The Glass Menagerie

by: Tennessee Williams

Tom Wingfield

[TOM:] I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it. The other characters are my mother, Amanda, my sister, Laura, and a gentleman caller who appears in the final scenes.

Tom Wingfield addresses the audience in the play’s opening monologue. He appears dressed as a merchant sailor, which conveys that he speaks from the future. Looking back to the 1930s, Tom introduces the characters before the action of the play begins. Tom describes his dual role in order to warn the audience. As Tom participated in the action, he provides an unreliable narrative.

[The interior has lit up softly and through the scrim we see Amanda and Laura seated at the table.] AMANDA [calling]: Tom? TOM: Yes, Mother. AMANDA: We can’t say grace until you come to the table! TOM: Coming, Mother. [He bows slightly and withdraws, reappearing a few minutes later in his place at the table.]

Tom addresses his mother in his first appearance as a character rather than as the narrator. As always, the playwright uses very few words to convey a great deal of information about the characters and their relationship. Tom’s entrance also demonstrates the author’s understanding of stagecraft. The delay in coming to the table gives Tom time to shed his sailor jacket and reappear in character as his younger self.

TOM: I don’t want to hear any more! [He tears the portieres open. The dining-room area is lit with a turgid smoky red glow. Now we see Amanda; her hair is in metal curlers and she is wearing a very old bathrobe, much too large for her slight figure, a relic of the faithless Mr. Wingfield. The upright typewriter now stands on the drop-leaf table, along with a wild disarray of manuscripts. The quarrel was probably precipitated by Amanda’s interruption of Tom’s creative labor. A chair lies overthrown on the floor. Their gesticulating shadows are cast on the ceiling by the fiery glow.]

Tom Wingfield shouts at his mother at the start of a long verbal battle in Scene Three. Much of the reader’s understanding of their quarrel comes from the stage directions. The typewriter and manuscripts reveal Tom’s intent to become a writer. The lighting directions reinforce the feeling that Amanda is making Tom’s life hell. The gestures warn the audience that the battle could become physical.

TOM: I’m going to the movies! AMANDA: I don’t believe that lie! [Tom crouches toward her, overtowering her tiny figure. She backs away, gasping.] TOM: I’m going to opium dens! Yes, opium dens, dens of vice and criminals’ hangouts, Mother. I’ve joined the Hogan Gang, I’m a hired assassin, I carry a tommy gun in a violin case! I run a string of cat houses in the Valley! They call me Killer, Killer Wingfield, I’m leading a double-life, a simple, honest warehouse worker by day, by night a dynamic czar of the underworld, Mother.

Tom lashes out at Amanda as their argument grows ever more bitter. She nags him about staying out too late and accuses him of jeopardizing the family’s future. Tom’s sarcastic outburst makes fun of Amanda’s morality. The scenarios Tom describes prove that he has indeed seen a great many movies. At the same time, Tom’s words and body language appear threatening, because they reveal the depth of his anger.

TOM: Of course! And, oh, I forgot! There was a big stage show! The headliner on this stage show was Malvolio the Magician . . . [He pulls from his back pocket a shimmering rainbow-colored scarf.] He gave me this. This is his magic scarf. You can have it, Laura. You wave it over a canary cage and you get a bowl of goldfish. You wave it over the goldfish bowl and they fly away canaries[.]

Tom comes home drunk and drops his key so that Laura has to let him in. Now he explains to his sister why he has come home so late. Tom feels much more at ease with Laura than with his mother. Tom speaks to Laura as if entertaining a child. The silk scarf, like other rainbow-colored objects in the play, acts a symbol for illusions.

TOM: [hoarsely]: Mother. I — I apologize, Mother. [Amanda draws a quick, shuddering breath. Her face works grotesquely. She breaks into childlike tears.] I’m sorry for what I said, for everything that I said, I didn’t mean it. AMANDA [sobbingly]: My devotion has made me a witch and so I make myself hateful to my children! TOM: No, you don’t. AMANDA: I worry so much, don’t sleep, it makes me nervous! TOM [gently]: I understand that.

Tom apologizes to his mother for his outburst of anger in the previous scene. His sister Laura has just begged him to reconcile with their mother. Amanda’s response to Tom’s apology appears like that of a manipulative child, requiring Tom to act as the adult and soothe her hurt feelings. The apology scene stirs our sympathy for Tom, who bears so many of his mother’s emotional burdens.

TOM: [leaning forward to whisper]: Lots of fellows meet girls whom they don’t marry! AMANDA: Oh, talk sensibly, Tom — and don’t be sarcastic. [She has gotten a hairbrush.] TOM: What are you doing? AMANDA: I’m brushing that cowlick down! [She attacks his hair with the brush.] What is this young man’s position at the warehouse? TOM [submitting grimly to the brush and the interrogation]: This young man’s position is that of a shipping clerk, Mother.

Tom speaks to Amanda, trying to talk her down from her unreasonable expectations about Jim O’Connor. Tom has invited Jim home to dinner, for the purpose of introducing Laura to a young man. Now Amanda pumps Tom for more information, while insisting on brushing his hair as if he were a little boy. The hairbrush serves as an ominous symbol of maternal discipline.

AMANDA: Don’t say peculiar. TOM: Face the facts. She is. [The dance hall music changes to a tango that has a minor and somewhat ominous tone.] AMANDA: In what way is she peculiar — may I ask? TOM [gently]: She lives in a world of her own — a world of little glass ornaments, Mother . . . [He gets up. Amanda remains holding the brush, looking at him, troubled.] She plays old phonograph records and — that’s about all — [He glances at himself in the mirror and crosses to the door.]

Tom and Amanda talk about Laura. Tom’s viewpoint seems distorted. The audience already knows that Laura has gone out on her own to visit real animals at the zoo and has made other connections to the outside world. Readers may infer that Tom’s attitude toward the glass animals conveys his guilt over having destroyed so many of them during a recent outburst of anger.

[TOM:] I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger—anything that can blow your candles out!

Resuming his role as narrator, Tom addresses the audience at the end of the play and summarizes his life after leaving home. The stage directions call for the spotlight to stay on Amanda and Laura during Tom’s final monologue. Toward the end of his monologue, Tom addresses Laura directly. Tom’s last speech to Laura carries ambiguous import.