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The Glass Menagerie
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67 of 73 people found the following review helpful
Amanda Wingfield, the matriarch of "The Glass Menagerie," always tells her daughter, Laura, that she should look nice and pretty for gentleman callers, even though Laura has never had any callers at their St. Louis apartment. Laura, who limps because of a slight physical deformity, would rather spend her time playing with the animals in her glass menagerie and listening to old phonograph records instead of learning shorthand and typing so she can be employable. When she learns Laura has only been pretending to go to secretarial school, Amanda decides Laura must have a real gentleman caller and insists her son Tom, who works at a shoe factory, find one immediately. After a few days, Tom tells Amanda he has invited a young man named Jim O'Connor home for dinner and at long last Laura will have her first gentleman caller.

The night of the dinner Amanda does every thing she can to make sure Laura looks more attractive. However, when Laura realizes that the Jim O'Connor who is visiting is possibly the same Jim on whom she had a crush in high school, she does not want to go through with the dinner. Although she has to be excused from the dinner because she has made herself physically ill, Laura is able to impress Jim with her quiet charm when the two of them keep company in the living room and she finally loses some of her shyness. When Jim gives Laura her first kiss, it looks as if Amanda's plans for Laura's happiness might actually come true. But no one has ever accused Tennessee Williams of being a romantic.

"The Glass Menagerie" was the first big success in the long and storied career of playwright Tennessee Williams. Written in 1944, the drama consists of reworked material from one of Williams' short stories, "Portrait of a Girl in Glass," and his screenplay, "The Gentleman Caller." In many ways it is an atypical drama from Williams, with the character of Tom (a role I will confess to playing on stage) serving as a narrator who breaks the "fourth wall" and addresses the audience, which evinces Williams' affinity for Eugene O'Neill (e.g., "The Emperor Jones") at this point in his career. Tom tells the audience that this play offers truth dressed up as illusion, and in his stage directions (which are usually not taken full advantage of in the various performances I have seen because what was cutting edge in 1944 is overly quaint today) he uses not only monologues but also music and projections to enhance the memories on display. Williams also explicitly tells his audience that the gentleman call is the symbol of "the expects something that we live for."

