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The Glass Menagerie | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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The Glass Menagerie | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Scene 5 of The Glass Menagerie why does Tom view the Paradise Dance Hall negatively instead of as a pleasant diversion?

Tom thinks the Paradise Dance Hall offers instant gratification to the people who frequent it. When he sits on the fire escape landing and smokes, he sees the silhouettes of the dancing couples and watches them slip outside for a moment of romance in the alley. Their actions seem to him as empty and shallow for them as the movies and drinking are for him, a diversion, or momentary escape, from the bleakness of their lives. He believes the young people are filled with nervous anticipation, a sense that major changes will soon influence the world. Like him, since they don't understand what form these transformations will take or how they will affect their lives, they idle away their evenings with tantalizing activities that never really calm their restlessness.

In Scene 5 of The Glass Menagerie how is Amanda's concern about entertaining a gentleman caller for dinner in their shabby apartment indicative of her upbringing?

Amanda is thrilled with the opportunity to clean and decorate the apartment for entertaining, especially a "gentleman caller" instead of doing these things as a regular chore. She spends so much of her time reliving the glory days of her youth in her mind and with her reminiscing, she is ecstatic finally to free her monogrammed table linens and wedding silver from their dusty storage containers and to add some attractive embellishments to their dreary apartment. Making these changes and preparing an impressive dinner within 24 hours, and on their meager budget, will be a challenge, but Amanda was raised to showcase her ingrained hospitality. Always planning for future needs, she even has fresh slipcovers for the fairly new sofa and a floor lamp on layaway. She is not ashamed of their apartment off the alley, compared to the genteel home where she was raised, or she would never consider entertaining guests there. It is important to her to make her home and clothing for Laura and herself as appealing and socially correct as she can.

Why is Tom so negative about Laura's ability to interest a young man in Scene 5 of The Glass Menagerie?

Tom's concerns about Laura come from the perspective of a brother and from his memory. Since the moment in Scene 4 in which Amanda asks him to find a husband for Laura, Tom has considered how other men would appraise her and thinks they would not find her appealing. He comments on her crippled leg but even more about her shyness and social incapacities, which to Tom are excessive rather than charming. Her affinity for living in her illusory world of glass animals while listening to old record albums will not attract men, either. Amanda is angry at his description of his sister, especially his forbidden comment about her lame leg. Tom plays up the negatives because he doesn't want his mother to get so excited about their guest that her anticipation pushes Laura into an anxiety attack. Also, as her brother, he doesn't see her delicate beauty or her femininity that young men might find appealing. She is the sister he loves and has always protected because of her differences. These qualities dominate his perception of her.

In Scene 5 of The Glass Menagerie how is Amanda's comment about never "allowing the word crippled" to describe Laura an example of situational irony?

Because of Amanda's insistence that no one should ever speak of Laura's infirmity and thus supposedly ignored, Laura is crippled emotionally. The situational irony is that because of Amanda's pretending Laura's lameness doesn't exist, it becomes more than a physical issue; it has crippled Laura emotionally so much so she cannot function on her own in the world outside of her glass menagerie. Years of not permitting anyone to address the issue have made Laura feel ashamed, flawed, and incapable of handling life. In fact, her mother has controlled every aspect of Laura's life, from the business school training to what clothes to wear, in effect making Laura feel powerless. After Mr. Wingfield abandoned the family, Amanda had to find the inner strength to overcome her sheltered life of means and provide for her children and herself, yet she has never allowed her daughter to develop this same asset.

Why doesn't Tom mention to Jim that he and his sister know each other from high school in Scene 6 of The Glass Menagerie?

Tom decides not to tell Jim of Laura's existence at all. Tom has been unhappy in his appointed role as "matchmaker" and is simply complying with Amanda's urging him to invite an acceptable coworker to meet Laura. Obviously, Laura and Jim will meet, and Tom's task will be finished. Furthermore, Tom knows if he mentioned to Jim that he and Laura had known each other, he would prompt a conversation that would include details about his sister. He fears Jim would remember Laura wore a leg brace and would turn down the dinner invitation. He also fears that by mentioning Laura, he would be pressuring Jim. By not mentioning her and not having to describe her, Tom is letting events take their course. This omission, however, may show Tom is as emotionally marred as Amanda and Laura are in regard to his sister's leg.

