Book Review: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

Rate this book!
[Total: 1 vote(s) ; Average rating: 5/5]

Greatly influences the characters’ personalities and actions. Williams called The Glass Menagerie a “memory play” to show the powerful effect that remembrance of the past exerts on characters’ present lives. 

Amanda explains that “the past” often turns into “everlasting regret.” Memory is often shown to be inaccurate, coloured by a person’s present situation and beliefs: Tom says of memory that “it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.”

Amanda’s nostalgic memories of youth are distorted and unrealistic (e.g., she boasts of 17 gentleman callers in one afternoon); nostalgia causes her to push Laura into the tragic encounter with the gentleman caller. 

Laura remembers her leg sounding like “thunder” when she entered the class. Tom’s memory of Laura haunts him, and this is his reason for narrating the story.

You may still be wondering if you should read the book. This book summary will tell you everything about this book so you can decide if it is worth your time.

Without further ado, let’s get started. 

Plot Summary

A shy young woman’s dream world is shattered after her mother arranges for a “gentleman caller” to visit their drab St. Louis apartment.

Scene 1 

Tom Wingfield, a would-be poet, appears on the fire escape of his family’s dingy St. Louis apartment and tells the audience he is about to narrate and perform in a play about his family. 

He invites the audience to return with him to the 1930s, a time of worldwide upheaval, “when the huge middle class of America was matriculating in a school for the blind” (i.e., people were blind to what was happening around them). 

He says the characters in the play are his mother, Amanda Wingfield; his crippled sister, Laura Wingfield; a “gentleman caller”; and his father, Mr. Wingfield, a telephone company employee who abandoned the family years ago after “failing in love with long distances”; the father appears only in a photograph.

Tom enters the apartment and joins his mother and sister at dinner, where Amanda tells Laura she must remain “fresh and pretty” for gentlemen callers. 

Amanda dreamily recalls her own youth in Mississippi, claiming that one afternoon she entertained 17 gentlemen callers. Tom doubts that this ever happened, and Amanda’s nostalgia ends when the shy, crippled Laura reminds her mother that no gentlemen callers are expected.

Get The Book Here

Scenes 2–4 

A few days later, Laura sits in the apartment’s living room, polishing her beloved collection of glass figurines (the “glass menagerie”). Upon hearing her mother’s footsteps, she quickly hides the glass animals and pretends to be studying shorthand. Amanda enters, greatly distressed, and tells Laura she has discovered that Laura has not been attending her courses at Rubicam’s Business College. 

Laura admits that she stopped going to school after vomiting from nervousness while taking a test. Amanda fears that both she and her daughter will end up as old maids, and since she realizes that Laura is too shy to hold down a job, she realizes that she must find Laura a husband.

The idea of a gentleman caller who will marry Laura and save Laura and Amanda from poverty and loneliness becomes an obsession with Amanda.

Realizing that money will be necessary to “properly feather the nest,” she begins selling subscriptions to Companion, a cheap magazine for women. Tom grows increasingly dissatisfied with his warehouse job at the Continental Shoemakers Company and with his cramped life at home. 

He argues bitterly with his mother when she accuses him of being selfish and lying about where he spends his nights (he says he goes “to the movies”). Tom threatens to leave home and calls

Amanda an “ugly witch,” then accidentally knocks over Laura’s glass collection as he throws his coat across the room. 

A horrified Laura cries out like a wounded animal, “My glass!—menagerie….” Tom, ashamed, bends down to pick up the figurines, then exits.

Tom stumbles home drunkenly at 5:00 A.M., and when Amanda rises, he apologizes to her for his rude behavior. He then tells her of his desire for “adventure,” and since Amanda knows that she cannot stop him from leaving town, she asks only that he help find Laura a husband before doing so. Tom is skeptical, but agrees to look for a suitable man at the warehouse.

