Once a Southern belle who was the darling of her small town's social scene, Amanda is now an abandoned wife and single mother living in a small apartment in St. Louis. She dreams of her past and of her daughter's future, but seems unwilling to recognize the painful harsh realities of the present. She is a loving mother, but her demands make life difficult for Laura and unbearable for Tom. Amanda finally senses Tom's stirrings to leave and makes a deal with him - that if he can find a suitable replacement for himself in the form of a husband for Laura, then he can disappear for good. In all reality, then, Amanda is holding her son hostage - threatening his future in order to ensure her own.
Crippled from childhood, Laura walks with the aid of a leg brace. Laura is painfully shy, unable to face the world outside of the tiny Wingfield apartment. She spends her time polishing her collection of tiny glass animals, her "glass menagerie." Her presence is almost ghostly, and her inability to connect with others outside of her family makes her dependent on Tom and Amanda. Jim's nickname for her, "Blue Roses," suggests both her odd beauty and her isolation, as blue roses exist nowhere in the real world. She is in many ways like Rose, Tennessee Williams' real-life sister. As a parallel to Rose, then, Laura becomes helpless and impossibly passive - rendered to a fate entirely dictated by Tom's own decisions. Laura's passivity, meanwhile, incurs a tremendous amount of guilt and repressed rage in Tom, who has trouble leaving as long as he thinks of his sister.
Tom is an aspiring poet who works in the Continental Shoemakers warehouse. He is the narrator of the play and the action of the play is framed by Tom's memory. Tom loves his mother and sister, but he feels trapped at home. They are dependent on his wages and as long as he stays with them he feels he can never have a life of his own. Nightly, he disappears to "go to the movies." As the play continues, Tom feels increasingly imprisoned and his mother begins to sense his stirrings. She makes him a deal - as long as he finds a husband for Laura, he's free to escape. But Tom is trapped by his own guilt for leaving and his own repressed rage for being put in a position where his freedom comes at the expense of his own conscience.
Jim is the long-awaited gentleman caller for Laura - and the supposed prospect for her matrimony. He is outgoing, enthusiastic, and believes in self-improvement. He kisses Laura and raises her hopes that they might be together, before he finally reveals to her that he is engaged. Tom describes him as a person more connected to the real world than any of the other characters, but Jim is also a symbol for the "expected something that we live for."
The Glass Menagerie Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Glass Menagerie is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.