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The Glass Menagerie Summary and Review

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Tennessee Williams wrote The Glass Menagerie, a play about a family struggling through their life in the city. The father left the family many years ago, the mother is ashamed but cannot let go of her past as a southern belle or her controlling ways. Her son Tom, is a poet, but spends his days miserably working in a warehouse with all of the responsibilities of being the only man in the house. Her daughter, Laura, is painfully shy and can only relate to a collection of tiny glass animals, her glass menagerie.

The Glass Menagerie Summary

The story is told from a memory state. The narrator is an older Tom, with a melancholy personality. The setting is the apartment his family lives in, meant to be a dim, depressing place with brick walls. Some of the scenes take place behind a scrim, which is almost like a see-through cloth to make everything appear more like a fuzzy memory. Tom cannot take the pressures from his mother Amanda. He hates his life; he hates being responsible for his sister; he hates his job in the warehouse. He feels stuck, but at the same time wants to get up and leave just like his father did. Since he does not yet have the guts to leave, he instead goes to the ‘movies’ every night and comes home very late. It is his only escape.

Amanda’s plans to get her daughter Laura through business school fail when she finds out that Laura only went for two weeks and never returned. She becomes set on the plan that her daughter should marry someone and commissions Tom to find a gentleman caller. Tom brings home a young man from his work. As it turns out, this man was the same one Laura had a huge crush on in high school. Somehow, this young man helps Laura to get out of her shell. He does not seem to think Laura is peculiar at all with her glass menagerie. He mentions to her that she does not even know she is crippled; that no one could ever tell she walked with a limp but her.

Things get pretty hot and steamy between Laura and her gentleman caller, Jim. He gets her to dance, they bump into a table and break the tiniest of her glass figurines, the unicorn. His horn is broken off, but Laura does not mind and says now the unicorn will not feel out of place amongst the other horses now. This symbolizes Laura and her shyness. If she can break free of her shyness, she is really no different than any other girls.
Unfortunately, Tom finally discloses that he is engaged to be married, and leaves. When Amanda finds this out she is furious, and blames Tom. Really, she is afraid that she will have to care for Laura forever. This does not shatter Laura’s confidence, however, but it does break something in Tom and he finally leaves. The end of the play shows how he is still emotionally tied to Laura and he wished he could have done better for her, even though he is physically gone.

There is a lot of symbolism in The Glass Menagerie. The figurines themselves carry the most symbolism. They are fragile, and Laura spends an immense amount of time working on them, arranging them and cleaning them. She works on these glass characters as much as she cultivates her own shyness. Once she lets go, such as when she is dancing with Jim and one breaks and she does not care, her shyness gets let go as well.

Imagination influenced Tennessee Williams to show us a family stuck in their ways. Laura is stuck in her shyness; Amanda is stuck in her control and in the past, while Tom is stuck in his job and with his family. The visuals of the apartment being one of many that look exactly the same and an unhappy Tom going to the warehouse job with others like Jim who are equally unhappy and had higher aspirations for themselves are profound. Many people can relate to being stuck with someone or in a situation and unable to get out of it. Patrons of this play can imagine the regret Tom feels no matter what decision he makes.

Fragility of life as symbolized by the glass menagerie, and being unable to completely escape are the two main themes of this play. This play is a tragedy in many respects. Although Tom does eventually leave, he cannot fully cut the ties to his family, and thus he is never really free. Even though Laura’s shyness dissipates, she is still alone, and does not end up with Jim, the love of her life. Amanda’s story also ends unhappily. She is stuck with a spinster daughter and two men have now left her.

The Glass Menagerie uses a lot of symbolism to tell a true American story. Tennessee Williams brings to life these forlorn characters that cannot seem to make anything of their lives and are resigned to living the same old life. He used imagination and symbolism as his influences, and those influenced the reader as well.

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