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Theatre / The Glass Menagerie

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The Glass Menagerie is a play by Tennessee Williams set in St. Louis, Missouri, in the 1930's. The play is an important part of the American theatrical repertoire and continues to be performed successfully by both professional and amateur theatres.

The play centers around the Wingfields: Amanda, Tom, and Laura. Their relationship has become strained since Mr. Wingfield left them. While Tom works in a warehouse to support the family, he dreams of leaving home and frequently watches movies in cheap theaters. Amanda obsesses over finding a suitor for Laura, while Laura herself is so shy that she locks herself up and admires the (titular) collection of glass animal figurines she keeps.


Tennessee Williams based the play on his own family; he himself is the basis for the character of Tom, his mother for Amanda, and his sister (who in real life suffered from Schizophrenia) for the character of Laura.

This play provides examples of:

  • Aloof Big Brother: Tom, although more to his mother than to his sister.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Laura's disorder is never named, but she may be suffering from anxiety disorder and/or mild schizophrenia. Her poor social skills and fixation on glass figurines could indicate some form of autism.
  • Author Avatar: The play is semi-autobiographical: Tom is Tennessee Williams himself, Laura is his mentally disabled sister Rose, and Amanda is his mother.
  • Beautiful All Along: Laura. Cruelly subverted that just after she made an indication that she could do so, the crushing blow of The Reveal was so much that she went back to Shrinking Violet territory.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The play opens with Tom explaining to the audience that the play is based on his memories.
    • After Tom's first speech, the literal fourth wall of the apartment lifts.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: The subtext was definitely there in the movie remake, although very nonexistent in the original play.
  • Deadpan Snarker: A few of Tom's lines.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Tom, in his monologue in the end.
  • Disappeared Dad: Mr. Wingfield.
  • Downer Ending: Not only is Jim already engaged, Tom finally decides he has had it and abandons his family.
  • The Film of the Book: Several adaptations of varying quality. The two theatrical versions, Irving Rapper's 1950 film with Gertrude Lawrence, Arthur Kennedy, Jane Wyman and a young Kirk Douglas, and a 1987 adaptation, directed by Paul Newman and starring Joanne Woodward and John Malkovich, have mixed critical reputations. A 1973 TV version starring Katharine Hepburn and Sam Waterston is much better-regarded.
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  • Flower Motifs: Blue roses and jonquils.
  • Generation Xerox: Tom abandons his mother and sister, just like his father.
  • Hikikomori: Laura.
  • Informed Flaw: Laura being crippled. It doesn't show, though supposedly she wore a brace in high school.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Amanda boasts on and on about the seventeen gentlemen callers she had back in her youth.
  • Jerkass: Amanda. Tom, too, but for good reason.
  • The Last Straw: Amanda yelling at Tom for inviting a man who's already engaged, which causes Tom to leave.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Jim keeps bringing up "If you were my sister" to Laura.
  • Lonely Doll Girl: Laura, with her collection of glass figures.
  • Make a Wish: Played with. Tom assumed Amanda's wish on the moon would be a gentleman caller for Laura, but was actually the best for her children. Both wishes are subverted when the potential suitor Tom finds turns out to be taken and neither Tom nor Laura are happy in the end.
  • My Beloved Smother: Amanda.
  • Minimalist Cast: The play only features four characters.
  • Nice Guy: Jim. In fact, that's Tennessee William's whole character description of Jim.
  • Old Maid: The implication is that if Jim doesn't marry Laura, she's doomed to a life of spinsterhood. He doesn't.
  • Out, Damned Spot!: Tom's whole reason for telling this story is that he feels guilty for abandoning his family.
  • Parental Abandonment: Mr. Wingfield.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Tom doesn't tell Jim that the dinner is supposed to introduce Jim as a suitor to Laura. Jim is already engaged.
  • Priceless Ming Vase: The glass menagerie itself, especially the little unicorn. Not Played for Laughs.
  • The Reveal: Jim is already engaged.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The entire plan to bring Jim to a "casual dinner" is ruined, and their sacrifices are made in complete vain.
  • Shrinking Violet: Laura. She's so shy that being in a typing class caused her to vomit.
  • Source Music: The theater near the tenement. Its music conveniently stops during The Reveal.
  • Southern Belle: Amanda, also see above.


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