The Glass Menagerie

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The Glass Menagerie Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Tennessee Williams
Born in Columbus, MS, Williams moved to St. Louis, Missouri as a child. His father was a heavy drinker, and his mother was prone to hysterical fits. At age sixteen, the already prolific Williams won five dollars for an essay entitled “Can a Good Wife be a Good Sport?” Williams attended the University of Missouri, where he frequently entered writing contests as a source of extra income. After Williams failed military training during junior year, his father pulled him out of college and put him to work in a shoe factory, which Williams despised. At age twenty-four, Williams suffered a nervous breakdown and left his job. He studied at Washington University in St. Louis and then at the University of Iowa, finally graduating in 1938.
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Historical Context of The Glass Menagerie
The Great Depression of the 1930s deeply affected the United States economically as well as psychologically. Jim mentions the Chicago Word’s Fair of 1934, an exhibition symbolizing the promise of American industry and the possibility of escape. But the history that most clearly impacts The Glass Menagerie is Tennessee Williams own personal history. The Glass Menagerie is deeply autobiographical in many ways. Williams’s real name is Thomas, or Tom: “Tennessee” comes from his father’s home state. Williams’s mother, Evelina, had been a Southern belle, and his father was both tyrannical and frequently absent. Williams was very close with his elder sister Rose, who was delicate and supposedly mentally ill. Laura’s nickname “Blue Roses,” a mis-hearing of “pleurosis,” also links her to Rose. In 1943, Rose underwent a pre-frontal lobotomy, and Williams felt guilty that he hadn’t been able to help her more, since he had long since left the family home in St. Louis. The Glass Menagerie is a memory play for both Tom Wingfield and Tom “Tennessee” Williams as they try to overcome their regrets and to reconcile themselves with the past.
Other Books Related to The Glass Menagerie
A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams’s 1947 play, features Blanche du Bois, an aging Southern belle who shares many similarities with Amanda Wingfield. Like The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire is set inside a tenement apartment, and the play revolves around tense familial relations as well as memories, dreams, and different characters’ ideas about escape. In Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play Our Town, the character of the Stage Manager speaks directly to the audience and presents a symbolic framework, much as Tom does in The Glass Menagerie. Arthur Miller’s 1949 play Death of a Salesman explores family dynamics and failed dreams.
Key Facts about The Glass Menagerie
  • Full Title: The Glass Menagerie
  • When Written: Williams worked on various drafts during the 1930s and 1940s. Much of the play is based on his 1943 short story “Portrait of a Girl in Glass.”
  • Where Written: Around the United States, though primarily Los Angeles, California.
  • When Published: The play premiered in Chicago in 1944 and moved to Broadway in 1945. Random House published the play in 1945.
  • Literary Period: Late Modernism
  • Genre: Memory play
  • Setting: St. Louis, Missouri in the 1930s
  • Climax: The Gentleman Caller’s visit in scenes six and seven, particularly when the glass unicorn shatters.
  • Point of View: Tom narrates the play and also is a character in it.
Extra Credit for The Glass Menagerie

The Laugh Menagerie. Christopher Durang’s one-act play For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls is a parody of The Glass Menagerie, featuring the pathologically shy Lawrence and his collection of glass cocktail stirrers. (“This one is called string bean because it’s long and thin,” he says. “I call this one thermometer because it looks like a thermometer.”)

Glass Blue Roses. At the turn of the twentieth century, the German glassmakers Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka created hundreds of biological models entirely of glass. Famed for their scientific precision and prized for their exquisite beauty, these extraordinarily finely detailed glass marine animals and glass flowers receive thousands of visitors every year at Harvard University’s Museum of Natural History.