leg brace, is painfully shy and often seeks solace in her collection of small glass animals. Amanda's son Tom is desperate to escape his stifling home life and his warehouse job. Amanda encourages him to bring "gentleman callers" home to his sister. When Tom brings Jim O'Connor for dinner, Amanda believes that her prayers have been answered. Laura blossoms during Jim's visit, flattered by his attention. After kissing her, however, he confesses that he is engaged. Laura retreats to her shell, and Amanda blames Tom, who leaves home for good after a final fight with his mother.

From: Sigrid Macdonald Date: Friday, October 01, 2004 08:41 PM Hello! It's October :-) Guess that I will be the first one to post about the Glass Menagerie. Firstly, I must say that I love everything by Tennessee Williams. He has always been one of my favorite playwrights, and this play is really magnificent. No matter how often I reread it or go back and watch the movie, I always learn something new. The last time I saw the movie was probably last year. I remember feeling so sorry for Laura and her paralyzing insecurities. Katharine Hepburn did an outstanding job as the overbearing Southern Belle, and I think Sam Waters from Law and Order played Tom. I always have ambivalent feelings at the end of this play. On one hand, I want Tom to escape from his dead end, stifling life. On the other hand, it seems like such a cowardly act to abandon his mother and sister when they are both so needy. Moreover, it is as though history was bound to repeat itself and that Tom would disappear just the way his father did. Who could blame him? But it's hard to envision how the two women were going to survive without his salary and the sense of reality that he brought to the house. I'd love to hear other people's comments and interpretations :-) Sigrid PS I also find this play really funny, especially the character of the mother.
From: Robert Armstrong Date: Friday, October 01, 2004 08:57 PM Haven’t re-read this play yet, but I intend to this week. Several years ago I saw Julie Harris on stage playing Amanda Wingfield. She was marvellous and heartbreaking at the end. I have several younger sisters, one of whom is vulnerable and fragile, so this play has special meaning for me. Robt
From: Dottie Randall Date: Friday, October 01, 2004 10:22 PM I reread this a week or so ago and though I dearly love reading plays -- and rereading them -- and love this on film, I have to say that reading it this time left me wishing for something more. I don't remember this as such a slight play -- or is it just that the film has such an impact? The edition I had had an introductory passage by Williams in which he defended the use of the signboard which he wrote into this play and which device was not used in the first productions -- maybe it said somewhere that it was not used in any productions, I don't know. I only know that the directions for that d______ signboard interfered with my staying inside the play. In hindsight I wonder if it might not have caused the same thing to happen for an audience were it to be utilized. At any rate, for this or whatever other reasons, I was disappointed in my response to this one this time around. It could just be me and the timing of this reading, of course. I'm highly distracted overall these days. Still -- having raised the question during the Long Day's Journey Into Night discussion of whether or not some attempt would be made to compare these two plays as we had thought of doing when the two were nominated in tandem -- sort of -- I feel Glass Menagerie suffers a bit next to LDJ -- and that is after rereading it when I didn't even have time to reread LDJ. What do you all think? What about these two mothers? Dottie Look at the trouble love brings. Look at the mess it makes. Alice Hoffman, Here On Earth
From: Ann Davey Date: Saturday, October 02, 2004 09:30 AM Sigrid, Dottie, and Robt, I plan on reading the Glass Menagerie, but I need to pick up a copy at the library first. Thanks for getting the discussion started. Ann
From: Sigrid Macdonald Date: Saturday, October 02, 2004 06:56 PM Dottie, I haven't read that play by O'Neill yet but I just put my name in for it at the library after I read the thread from September. Maybe I shouldn't say this without reading O'Neill first, but perhaps it's like comparing apples to oranges. Sounds as though O'Neill was tackling entirely different demons. As Robert said here in this discussion, he could relate to the frailty of Laura. I have a friend who has agoraphobia and who has not left her house -- literally! -- in years. She has a much stronger personality than Laura but in the end, she is powerless against her panic attacks, thus, she is completely isolated from the world. I love the title of this play, just as I loved the scene where Jim accidentally broke one of Laura's glass menageries. The symbolism was really great: Jim breaking into Laura's private world, Laura opening up her heart again only to have it crushed, Jim's exuberance and extreme confidence contrasted with Laura's meekness and insecurity. I will read O'Neill before I make any further comments on his work. LOL. Sigrid Http://
