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The Glass Menagerie | Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Tom, as the narrator, walks toward the fire escape leading to the door of the apartment. He offers a brief summary of national and international events—the Spanish Civil War and labor unrest in American cities. He explains he is the narrator of the play as well as the character, Tom, and that the situations are from his memory. He introduces the other roles—Amanda, his mother; Laura, his sister; and a gentleman caller. A fifth, absent character—Amanda's husband and Laura's and Tom's father—has greatly affected the family situation; his large picture is on the wall, but he never appears. Tom describes his absence as the result of his being a telephone company employee who "fell in love with long distances" and abandoned the family.

Tom then strolls toward the open apartment door as his mother is calling his name. During dinner Amanda, who cannot stop talking, badgers Tom about manners, chewing properly, and decorum. Angry, he leaves the table and stands near the living room smoking. Amanda then reiterates the often-told story about her gentlemen callers when she was a young Southern belle. When she urges Laura to get ready for her own gentlemen callers, Laura states there won't be any because she is not "popular like you were in Blue Mountain." She tells Tom that Amanda fears Laura will never marry.

Analysis

With nine pages of dialogue and two of stage directions, Tennessee Williams creates vivid impressions of the three main characters of The Glass Menagerie. As the narrator, Tom gives his views of the times.

The Myopic 1930s Middle Class

Tom creates a metaphor between people who are physically blind and those who ignore what surrounds them. Like horses with blinders, these people refused to notice the country's continuing financial issues and the demands of the working class who are no longer keeping silent about unreasonable working conditions and inequities.

Spanish Civil War (1936–39)

This conflict between the conservative Nationalists (leaning toward fascism) and socialist Republicans (the standing government) attracted worldwide attention, with many volunteers from other countries joining the fight.

Guernica

Immortalized by Pablo Picasso's mural painted in the same year, the Basque town of Guernica in northern Spain was bombed in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, by pro-fascist forces, which targeted the town's civilians, killing many women and children. The incident gained much notoriety worldwide for the air attack on the population.

Characterization

The characters reveal themselves and their situations. Amanda cannot stop nagging and correcting; Tom has little tolerance for her nitpicking and stories of the past. Audiences can sense he may be near the breaking point, as his anger and frustration are palpable. Placid, highly introverted Laura tries to mediate, and her intervention seems to be something that has happened before in this family dynamic.

Although Amanda seems to chatter pleasantly, after a few minutes the subtexts of displeasure, worry, and frustration appear through her chirping. If she chooses to live in the past and act like the Southern belle she was before she married a man who deserted her and their children, that is the only way she knows to behave. In her way she is far removed from the contemporary world, unable to deal with it and with her two children whose needs and lives are so different from her own. For Amanda the past is the place where she feels safe and comfortable.

Laura and Tom, too, have their illusionary worlds. Laura's is her glass menagerie, and Tom's is the movies.

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