The figure of the fallen Southern belle is based loosely on Williams’s own mother, who grew up in a prominent Mississippi family and suffered reversals of fortune in her adulthood. This figuration remains one of the best-known trademarks of Williams’s plays—Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire is perhaps the most famous representative of this type. The social and historical circumstances surrounding characters like Amanda point to some of the broader concerns of The Glass Menagerie. In the decades after the Civil War, many once-distinguished Southern families saw their economic fortunes decline. Daughters of these families, like Amanda, traditionally were raised to take pride in their social status. In a rapidly industrializing and modernizing America, however, that status was worth less and less. New money was seen as far more desirable than old but penniless family grandeur. The promise of Amanda’s past remains unfulfilled and always will remain so, but she refuses to accept this fact and convinces herself, wrongly, that Laura can still live the life that she expected for herself. At the end of the play, Amanda chides Tom for being a “dreamer.” It is clear, however, that the Wingfield children’s inability to deal with reality is inherited directly from their mother.
In Scene Five, Amanda’s far-fetched dreams for Laura appear to be within reach. The screen legend at the beginning of the scene is “Annunciation”—a word that, besides simply meaning “announcement,” also refers to the Catholic celebration of God’s announcement to the Virgin Mary that she is pregnant with Jesus Christ. Jim, then, may be seen as a savior—for Laura and for the entire family. Furthermore, Amanda’s description of the moon as a “little silver slipper” also calls to mind the Cinderella fairy tale, which Williams considered an important story. In one version of this tale, a handsome young prince rescues a maiden from a lifetime of domestic drudgery, and a glass slipper is crucial to cementing the match. Amanda’s hopes for Jim’s visit are high, and clues such as the slipper suggest that they may be correctly so. Soon, though, Williams’s references to the birth of a savior and of fairy-tale romance are revealed as ironic omens of tragedy.