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The Glass Menagerie | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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The Glass Menagerie | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


How does Laura's disability cause Amanda's disillusionment about the family's future in Scene 2 of The Glass Menagerie?

Laura's disability is one source of Amanda's disillusionment with her situation in life. Laura's flawed leg is a major cause of the young girl's introversion and retreat into a world of illusions instead of preparing to work in an office. In an effort to help her daughter join the world away from her glass animals Amanda has tried to get Laura to look beyond her disability instead of dwelling on it. She says to Laura, "cultivate other things to make up for it, like charm. That's all you have to do!" For Amanda interacting socially has always been easy, or so she says. In Scene 1 when Laura explains no young men will be calling that evening, Amanda says in disbelief, "Not one gentleman caller? It can't be true!" However, her judgmental attitude toward Laura's impairment is obvious when she retorts to Laura's cry, "I'm—crippled!" with "I've told you never, never to use that word." Amanda's words reveal she and her daughter have discussed this issue before. Because she has always treated the word crippled with shame, Amanda has never taught Laura how to accept her impairment as insignificant, and Amanda demonstrates she hasn't either. Instead, her insistence on hiding its presence continually reinforces her belief that Laura is not capable of much.

How does Laura's tolerance for her mother's stories in Scene 1 of The Glass Menagerie contrast with her mother's intolerance for her daughter's deception in Scene 2?

Laura is tolerant of her mother's stories because she is generally passive and does not want to confront her mother. She would rather listen to the story once again than offend Amanda by telling the truth, preferring to let her mother live in the past and in her illusions. Nor do the stories affect Laura personally. If she didn't want to hear them, she could tune them out as she attends to her glass animals, but she may actually seem to enjoy them, an attitude she reveals when she replies to Tom's frustrated "Again?" sigh with the resigned response, "She loves to tell it." On the other hand, Amanda displays no such tolerance, and her reaction to Laura's deception is as true to character as Laura's reaction is to her mother's story. Neither passive or accepting, Amanda will have no part of the deception. She plays the martyr, exactly as Laura has envisioned and caused her to deceive in the first place. Amanda is intolerant both of her daughter's character and of her social abilities; she will not face and accept that Laura has limitations and that she cannot function in reality. Yet Amanda, too, cannot function in reality but in a different way. While Laura retreats emotionally and physically to her glass menagerie, Amanda plows ahead, or backward to the past, ineffectually and destructively.

What message does Amanda's indifference to Laura's high school crush in Scene 2 of The Glass Menagerie give Laura about her marriage prospects?

Although it seems like a moment during which Laura might connect with Amanda and reveal her longing, Amanda brushes off Laura's enthusiasm in sharing a picture and information about a boy she liked in high school because her daughter is now nearly 24 years old. Amanda dismisses the attraction, seeing that it amounted to nothing because Laura never received a picture of Jim, only the portrait in the yearbook. If that relationship were going to blossom into anything like a marriage proposal, it would have by now. Her actions reveal the insignificance she places on Laura's high school crush, just as her sardonic words, "He must have a jolly disposition," reveal her scorn for this young man. To Amanda any relationship Laura might have had with this boy is as pointless as the shreds of hope she holds in her heart for Mr. Wingfield's return. Her indifference slashes another hole in her daughter's confidence, and her message underlines the inevitability that Laura will not marry.

How does the visual impact of Amanda's clothing as described in the stage directions for Scene 2 of The Glass Menagerie reveal her attitude and the reality of her situation?

Amanda's outdated clothes are worn from years of use and are now unappealing. The cloth coat with its fake fur is perhaps an attempt at fashion, for fur, even a collar, was a sign of prosperity. Amanda's, obviously, is false. Not only is her coat outdated, it is shabby, rather than good quality that has lasted. Her hat, too, is out of style, from the 1920s, but the best she can do. However, even though they are far from equal to the clothes she wore in her youth, Amanda might have chosen them because they mimic the style she once enjoyed, for financial reasons, or because they remind her of a more affluent past. Possibly, since the Wingfields were "somewhat set apart from the world of reality," as Tom says in his monologue introducing Scene 1, Amanda sees the clothes as she envisions them in her mind, not as they really are. However Amanda sees them, the clothes' visual impact spotlights the Wingfields' lack of money as well as Amanda's anger with their financial situation. She hides her displeasure behind a cheerfulness as false as the plated clasps on her purse. With her clothing Amanda demonstrates the nostalgic side of her personality, the pathetic details of her situation, and the feeble bravado she assumes to face society.

According to Tom's monologue at the beginning of Scene 3 in The Glass Menagerie, how does Amanda's obsession with a gentleman caller affect the Wingfield home atmosphere and family?

Throughout this monologue Tom emphasizes his mother's ability to manipulate not just her children's actions but also the moods and the atmosphere surrounding them. Tom and Laura understand Amanda's telephone magazine sales may give them the money to entertain the gentlemen callers Amanda has made it her mission to find. She has gone at it with a purpose, as Tom says, "Even when he wasn't mentioned his [the gentleman caller's] presence hung in mother's preoccupied look." Their mother is convinced that finding her daughter a husband is the solution to their financial future. The thought of this yet-to-be- identified man has exacerbated Laura's anxiety, turning her into a bundle of frayed nerves. Tom says her "frightened, apologetic manner" defines his sister's demeanor, an attitude remaining since she disappointed her mother by not earning a business certificate. By choosing the narrator role to show the emotions that dominate the family's daily lives, Tom is distancing himself from the situation, yet he is obviously upset at his mother's new obsession because it hurts his sister.

How does Tennessee Williams use Tom as a kind of Greek chorus throughout The Glass Menagerie?