Get The Book Here

Scene 5 

Later that spring, as the scene opens, the word ANNUNCIATION appears on a screen that is part of the stage set. (Note: This screen device is used to set the mood for the actors’ speeches and appears only in the written version of the play, not in stage productions.) 

Tom, as narrator, muses that war is about to change the world and to provide “adventure” for the people who spend their time drinking, dancing, and embracing in the Paradise Dance Hall across the alley from the Wingfield apartment. 

He then tells his mother that he has invited a gentleman caller to dinner for the following night. The gentleman is Jim O’Connor, one of Tom’s coworkers. Amanda is overjoyed, and feverishly begins to plan for the dinner, wondering if the man will be a good provider for Laura. 

To Amanda’s delight, Tom describes Jim as a good-natured young man who “goes in for self-improvement” and attends night school. Tom tries to temper Amanda’s enthusiasm by telling her that Jim may not be attracted to Laura. But Amanda ignores him and tells Laura to wish on the moon for “Happiness! Good Fortune!”

Scenes 6–7 

Tom, as narrator, describes Jim as a former high school “hero” who had been a basketball star and president of both the senior class and glee club. Yet in the six years since graduating, Jim has been less successful, and now works at the warehouse. 

Tom recalls that Laura had been fond of Jim in high school, but is not sure Jim will remember her. Amanda, meanwhile, prepares for the gentleman caller by fanatically cleaning the apartment, buying a new rug, and making Laura into a “pretty trap.” 

Amanda even puts on the dress she wore to the governor’s ball when she was Laura’s age. When Laura discovers that the caller is to be Jim O’Connor, she is stunned: he was the boy she secretly loved in high school.

Tom and Jim arrive and are met by a frightened Laura, who flees the room after introductions. After Tom tells Jim that he has joined the merchant marines and will soon be leaving home, Amanda welcomes their guest with the flirtatious charm of an old-fashioned Southern belle. 

When Laura returns, they sit down to dinner, but Laura grows faint and leaves the room. While Tom says grace, she sits alone in the living room, holding back a “shuddering sob.”

The lights suddenly go off as the three finish dinner. Tom confesses that he has used the money intended to pay the electric bill for his seaman’s card. As a punishment, he accompanies his mother to the kitchen to wash dishes while Jim takes a glass of wine to Laura in the living room. 

After a few nervous moments, Laura tells Jim she remembers him from high school. Jim then remembers Laura, whom he called “Blue Roses” after her illness with “pleurosis” (which sounded to him like “Blue Roses”). Laura recalls the painful embarrassment of her leg brace “clumping” as she walked around school, yet Jim says that he never noticed it. 

Impatient with Laura’s self-consciousness, Jim tells her she suffers from an “inferiority complex” and has wrongly magnified her “little physical defect” into a major problem. He urges her to believe in herself and describes how he found self-confidence after years of effort.

Encouraged by Jim’s warm optimism, Laura shows him her precious glass collection, pointing out the unicorn as her favorite. Jim coaxes Laura to dance, and she is thrilled as they move about the room. 

Yet the dance ends abruptly when they bump into the table on which her unicorn sits. The unicorn is knocked over and its horn breaks off. But Laura, too enchanted with Jim to be upset, reasons that “now it is just like all the other horses” and will seem “less freakish.” 

Jim then tells Laura that she is pretty, and impulsively kisses her. He immediately regrets doing so, however, when he sees that she is infatuated with him. He nervously offers her a Life Saver, then explains that he is engaged to another woman, Betty. Laura, devastated, musters enough strength and dignity to place the fractured unicorn in the palm of his hand as a “souvenir.”

Amanda enters with lemonade and cookies, and is shocked to learn that Jim must leave to meet his fiancée. He thanks them and says good-bye to Tom, whom he calls “Shakespeare.” He then exits, leaving both women crushed.

Amanda bitterly turns on Tom for not knowing that Jim was engaged, and Tom storms from the apartment, leaving Amanda alone to comfort her shattered daughter.

