Essay by JaneShields May 2004

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The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, and its action is drawn from the memories of the narrator, Tom Wingfield. Tom is a character in the play, which is set in St. Louis in 1937. He is an aspiring poet who toils in a shoe warehouse to support his mother, Amanda, and sister, Laura. Mr. Wingfield, Tom and Laura's father, ran off years ago and, except for one postcard, has not been heard from since. Amanda, originally a Southern belle and the darling of her small town's social scene, frequently entertains her children with tales of her eventful youth and the scores of suitors who once pursued her. Amanda, viewed from one angle, might appear to be an oppressive, selfish monster of a mother, yet from another she seems deeply caring. Laura is a frightened and terribly shy girl, with unbelievably weak nerves. She wears a brace on one leg and rarely leaves the apartment of her own will.

She busies herself caring for her "glass menagerie", a collection of delicate little glass animals. Amanda enrolled Laura in classes at Rubicam's Business College, hoping that a career in business would make Laura self-sufficient. Amanda is furious when she learns that Laura stopped attending class due to her crippling shyness and believes that Laura's last hope must lie in marriage. Much to Amanda's disappointment, Laura 's shyness does not attract "gentleman callers". Meanwhile, Tom, who loathes his warehouse job, finds escape in liquor, movies, and literature, much to his mother's frustration. Amanda's relationship with Tom is difficult. Tom longs to be free like his father, to abandon Amanda and Laura and set off into the world. He has stayed because of his responsibility for them, but his mother's nagging and his frail sister's peculiarities make the apartment a depressing and...