From: Sheila Ash Date: Sunday, October 03, 2004 06:20 AM Sadly I missed the reading and discussion of Long Day's Journey into Night and I do so much want to read this one as I have actually never read it. I am going to try and squeeze it in amongst the other stuff of life at the moment. I love TW both on stage and on film - StreetCar, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, LDJN and GM are all excellent films (no not just excellent, more than that....) and I had the pleasure of seeing a marvellous stage version of LDJN with Timothy West in London some years back now. However, coincidently I am just reading a book by Philip Gaskell entitled A New Introduction to Bibliography - a bit of very dry, heavyweight reading - for my studies and came across a passage referring to The Glass Menagerie, which I have to say made the reading material interesting for a bit! Given the current reading I thought it might be of interest. It reads; There were four distinct stages in the composition of Tenessee William’s The glass menagerie (1) a short story called ‘Portrait of a girl in glass’ written before 1943 (2) the play in an early version, also written before 1943, of which about one third survives in manuscript (3) the revised version of the play, longer than (2) which was written c. 1943 and published in 1945, and was called by Williams the ‘reading version’ (4) the acting version published in 1948 and in a later version, representing the play as performed and containing over 1,100 verbal changes from (3). Here too an editor will have to choose a particular version; and it may be added that, should he decide upon (3), his evidence will include a 105 page manuscript containing ten different kinds of paper, written on at least six different typewriters, with four different kinds of handwritten pencil or ink revisions, and probably representing eight to ten layers of revision. My version of GM is Penguin's 1988 reprint which unfortunately does not give any readers notes on the text version. Sheila
From: Ian Cragg Date: Friday, October 08, 2004 06:19 PM Something that occurred to me the other day: while Long Day's Journey was written first, it was published some 8 years after Menagerie was first performed. I suspect that to anybody who followed the theatre, when LDJ came out it would have seemed a little more ponderous and old-fashioned in its staging, whereas Williams comes across as trying to be innovative for the sake of it and just doesn't have the same sense of control as O'Neill. What is interesting, however, is that both plays have very prescriptive stage directions, down to how the actors should react to a given line or make a certain gesture. From reading the other plays in my edition of the Williams (Sweet Bird of Youth and Streetcar Named Desire) I get the impression that Williams was perhaps born a generation too early- he's trying to tell stories in a way which film and television can do better than the theatre, particularly when it comes to staging. All three of the plays have indoor and outdoor scenes, as well as rooms within rooms. I can't help feeling, though, that the obsession with innovation and being different in Menagerie makes it a weaker play- it's an object lesson in why cinema and television have taken over from the theatre for most people.
From: Ernest Belden Date: Sunday, October 10, 2004 12:14 AM I am still waiting for the G.M. to arrive at our local library. I do recall reading the play years ago but this is about all I remember. Looking forward to a good read! Ernie
From: Robert Armstrong Date: Sunday, October 10, 2004 10:34 AM THE GLASS MENAGERIE is slight but perfect to me. Very moving. No matter how many times I’ve read it and seen it, this delicate little play still washes over me like a wave and takes me with it. I have an edition of the reading version. Ian makes a good observation that both LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT and THE GLASS MENAGERIE have specific and extensive stage notes. The degree of notes may be partly because it’s the reading version of TGM, which would naturally have expanded stage explanations, and perhaps Eugene O’Neill was so specific with his notes because it was intended for posthumous publication and he would have no chance for further input on any production of LDJIN. In both cases, I am grateful for the notes as they add a lot to my understanding. Tom’s abandonment of his mother and sister is what haunts me, and what haunted Tennessee Williams for many years as it was essentially autobiographical. In the edition I’m reading it says: “COPYRIGHT 1945 BY TENNESSEE WILLIAMS AND EDWINA D. WILLIAMS,” who is the author’s mother. A fitting restitution. This is my recollection of TW’s life: Williams’ real sister, Rose, experienced a mental breakdown after she was abandoned by him and tragically was institutionalized and given a frontal lobotomy. Williams made sure Rose was given quality care for the rest of her life with the money he made as a playwright, and he visited her frequently, but she was limited in her ability to relate to him. Another autobiographical aspect that is haunting is Amanda Wingfield’s fear and obsession with alcoholism. From Scene Four: AMANDA: Promise, son, you’ll—never be a drunkard! TOM: [turns to her grinning]: I will never be a drunkard, Mother. In real life Williams’ became a notorious alcoholic and was drunk for much of his later life. Both times I met TW he was loaded. Robt