Tom, as narrator, pauses on the fire escape and explains how he fled St. Louis soon afterward, traveling the world in search of adventure. Yet he has always felt “pursued by something”—his sister’s eyes. “Oh Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!” Laura then blows out the candles, withdrawing into her dark and lonely world as Tom bids her a final good-bye.

Get The Book Here

Key Characters

Amanda Wingfield: Mother of Laura and Tom. Strong-willed, proud, and loving. Abandoned by her free-spirited husband, she seeks a way to escape the near-poverty and degrading life of her St. Louis tenement by selling magazine subscriptions to help pay the bills. She possesses bittersweet nostalgia for her youth spent in the genteel Old South. Devoted to her children, yet misjudges Laura’s ability to function in society and Tom’s restless desire for adventure. Her lack of understanding leads to Tom’s departure and Laura’s painful experience with the Gentleman Caller. Williams calls her a “little woman of great but confused vitality clinging frantically to another time and place…Though her foolishness makes her unwittingly cruel at times, there is tenderness in her slight person.”

Laura Wingfield: Amanda’s daughter; age 23. Paralyzingly shy and sensitive, she lives in her own world of glass figurines. A childhood illness left her crippled, with one leg slightly shorter than the other, and she wears an awkward brace. She has no friends, hobbies, or interests other than her glass menagerie. Her brief encounter with the Gentleman Caller ends in catastrophe, leaving her more withdrawn than ever. Williams writes that she becomes “like a piece of her own glass collection, too exquisitely fragile to move from the shelf.”

Tom Wingfield: Amanda’s son; narrator of the play; age 21. A restless would-be poet and adventurer, he is dissatisfied with his home life and job at the shoe warehouse. He spends nights drinking and prowling the city, “going to movies.” Eventually, he decides to abandon his family to pursue his own identity, but he remains haunted by the image of Laura’s eyes. Williams writes that Tom’s nature “is not remorseless, but to escape from a trap he has to act without pity.”

Jim O’Connor: The Gentleman Caller; age 23. Works in the warehouse with Tom. Nice, ordinary, self-confident, and good-natured.

Main Themes & Ideas

1. Illusion vs. Reality

All three Wingfields use dreams and illusions to escape a harsh, painful reality, but their dreams are eventually crushed by this reality. To escape her life as an impoverished, abandoned woman living in a dingy apartment, Amanda dreams of her glorious past as a Southern belle and plans for her daughter’s marriage to a Gentleman Caller who will rescue them.

Laura escapes the reality of her shyness by living in a dream world of glass animals, far from the demands of business and romantic relationships. Her failed attempt to make a connection with reality (i.e., Jim) leaves her more withdrawn than ever.

Tom escapes from his warehouse job and from the unhappy family situation by writing poetry, drinking late at night, and becoming a sailor; yet reality comes back to haunt him in the form of Laura’s woeful eyes, the memory of which he cannot escape.

The entire nation is depicted as suffering from illusions and enrolling “in a school for the blind”: people live smug, self-satisfied lives with petty concerns while the world around them heads toward World War II. Only Jim is reconciled with reality: he has steady employment and ambition for the future. Tom calls him an “emissary from [the] world of reality.”

2. Memory

Greatly influences the characters’ personalities and actions. Williams called The Glass Menagerie a “memory play” to show the powerful effect that remembrance of the past exerts on characters’ present lives. Amanda explains that “the past” often turns into “everlasting regret.” Memory is often shown to be inaccurate, colored by a person’s present situation and beliefs: Tom says of memory that “it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.”

Amanda’s nostalgic memories of youth are distorted and unrealistic (e.g., she boasts of 17 Gentleman Callers in one afternoon); nostalgia causes her to push Laura into the tragic encounter with the Gentleman Caller. Laura remembers her leg sounding like “thunder” when she entered the class. Tom’s memory of Laura haunts him, and this is his reason for narrating the story.