As spectators of the action in Greek drama, the chorus has the literary license to comment on the characters as well as the plot and conflicts. Similar to stage directions, they tell readers/viewers about the characters' feelings and opinions. It would take dramatists numerous monologues and dialogues to show these same details; instead, Tom as narrator can briefly explain Amanda wore a "preoccupied look." As an outsider, the author allows Tom to give readers the visuals they need instead of taking up parenthetical stage directions that break the flow of the dialogue and action, like his explanation of Laura's terror at her mother's obsession with finding a gentleman caller. Tom offers even more insight from his dual role as a one-person Greek chorus and character in the play. In his first monologue he explains that the dialogue and action emanate from his remembrances of the latter days of his life with his mother and sister, and therefore are subjective. Also he informs readers or spectators about the play's lack of reality compared to the "real" world outside of their apartment. As the play develops, his narrator monologues reveal how Laura is as fragile as her glass animals, how Amanda lives in her memories of a world long past, and how her control has turned the apartment into his coffin. Although the audience can see various emotions in the characters' body language, the chorus technique adds a personal touch, as if Tom is speaking directly to each viewer. His narrations, all from the distance of the fire escape, also set up the situations and focus the viewers' thoughts on the forthcoming actions and reactions, as well as remind readers and viewers that what they will see and hear are his perspectives of his mother, sister, and himself, and his interpretations of the events.

How does Scene 3 of The Glass Menagerie develop the concept that Tom and Amanda, as well as Laura, are confined in their situations like glass animals?

All three characters are trapped in their existence. Laura's anxieties and introversion keep her behind the walls of her metaphoric glass menagerie. The collection of animals is hers, and she is the character most associated with them. Like them, she functions only inside the apartment, away from the real world. Unlike her mother and brother, she is not unhappy where she has chosen to remain. From his first interaction with his mother in Scene 1, Tom has demonstrated exasperation with his mother's relentless control and frustration with her repeated remembrances. He introduces the coffin image to describe his life in their home and at the warehouse when he shouts about how "lucky dead people are." During the fight he states he has nothing of his own, not even library books, which Amanda confiscates, or his salary, which pays their bills. These words and images place Tom in a type of confinement from which he seeks escape, unlike his sister, also entrapped but unable to think of freedom. Amanda, too, feels trapped in a life of poverty she never expected. She is trapped in reliving the past, her major source of pleasure, as she must face the reality of the present. In the present she is angry and disappointed that Laura dropped out of school and has no marketable skills. Her fears that Tom will leave or jeopardize his job by drinking make her tighten her control of him even more. Tom breaks some of his sister's fragile animals at the end of the scene, but even this action doesn't cause the family's separate, confining walls to crack. Although Laura cries out, "My glass!—menagerie," she hides her face in her hands, Amanda turns and closes the curtains, and Tom is too ashamed even to apologize.

Considering that all situations in Scene 3 of The Glass Menagerie are seen from Tom's viewpoint, how does he reveal objectivity and subjectivity during his quarrel with Amanda?

Objectively, Tom never tries to restrain his rage for his mother's nagging and control of his life. Neither does he suppress his disrespect. His actions border on threatening as he towers over her petite figure. His words are as insensitive as the contempt Amanda shows for him by returning the D.H. Lawrence book he was reading. His comments about being the only person who pays their bills in a job he detests are factual. He is even honest about spending many nights at the movies, although he doesn't address his drinking. His outlandish exaggerations about opium dens, gambling, and his secret identity as "El Diablo" are his way of expressing the frustration of working in a job he hates and getting no thanks in return. Subjectively, Tom's views of his mother reveal only his interpretation of her negative traits. They are opinions he bases on reasonable aspects of her nature, although they are open to interpretation. In his mind his mother is an "ugly, babbling old witch." Laura would describe her as meddling, but sad and lonely. Never does he try to see their life from her point of view, which would open the door to objectivity. In his very first monologue, he admits that the play comes from his memory, which makes it "sentimental and not realistic." This scene gives meaning to that statement.

What does the primary issue behind the fight between Amanda and Tom in Scene 3 of The Glass Menagerie reveal about each of their personalities?

The primary issue behind this fight is not Tom's choice of activities or Amanda's persistent badgering. The altercation is really about the security only money can bring. On the one hand, Tom doesn't care about security. To him a job is a means to an end. His goal is to write poetry and to enjoy adventures. On the other hand, Amanda perceives a salaried job as the end justifying the means. The fantastical story Tom weaves about living an immoral life helps him escape from the tedium of his job and the lack of independence he feels under his mother's watchful eyes. He desires a life of substance based on his choices and actions. Because he sees himself up to this point as generous, and far less selfish than his father, he is hurt by his mother's accusation as she says, "What right have you to jeopardize your job? How do you think we'd manage if you—[weren't here]."

How does the abandonment theme play a part in the fight between Tom and Amanda in Scene 3 of The Glass Menagerie?

Amanda's fear of abandonment is the unspoken emotion fueling this fight. Amanda's badgering is the result of desperation: that Tom, the breadwinner, might walk out the door at any time, just as her husband did. Her desire to control his every action—from how he chews his food, to what he reads, to where he spends his evenings—is the only way she can discern whether he plans to stay or leave. She doesn't understand that she is chasing him out the door just as if she gave him money to catch the next train out of St. Louis. Tom's mention of his father's desertion shows he is wrestling with the fact that he, too will be following in the man's footsteps when he leaves. This knowledge makes him feel guilty and fuels his frustration. They both clearly understand that he will leave, although neither knows when. This knowledge adds to the tension between them.

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