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The Glass Menagerie | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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Course Hero. "The Glass Menagerie Study Guide." Course Hero. 20 Dec. 2016. Web. 9 June 2023. <>.

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Course Hero. "The Glass Menagerie Study Guide." December 20, 2016. Accessed June 9, 2023.


Course Hero, "The Glass Menagerie Study Guide," December 20, 2016, accessed June 9, 2023,

Plot Summary

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the plot summary of Tennessee Williams's play The Glass Menagerie.

The Glass Menagerie | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Scene 1

The play takes place in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1937, with Tom as narrator, now a merchant sailor, returning from an indefinite time in the future to tell the story of the last few months he spent with his mother and sister before he left them. He mentions events of the times—the Spanish Civil War and labor unrest in American cities—and introduces the characters in the play.

He transitions from narrator to his role as Tom the son and enters the apartment from the fire escape when his mother calls him to dinner. Amanda reprimands Tom for his table manners and smoking. She wonders if any gentlemen will be stopping by to visit Laura and then segues into her often-repeated story about gentlemen callers during her debutante period. When Amanda badgers her about boyfriends, Laura admits she probably will never marry.

Scene 2

Amanda discovers Laura has dropped out of business school. Laura admits she has instead been walking around the city and going to movies, afraid of Amanda's rebuke. Amanda worries about their future if Laura cannot work and tells Laura they will find her an appropriate husband. When Laura responds, "I'm—crippled," Amanda admonishes her for even saying crippled.

Narrator Tom updates the audience about Amanda's husband scheme in Scene 3 before assuming his son role. Here he is furious with Amanda for treating him like a child when he is 21, with his salary paying their rent. Amanda ignores his rage, accuses him of lying about his evening activities, and calls him selfish. He calls her an "ugly—babbling old—witch" and accidentally shatters some of Laura's glass animals on his way out.

Scenes 3 and 4

The following morning Tom stumbles up the fire escape after a night at the movies and much drinking. Laura helps him into the apartment, warning him to be quiet. At Laura's request Tom apologizes to their mother. Amanda admits that her love for her children has made her anxious. Tom remains pleasant until she nags him to eat breakfast and interrogates him about the movies. She admits knowing he plans to join the Merchant Marines but asks him to find a man for Laura to marry before he leaves. Appalled, he storms out again.

Scene 5

Amanda joins Tom on the fire escape, and they banter about wishing on the full moon. He mentions he invited a young man, his coworker, to dinner for the next evening. Amanda is ecstatic. The scene ends with Amanda and Laura wishing on the moon.

Scene 6

Amanda pads Laura's bra to add "curves." When Laura discovers the guest is Jim O'Connor, the boy she secretly loved in high school, her anxiety escalates until she is physically ill. She refuses to open the door for her brother and Jim. Under duress from Amanda, Laura answers the door before rushing from the room. The men go to the fire escape to smoke. Jim details his plans to move up the executive ladder. Tom says he has joined the Merchant Marines and shows Jim the receipt for his union dues, paid with money for the electric bill. Amanda greets them and boasts about Laura's domestic talents, although she had no part in the preparations. When they sit down, Laura stumbles and almost faints. Tom helps her to the sofa, where she remains.

Scene 7

After dinner the electricity flickers and goes out. Amanda realizes Tom has not paid the electric bill and scolds him before sending Jim into the living room as part of her matchmaking plan. As they speak, Jim's gregariousness relaxes Laura, and they reminisce about high school. Jim remembers nicknaming her Blue Roses but not her leg brace, reassuring her everyone has differences and not to allow her slight disability to destroy her confidence. She shows him her glass menagerie, in particular the unicorn. When they dance, the unicorn falls from the table, and its horn breaks. Jim kisses her but explains he is engaged and then, ashamed, leaves.

When she witnesses this, Amanda accuses Tom of tricking and embarrassing her, knowing Jim was engaged. He denies it, saying that men don't mix their personal lives with their professional ones. When she calls him selfish, he leaves for good. He delivers his final remarks as the narrator in the same place and future time as he did at the opening of the play, never finding contentment because he could not ever be free of his emotional ties to Laura. Laura blows out the candles in the apartment to end the play.

The Glass Menagerie Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Amanda discovers Laura has dropped out of business college.

Rising Action

2 Amanda worries and decides Laura must marry.

3 Tom and Amanda quarrel about their actions and expectations.

4 Amanda asks Tom to find Laura a possible marriage prospect.

5 Tom invites Jim O'Connor to dinner the next evening.

6 Amanda makes dinner and helps Laura prepare for Jim's visit.

7 Amanda hosts event, wearing her old ball gown.

8 The lights go out, for which Amanda berates Tom.

9 Laura briefly emerges from her shyness as she and Jim talk.

10 They dance, accidentally breaking Laura's unicorn.


11 Jim reveals his engagement.

Falling Action

12 Laura gives Jim the broken unicorn as he leaves.

13 Amanda accuses Tom of tricking her about Jim's engagement.

14 Tom abandons his mother and sister to follow his dreams.


15 Narrator Tom admits he has never freed himself from Laura.

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