3. Freedom

The desire for freedom causes conflict and misunderstanding within the Wingfield family. Tom wants to be free from his job at the warehouse, free from his obligation to support the family, free to travel, and to write. This causes him to resent—and eventually abandon—his family, just as his father had done.

Amanda wants to be free from the threat of poverty and dependence; this causes her to push Laura into the tragic meeting with Jim. Laura wants to be free from the expectations placed on her by the world and her family, causing her to withdraw into the world of glass figurines. Williams shows that the urge for freedom often causes pain, disappointment, and separation in people who love each other.

4. The “Gentleman Caller”

The idea of a Gentleman Caller who can rescue the family from their drab life dominates Amanda’s and Laura’s thinking and keeps them going in the hard world, giving them hope for the future.

This idea stems from Amanda’s nostalgia for the past and distaste for the present, along with Laura’s inability to function in the cold urban environment. It eventually becomes a mythical idea that allows the two women to hold off despair. Yet no Gentleman Caller—especially Jim—can fulfill their expectations.

5. Instinct vs. “Superior Things”

Williams contrasts people who want to follow their instincts and passionate urges with those who believe in cultivated, civilized behavior. This is the basis of the conflict between Tom and Amanda. Tom wants to indulge his instinctual drive for freedom; he believes that “man is by instinct a lover, a hunter, a fighter.”

Amanda distrusts instincts, which were the cause of her husband’s flight; she believes that life should be ruled by “superior things,” such as duty, manners, and civilized conduct. She claims that “only animals have to satisfy instincts.”

6. The American Dream

Williams shows that the sensitive, dreamy Wingfields are unsuited for the American Dream of success, progress, and upward mobility. None of them possesses the skills, determination, or realistic goals needed to advance in a capitalist society. Amanda is of a genteel Old South tradition, where competition and shrewdness were less important than correct breeding and genteel manners.

Laura is introverted and crippled; she lacks self-confidence to compete in the modern world. Her failure at business school shows that she can’t participate in the American Dream. Tom dreams of writing and of adventure, not of inventories and advancement. Only Jim is able to pursue the American Dream; he is optimistic, slightly callous, and ambitious enough to pursue his goals.

Get The Book Here


1. The Glass Menagerie

Laura’s collection of glass animal figures symbolizes her fragility and vulnerability; it shows that she lives in a world of illusion, fantasy, and dreams that can be shattered.

The unicorn figurine is a symbol of her uniqueness in being crippled and in being different from others; the loss of the unicorn’s horn symbolizes her becoming part of the real world, like “other horses,” during her brief encounter with Jim. But it also symbolizes the idea that this brush with harsh reality, which she is unprepared to deal with, destroys her.

2. Christian Symbols

Show how Amanda and Laura see the Gentleman Caller as a “savior” who will rescue them from their misery. Williams uses a screen image of the Annunciation when Jim’s acceptance of the dinner invitation is announced; he has “Ave Maria” (a song for the Virgin Mary) play to accompany Amanda when she sobs (Scene 4) after Tom calls her a witch; he describes Laura’s face as lit by “altar candles” when she is kissed by Jim. Tom, meanwhile, is symbolized as a devil in order to show his role in the destruction of the women’s hopes and dreams; he describes himself as “El Diablo” (Devil) and goes to see Malvolio (“bad wishes”) the Magician.

3. The Candlelight

The Wingfields use candlelight after the electricity is cut off, which symbolizes the increasing darkness that enters their lives. The play ends with Laura blowing out candles, a gesture that symbolizes the extinguishment of her dreams.

4. Paradise Dance Hall

Symbolizes the frustrated desires and smoldering passions of the Wingfield family; it suggests the idea that “paradise” is just beyond their reach and is a symbolic reminder of the real world, with its tantalizing offer of instant gratification.


1. Complex Characters

The characters in The Glass Menagerie are multi-dimensional and complex. Amanda Wingfield is the mother of the family, and her past memories of her “glory days” create a stark contrast with her current impoverished state.