From: Beej Connor Date: Monday, October 11, 2004 09:49 PM I'm sure Barb won't mind if I post here that, if you like TW, we're due to discuss his short story, 'The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin,' beginning Sunday. (I was browsing the CR homepage and just noticed this.) Beej
From: Robert Armstrong Date: Friday, October 15, 2004 06:26 PM Regarding a comparison between Amanda Wingfield of THE GLASS MENAGERIE and Mary Tyrone of LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT I’d say the common factor is their need for illusion. Both have been disappointed in marriage, both are dealing with potential tragedy with their children, and as a defense they retreat into their youth which seems to them a far better place than the present. Mary cannot face the news that her son Edmund has consumption, the same disease that killed her father. She also has the tragedy of her own morphine addiction, as well as her husband’s professional decline and entrenched niggardliness, and her son Jamie’s debauchery, failure and cynicism. As for Amanda, she struggles to find hope amidst her daughter’s inability to engage in the outside world, the abandonment by her husband, and her financial and emotional dependence upon a son whom she suspects is about to skip town. Ouch. The past looks pretty good even from here. Besides being a simpler and safer setting, the illusion of the past allows Mary to reclaim innocence, hopefulness and social acceptability which she lost with her morphine addiction. Amanda would like to luxuriate in financial stability, social prominence, and a sense of erotic fun and adventure. What differentiates the two women is that while Amanda flirts with and indulges in the illusion of her seventeen gentlemen callers, she is still grounded in the practical necessity of having to sell magazine subscriptions, send her daughter to business school or find her a husband, and otherwise play the prodding, meddlesome mother to two unconventional children. Amanda is the one who is holding the family together and trying against all odds to make things work. However, Mary Tyrone has lost her efficacy and contribution, and during the course of the play her relationship to the past slips from illusion to delusion. At play’s end, Amanda stands at the abyss, whereas Mary has fallen in. Robt
From: Barbara Moors Date: Sunday, October 17, 2004 10:22 AM Oh good, Beej, I'm glad you posted that note about "The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin" by Tennessee Williams discussion starting today. It's in the collection The Best American Short Stories of the Century on page 312. I scheduled it for this week on purpose to have it paired with The Glass Menagerie. I finally finished At Swim, Two Boys (a magnificent novel) for the Reading List this morning and will be immersed in Williams next. Barb
From: Ernest Belden Date: Thursday, October 21, 2004 01:35 AM After Robert Armstrong's discussion of these two plays, there is little left one can ad. He did a truly great job of comparing and making sense of these two plays. I am touched by the tragedies these two families experience. But, I also believe that such tragedies are not rare. Perhaps the run of the mill, unfortunate, tragic, family, is the family next door. The curtains are drawn over the windows so the neighbors won't suspect what's going on. Some, or many members of families, torment each other with the believe that it is their responsibility to straighten each other out. They see themselves in a remedial role and are unaware that they are bring driven by either their own early experiences or their basic nature. So they are all victims of one sort or another, carrying the burden of their desperation and confusion. Ernie
From: Robert Armstrong Date: Thursday, October 21, 2004 10:33 AM Thank you, Ernie, for your remarks! Robt
From: Barbara Moors Date: Friday, October 22, 2004 04:18 PM This is a wonderful play. I think I liked Williams' use of the screen in the notes. The only reason I qualify that comment is that I wonder if I would have been even more immersed in the story than I was without it. However, I had a perfect visualization of what he intended and it could have given a sense of emotional relief from the intensity. After all of the rewrites that Sheila described in her notes, it is obvious that he must have agonized over its use and yet it is still present in the 10th printing of the New Directions edition that I read. I hesitate to bring this issue up since it inserts a political bent to the discussion and departs from the literary. However, I am overwhelmed by the lack of power in the lives of both Amanda in this play and Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey into Night. They both have rested all of their hopes on their husbands and have been disappointed. In Mary Tyrone's case, we can argue about how justified this disappointment is. However, the point is that neither of them seemed to have the skills or ability to make a life and provide for themselves. It makes me remember my father's admonition to acquire the skills to support myself; it was one of the few pieces of advice that I heard at an early age. Both of their lives and the burden that it placed on their children make me shudder. Barb
