The Glass Menagerie | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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The Glass Menagerie | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


What does the loss of some of Laura's glass animals symbolize for the characters in Scene 3 of The Glass Menagerie?

Laura's glass animals need to be handled with care. Her mother and brother have always protected her from life's realities by allowing her to use her menagerie to retreat from stressful situations. They have accepted the safe world her figurines and father's record albums offer because neither expects her to demonstrate comfort with the real world. This glass collection also represents the fragile nature of the relationship Amanda, Laura, and Tom share. For years they have allowed deceptions and euphemisms to shape their interactions, such as not addressing Laura's impaired leg directly and accepting Amanda's affectations. When Tom throws his coat and breaks some of the figurines, he shatters the insubstantial cocoon Laura prefers, crushes their illusions, and ushers reality into their lives. In this new era the broken figurines represent, they have to figure out how to deal with each other honestly and respectfully. For these three who prefer illusion over realism this is a formidable challenge.

Why doesn't Tom apologize to his sister for breaking some of her glass figurines in Scene 3 of The Glass Menagerie?

Although Tom kneels down and picks up the broken glass, he is ashamed Laura has heard his angry, hurtful words and witnessed his aggressive conduct. He knows she understands he will leave her, and this knowledge intensifies her anxiety. In that brief moment of shock after the crash of the glass figurines, Tom realizes his sister is confused by his rage and by the sense of responsibility her brother has always displayed for her. She wonders if he purposely threw his coat at her figurines. Tom cannot allow himself to consider if this question bears any truth, so he shuts his mind to it.

What do Tom, Amanda, and Laura lose and what do they gain as a result of the crucial quarrel in Scene 3 of The Glass Menagerie?

For years Amanda, Tom, and Laura have tiptoed around the walls that each has built to protect their true selves. These defenses have kept all their actions and interactions superficial. They have also denied them any opportunity to learn how to deal with the emotions and subtexts of their conversations. The fight causes cracks in each person's protective wall, allowing a multitude of personal thoughts to seep into the open. The characters lose a sense of privacy. This loss is good because it opens the doors to honest communication, which is definitely an improvement, compared to their illusory existence. With each person's emotions still raw, though, whether they will permit their interactions to be candid instead of circumspect is undetermined.

In Scene 4 of The Glass Menagerie what does Tom's tolerance for his sister's questions about the time he spends at the movies reveal about their relationship?

Tom and Laura share a sibling relationship of love and trust. Tom understands he can come home drunk and act outlandishly without his sister's judging him. She is his listening post and his friend. Laura doesn't say much about her home life, nor does she talk about her excursions to museums and the zoo, but she observes people's actions and interactions. She knows Tom feels trapped and needs to blow off steam. Although she doesn't condone his drinking, she does live vicariously through his recounting of the movies, cartoons, newsreels, and live entertainment. In a way they serve as each other's alter egos.

How is the "shimmering rainbow-colored scarf" a perfect gift for Laura in Scene 4 of The Glass Menagerie?

The scarf is a gift from an illusionist for someone who chooses to surround herself with illusions. Its shimmering rainbow colors call to mind the reflections of light on Laura's glass animals. Both the magician and Laura invent and practice their own forms of escape, whether actual or deceptive. In the magician's world, a canary cage doesn't turn into fishbowl because a filmy scarf is draped over it. The scarf is a distraction while the illusionist implements the necessary sleight of hand to trick the audience. In Laura's world her figurines do not have personalities they reveal to her. She creates each one's temperament to fit her interpretation of the animal's character. A magician's audience believes goldfish morph into canaries and fly away because the audience wants this to happen. Laura needs her glass animals in her lonely life. Laura, like the illusionist's spectators, needs to believe in the unreal.

In the stage directions after Laura slips in Scene 4 of The Glass Menagerie, how does Williams mock Amanda's mothering skills?

