The Glass Menagerie
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Tom Wingfield steps onstage dressed as a merchant sailor and speaks directly to the audience. According to the stage directions, Tom “takes whatever license with dramatic convention is convenient to his purposes.” He explains the social and historical background of the play: the time is the late 1930s, when the American working classes are still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression. The civil war in Spain has just led to a massacre of civilians at Guernica. Tom also describes his role in the play and describes the other characters. One character, Tom’s father, does not appear onstage: he abandoned the family years ago and, except for a terse postcard from Mexico, has not been heard from since. However, a picture of him hangs in the living room.
Tom enters the apartment’s dining room, where Amanda, his mother, and Laura, his sister, are eating. Amanda calls Tom to the dinner table and, once he sits down, repeatedly tells him to chew his food. Laura rises to fetch something, but Amanda insists that she sit down and keep herself fresh for gentlemen callers. Amanda then launches into what is clearly an oft-recited account of the Sunday afternoon when she entertained seventeen gentlemen callers in her home in Blue Mountain, Mississippi. At Laura’s urging, Tom listens attentively and asks his mother what appear to be habitual questions. Oblivious to his condescending tone, Amanda catalogues the men and their subsequent fates, how much money they left their widows, and how one suitor died carrying her picture.
Laura explains that no gentlemen callers come for her, since she is not as popular as her mother once was. Tom groans. Laura tells Tom that their mother is afraid that Laura will end up an old maid. The lights dim as what the stage directions term “the ‘Glass Menagerie’ music”