Besides not allowing Laura to be referred to as a cripple, how else does Amanda diminish her daughter's self-esteem in Scene 6 of The Glass Menagerie?

Amanda reveals a brutally honest side as she anxiously puts the final touches on the dinner and on the outfits Laura and she will wear. She places powder puffs as padding inside her daughter's bra, as she explains, "To be painfully honest, your chest is flat." After Laura finds out that the dinner guest is Jim O'Connor, the boy she secretly loved in high school, she refuses to answer the door when Tom and Jim arrive and to join them soon after for dinner. Amanda orders Laura to obey her. Her words, "I'm sick, too—of your nonsense! Why can't you and your brother be normal people?" is as verbally ironic as it is insulting. The nasty admission devastates Laura, first because the hurtful words come from her mother, but also because she blurted it out so quickly. This obviously isn't the first time she allowed herself to think so negatively about her children. In anger she objectifies her daughter by stripping away her identity and calling her a "silly thing." With her stories of the glory days of her youth, embellished with the selective interpretations of memory, Amanda is the nonsensical one, not her children.

In Scene 6 of The Glass Menagerie when Laura realizes their guest is the boy she loved in high school, why doesn't Amanda try to soothe her daughter's anxiety?

Amanda is more concerned with her own wants and needs than she is her daughter's anxiety. Nor does she understand the depth of Laura's emotions and fears of social interactions. Amanda has spent the past 24 hours trying to create the look and atmosphere of her girlhood home more to create a false impression of the Wingfields than to present a warm and comfortable setting. A daughter who is disabled physically and emotionally is not a part of the scenario Amanda has fabricated. She is so determined to find a husband for Laura who will accept his mother-in-law as a permanent resident in their home that she will not allow her daughter's misery to ruin their chance of her delusion's becoming a reality. She has no desire to leave her fantasy world and accept the seriousness of Laura's feelings.

How does Tom's hatred for his job fuel his future ambitions in Scene 6 of The Glass Menagerie?

In Scene 6 Jim and Tom sit on the fire escape talking. When Jim warns Tom he might have jeopardized his future at the warehouse by sneaking away to write poetry, Tom says, "I'm right at the point of committing myself to a future that doesn't include the warehouse." He then rants about people who go to the movies instead of seeking their own adventures, saying, "I'm tired of the movies, and I am about to move!" Tom has used the electric bill money to pay his dues after joining the Union of Merchant Seamen. Tom realizes he will hurt his mother and sister when he leaves, but he refuses to allow Amanda's demands and society's constraints to thwart his ambitions. He will lead his life his way instead of rotting in St. Louis in a shoe warehouse.

Why does Amanda's southern charm seem more artificial than realistic in Scene 6 of The Glass Menagerie?

Amanda doesn't understand that a subtle approach often makes more of an impact than transparent posturing. Considering she could entertain 17 gentlemen callers in an evening when she was a young woman, she obviously understood how to play the flirtatious debutante with some sense of restraint. Now, though, she dresses in a fancy gown from another era and meant for a young woman, not a middle-aged mother, and adopts the charming airs of a Southern lady. Neither her clothing nor her dramatic mannerisms fit the clean, but worn, furnishings in an inexpensive back-of-the-building apartment overlooking an alley from a fire escape instead of a veranda. Her exaggerations support the sense that she tries too hard and her performance is forced.

What is Amanda's intention when she refers to Laura as "sister" in The Glass Menagerie?

Amanda uses the term as a nickname, a custom women often adopted in the Deep South when referring to female family members or friends. For instance she reveals her love for Laura with affection when she says in Scene 1, "No sister, no sister—you be the lady this time." In addition Amanda refers to Laura as her sister instead of her daughter because she wants to appear to be too young to have a daughter of nearly 24. She calls her daughter "sister" instead of Laura when talking to Jim about dinner in Scene 6, giving the impression that Laura is her sister. Amanda is also insinuating they enjoy more of a peer relationship than a mother and daughter bond suggests.

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