Daughter Laura is painfully shy and crippled, living in her own world of glass animals, while son Tom is stuck in a dead-end job, trying to escape his humdrum life through movies and alcohol. The characters are relatable, and their struggles elicit sympathy and empathy from the audience.

2. Effective Use of Setting

Set in St. Louis during the late 1930s, The Glass Menagerie is a depiction of life in America’s heartland. Williams’ use of setting enhances the themes of poverty, longing, and desperation.

The family lives in a tattered apartment with fire escapes, and the mother clings to memories of a more prosperous time. The setting acts as a character in its own right, and the contrast between the characters’ circumstances and the larger world outside the apartment heightens the sense of isolation and despair.

3. Emotive Themes

The themes of The Glass Menagerie are emotive and impactful. The play explores the struggle of the lower middle class in America during the 1930s, highlighting the harsh realities of poverty, isolation, and desperation.

The characters’ longing for a better life is palpable, and their attempts to escape their circumstances are both relatable and heartbreaking.

The play’s themes of family, memory, and regret are universal and resonate with readers of all ages. Tennessee Williams’ ability to convey the pathos of the human condition is what makes The Glass Menagerie a timeless classic that continues to captivate audiences today.


1. Play Format

One of the most significant drawbacks of The Glass Menagerie is its format as a play. While some readers may enjoy the play’s dialogue-driven narrative, others may find it challenging to follow along. The play’s stage directions and character descriptions are minimal, making it difficult to visualize the characters and setting. Additionally, readers may miss out on the visual and auditory cues that would come with seeing the play performed on stage.

2. Lack of Clarity

The Glass Menagerie makes use of powerful symbolism and metaphors to convey its themes. However, some readers may find the symbols and motifs difficult to decipher. For example, the blue rose, which represents Laura’s uniqueness, and the fire escape, which symbolizes the characters’ desire to escape their lives, may not be immediately clear to all readers. The lack of clarity in the play’s symbolism may detract from the overall reading experience.

3. Slow Pace

While the book is short and easy to read, some readers may find the pace slow. The play is dialogue-heavy, and there are minimal action scenes to break up the dialogue. This can make the book feel monotonous and may detract from the reader’s enjoyment. Readers who prefer fast-paced, action-packed stories may find The Glass Menagerie too slow for their taste.


In conclusion, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams is a timeless classic that delves into the struggles of family relationships and the harsh realities of human existence. It is a heartwarming story that explores the stages in life where we are initiated into the greater reality of the world around us.

While the author’s preface may be disregarded, the play’s main character is escorted across the boundary of personal fantasy into the larger realm of adult life by the only person qualified to take her there. This theme is relatable to readers of all ages and can prompt self-reflection about similar circumstances in their own lives.

Overall, The Glass Menagerie is a highly recommended read for readers over 30, and its powerful themes and emotive characters continue to captivate readers to this day.

About The Author

Tennessee Williams, born in Columbus, Mississippi in 1911, was a renowned playwright. He passed away in 1983 after choking in his room at the Elysée Hotel in New York City. Williams’ most famous plays include A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), and Night of the Iguana (1961).

Williams’ plays portray how the decline of the South affected sensitive and nostalgic individuals, usually women, who aspire to live a life filled with spirit, imagination, and tenderness in a world dominated by passion, greed, and animal instincts.

The Glass Menagerie was Williams’ first major success, and it enjoyed a long run on Broadway. However, his later works, in which Williams was more open about his homosexuality, were less successful than his earlier triumphs. Throughout his career, Williams received many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award.

Buy The Book: The Glass Menagerie

If you want to buy the book The Glass Menagerie, you can get it from the following links:

Rate this book!
[Total: 1 vote(s) ; Average rating: 5/5]

Wait! Do You Want to Start a Blog and Make Money?

This 21-year-old student made $7,395 in just one week by blogging.

That’s more than $1K a day!

If he can do it, you can too!

Let's check out how he did it so that you can copy his success!

Learn How to Make Money Blogging Here

Leave a Comment