Tennessee Williams mocks Amanda's role as a mother. He chooses to expose the negative aspects of her temperament with harsh lighting rather than use softer lighting to focus on her softer and caring traits, for after she ascertains Laura is unhurt, she immediately thinks of suing the landlord about the dangers of the fire escape. Williams mentions that "cruelly sharp" lighting reveals her "aged but childish features as "satirically as a Daumier print." Daumier was a 19th-century French artist who gained prominence for creating caricatures—or exaggerations— of prominent people. "Ave Maria," or "Hail Mary," is a prayer to the Virgin Mary. Williams complements the use of lighting to highlight his negative treatment of Amanda's face with music meant to honor the Virgin Mary, thereby showing his contempt for Amanda as a mother. This is the second time Williams has used the Virgin Mary in connection with Amanda. In Scene 2 Laura justifies her deception about dropping out of business college by explaining she had no desire to cope with Amanda's "suffering look, like the picture of Jesus' mother in the museum."

In Scene 4 of The Glass Menagerie what character traits do Tom's apology to his mother and her acceptance of it reveal that strengthen their relationship?

Tom's "sheepish but sullen glance" toward his mother reveals his shame for his rude and crude behavior during their fight the previous night. However, it also shows his unwillingness to forgive and forget his mother's controlling nature—yet. He does soften when Amanda speaks from her heart and admits that her inability to curb her attempt to control her children is causing them to distance themselves from her. She knows she must rein in her anxiety and focus on Tom's and Laura's innate skills and abilities. Amanda makes Tom promise he won't become a drunkard because that is her biggest concern. Amanda fears Tom is following in his father's footsteps, and knowing how her husband's drinking has negatively affected their lives, she worries about her son's activities, too. Both have taken responsibility for their actions, though, and this acceptance is an important step toward a stronger connection. Nonetheless, in mid-confession, Amanda starts nagging Tom about eating breakfast. Old habits need more than a few hours of heavy thinking and a few moments of apologetic conversation to take root.

How are both Amanda's and Tom's empathetic and manipulative words in character for each of them in Scene 4 of The Glass Menagerie?

Tom's empathy for his mother after she admits her anxiety for his and Laura's futures and her praise for him as her "right-hand bower" reveal the complicated nature of their relationship. No matter how much she infuriates him, he loves her. If he didn't love her and respect her desperate attempts to keep them together, her persistent badgering probably would have chased him away long before their fight. When Amanda mentions she knows Tom has sacrificed his personal goals to work in the warehouse he despises, she is commiserating with his sacrifice for Laura and her. She tells him she has seen the letter from the Merchant Marines and realizes he will leave. Amanda is acknowledging his choice and giving him her blessing. But then, she exercises her manipulative strings by playing on Tom's affection and protective attitude for Laura, following it with accusations of his selfishness. She demands that he stay until he has found a man for Laura to marry. Livid with her, he storms out of the apartment. Once again their true feelings are still alive and gearing up for the next round.

In Scene 4 of The Glass Menagerie why is Tom so appalled when Amanda asks him to help her secure Laura's future by finding his sister a husband?

Tom is appalled that his mother would ask him to search for man to invite home for the sole purpose of marrying his sister. Although he is not selling Laura for money, he is supposed to set his sister up for a financially secure future. By inviting young men to dinner to meet his sister, he is making arrangements for her with men. He is saved from being a sort of hustler because he is just inviting friends or coworkers to dinner without mentioning his sister's single state and his mother's hopes of an attraction that would lead to marriage. Still, his mother's request makes him feel uneasy. In support of Amanda, with her sheltered upbringing, it is doubtful she even understands the connotation of her request to her son, as such introductions might well have been the way matches were made in her circles.

How do Tom's references to Berchtesgaden, Chamberlain, and Guernica activate his sense of adventure in Scene 5 of The Glass Menagerie?

Tom craves adventure. He feels trapped in his life and is eager to get out on his own and experience some of the action he sees in the newsreels at the movies rather than remain hopeless in his warehouse job. According to Tom, there was action elsewhere but not where he was. Berchtesgaden is Adolf Hitler's retreat in the Bavarian Alps. By 1937 the news is full of reports about the German Fuhrer and his incendiary speeches about protecting the homeland and retaking land Germany lost in World War I. Neville Chamberlain, who was elected the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1937, met with Hitler to try to avoid war through appeasement. The town of Guernica was destroyed by fascist bombs during the Spanish Civil War. It became notorious because the bombs targeted civilians, and the 1937 Picasso painting called Guernica became the liberal Spaniards' symbol for the violence inflicted on them during the war. Tom senses war is on the horizon, and these references inflame his desire to be part of the action.

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