From: Ernest Belden Date: Friday, October 22, 2004 11:48 PM Barb, I could not agree with you more. A thought went through my mind these last couple of days about what the plays have in common and what preoccupied the creates. I'd call it "Being Trapped" by feeling love, responsibility and last but not least, the wish to escape. A family can readily turn into a trap in spite of all the good will and love that it contains. If the the dominant member of the family has the good common sense and at least for a moment detaches himself (herself) from their emotions, they may find a way out. Objectivity is a rare quality and hard to come by but is also a necessity in having a happy family. Another family problem are the escapes available to the members. There are drugs, alcohol physical or mental escapes, to mention a few. Most of these are deadly. Ernie
From: Barbara Moors Date: Saturday, October 23, 2004 04:24 PM Excellent points, Ernie. As I thought about these women, they seemed to both be villains at some level. They caused pain in their children that made me flinch. But, it all seemed to be the result of their disappointment in their lives. Since their husbands had not made them proud or happy, their children were left with that burden. When they also did not produce, both women wanted to punish them at some level. There seemed to be this constant war between love and anger. Barb
From: Ann Davey Date: Sunday, November 07, 2004 09:56 AM I finally had time to finish The Glass Menagerie. Once more I have to thank Classics Corner (Robt, did you nominate this?) for giving me the nudge to read a wonderful work of literature. Although I've heard about this play for years, I probably never would have read it on my own. As usual, I waited to read the notes until I had finished the play. Thank you all for your insightful comments. Although I have seen other Williams plays performed, I chose not to watch the movie version. I may have felt differently about the characters if I had seen a particular actor's interpretation. I am curious. Did someone say that the signs and pictures were never used in actual stage productions? Barb, like yours, my father always wanted me to have something practical to "fall back on" so that I could support myself. I, of course, always assumed that I would make my own way. I think you are right that Amanda's and Mary's lives were twisted by the fact that they were so dependent on disappointing men. Their society didn't give them many options for independence, and this also put a heavy burden on their husbands. Intellectually, I can have some sympathy for Amanda, but on an emotional level I dislike her intensely. It is hard for me to relate to her escapist fantasy life, and her manipulative behavior is very damaging to her children. How difficult it must have been for Laura to have a mother who tells her that she has to remain fresh and pretty for gentleman callers who have hitherto never even made an appearance. Laura is constantly reminded of her inadequacies by her mother, who wants her (as many parents do) to complete her own unfulfilled fantasies. She lays tremendous guilt trips on her son and daughter. That said, I do realize that Amanda's emotional problems are in some ways as serious as Laura's. As for Tom leaving, I don't feel he had a choice. The home situation was suffocating, and I think he had a right to save himself, although he had an obligation to try to help the women financially. Finally, although I also liked A Long Day's Journey, I think I prefer this play. It is more delicate, there are at least two sympathetic characters in Laura and the gentleman caller, and the language is more lyrical. I really like the final soliloquy. Tom's words stay with me: "I didn't go to the moon, I went much further - for time is the longest distance between two places." "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." "Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be."
From: Robert Armstrong Date: Sunday, November 07, 2004 11:48 AM Ann, Yes, I nominated this play. The production I saw with Julie Harris as Amanda was without the slide projections, but I believe the original play on Broadway had them. I liked your assessment of Amanda. Julie Harris softened the character, made her clueless in a way, and a doomed creature surviving on denial. Evidently the original Amanda, Laurette Taylor, was one of the great performances of the stage. Robt

Tennessee Williams
Tennessee Williams

In Association with