This "memory play" tells of a family trapped in destructive patterns. After being abandoned by her husband, Amanda Wingfield, a woman of the Great Depression, has become trapped between worlds of illusion and reality. She says she wants what is best for her children, but seems incapable of acknowledging what that would be or actually providing it for them. Tom, tired of only watching adventure at the movies, is determined to break away from his dominating mother, but stays only for the sake of his sister. Laura may not be the glamorous belle of the ball her mothers wants, but she has her own inner charm and when confronted with Jim, a visitor from the normal world, there is the chance that she will finally claim her life as her own. This is a poignant drama on the importance of love and it represents a memory of not only family but also of loss.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2002
Sometimes, the most important and influential characters are those that never come forth and make an appearance. This is the case in Williams' The Glass Menagerie. The absent father serves as an explanation and a foreshadow for why his wife, Amanda; his daughter, Laura; and his son, Tom behave as they do.
The story has somewhat a dry line; however, it is not so much the plot but the characterization that makes this story memorable, introducing odd and unique characters that can be, unusually enough, identified with. Many who venture into this work see the characters by their surfaces only-a loony, demanding mother; a shy daughter; and an uncaring brother. However, this play requires a deeper look, a search for an explanation that reveals that the mother is not nuts, only lonely and worried her son will abandon her, just as her worthless husband has. She has fears, such as worrying that her Laura will become alone and unsupported, just as she is. Laura can also be examined, discovering she is not only shy, but is a victim of low-self-esteem, for her disability causes her to believe she is unable to be like others, never able to partake in the activities other girls enjoy, such as dancing; thus, she lives a life in solitude, for that is where she feels unexposed. Tom, too, with a closer look, can be viewed as a man tiresome of being treated as a boy, stuck in a world he is unhappy with, desiring escape to follow his dreams.
A close characterization reveals the turmoil inflicted by the father, exposing characters with problems, worries, fears, and desires. This is a play about real life, a dysfunctional family who wants only the happiness that they cannot achieve. This, by far, is Williams' greatest work yet.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This drama of the Wingfield family is one of the twentieth century's great American plays, and it is no surprise that it is still taught throughout the country as an example of fine theater. The characters are psychologically true for their 1930's setting, and they reveal themselves brilliantly through their dialogue. The story is simple, the symbolism is obvious and readily understandable, the claustrophobic and depressing atmosphere is heightened by the fact that all the action takes place in a small apartment, and the line between reality and dream world, while clear to the audience, is tragically unclear to the players on stage.
Though the play may be structurally and aesthetically satisfying to an older audience familiar with this period, it may be less successful, after sixty years, to a contemporary audience. Amanda is so meddlesome that her good heart, her dreams for her family, and her control over Tom are unrealistic by today's standards. Tom, with his sense of obligation toward the family, sometimes appears personally weak. Most difficult, however, is Laura, so pathologically shy and introverted that she is happy to stay indoors all day, polishing her glass animals and remaining completely dependent on her brother and mother to support and protect her.
This has always been one of my favorite plays, but reading or watching it now feels a bit like watching a costume drama. Though it is brilliantly written, its characters and dramatic situations are so different from our twenty-first century lives, that the play and characters really come alive only when analyzed in conjunction with the social context in which they were originally presented. For a modern audience, Laura may be more pathetic than tragic. Mary Whipple
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The central question in The Glass Menagerie can be seen as "Why and how do people attempt to escape and avoid reality?" There are many details showing that this fear of reality in every family member of the Wingfields. All of the three Wingfields has something that they do to escape from the reality and truths of the world.
Of the three, Laura seems to be the one who has the weakest grip on reality. She is extremely shy, and when her mother gave her a chance to become a working woman in the business world, she throws that hope away by dropping out after just a few days because she was too nervous being around a bunch of strangers. On top of trying to get away from the real working world, she deceives her mother by going out every day to make her mother think she was in school. By a fluke, her mother discovers Laura's absence in school, and Laura explains how she would take walks in the park or sometimes go to a movie. In these examples, Laura seems to be afraid of the outside world and her personal life and relationship with her mother. She doesn't want anything out of the ordinary to happen, because she does not want to face reality. She is too scared to tell her mother the truth, so she escapes further into her own mind. Since she has no outside life, she uses her glass menagerie to entertain her thoughts during the day. As the story develops she seems to be slipping further out of reality, with no plans for the future, until her "gentleman caller" arrives. Jim O'Connor makes her less uneasy with his warmth and begins talking to her and giving her advice about how to overcome her shyness and her inferiority complex. Until this point, there is no sign of Laura showing that she has a life and that she might go somewhere with it.
Tom's case is almost opposite from Laura's, but with the same effect of avoiding reality, in the fact that not enough is happening in his life. He wants to make something of himself and do something with his life, but he makes no effort, and keeps his boring job. Since he feels that his life is empty, he makes up for it by going to the movies. Amanda worries about him, and the possibility that he is making trouble, but he responds by telling her how he goes to the movies because of the adventure. He doesn't have enough adventure in his own life, so he compensates by seeing others have adventures in movies. He also puts his thoughts into writing and reading, again to escape from putting forth any effort to make something of his life. The most dangerous part of Tom, however, is his escaping reality through being drunk, and the release of all of the reality of the world around him. His father had the same problem, and through the story, there are hints that Tom is becoming more like his father, especially in one final example when he is talking to Jim about his life, and his plans to leave his family because he is the "[...] son of a [...]" and he must leave to find himself; but ends up wondering aimlessly around numerous towns, not finding anything different that what was back at home.
Amanda's personality is the most complex of the three Wingfields. She has a grip on real world values such as longing for her children to be successful people and to make lots of money, and also for herself and her children's social success. This is part of the real world, but she is so obsessed with them, that she cannot accept some of the truths about the reality around her. She still thinks she should be the girl she was in Blue Mountain, with servants and slaves and the like. Whenever Tom talks to her about Laura being crippled or peculiar, she says for him not to say such horrible things. She cannot accept that Laura is both crippled and peculiar and wants the situation to be normal. She doesn't even know what to think of Tom. She accuses him of not going to the movies, but to somewhere else. She says to him that he is too selfish and needs to support the family more, when in reality, it is her constant instruction of how he should eat, how he should act, what he needs to do, that drives him further away from the family and more like his father.
It seems as though all the Wingfields want to do something with their lives, but they don't have the motivation to change anything. Tom complains about the people in the movie substituting finding adventure in their own lives for the adventure on screen, but does the same thing himself and doesn't make a real effort to change. This play seems to be showing the idea that people are afraid to change, even if any change would be for the better. They would rather escape the reality they live in and find ways to avoid becoming part of the real world. At the end of the play, Tom decides to leave, but that doesn't solve his reality problem. Amanda is left with no one in the house to support her and to pay the bills, because she was lost in her idea of what reality should be with her recollection of her spoiled childhood and not what reality actually is. Laura seems like the only one in the family that is actually showing signs of change and the possibility of accepting the outside world and making something of herself, because of Jim's comfort and encouragement.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2004
The Glass Menagerie, by Tennesse Williams is a tale of desperation and a longing for something more. The characters within this incredible stories pages yearn for more than the mundane facts of life. Amanda, who plays the mother, grew up a pure southern belle. As she describes it, men practically kissed the ground she walked on. Wouldn't you think her daughter Laura would be the same? The answers no. Laura is a shy, crippled girl who is forced to wear braces on her legs. Unlike her mother, Laura rarely has gentlman callers and this bothers Amanda. Her mother, not knowing what to do with Laura, signs her up for business classes which Laura secretly skips. Her brother Tom is an aspiring poet who is forced to work in a shoe warehouse so he can support his family. Their father ran out on them at an early age and the only thing they have recieved from him in years is a single postcard.
The Glass Menagerie is one of the few books that has ever caught me by surprise. You can't help but feel the agony of repression these three main characters feel. The novel, which was originally written for the stage, only takes place over a very short period of time in late 1930's. It was a time of change and growth of the human spirit. The beliefs of youth and age clashed and no matter who you were you longed for something different. But as our character Tom figures out at the end, change isn't always what you need.
I feel the most interesting quality this novel contained was it's use of symbolism. The fire escape had so much meaning behind it, it was practically impossible to miss. It was their only way of escaping the pain that was inside the walls of their home. The music that was often cued in the play took a major part in creating the essense behind the story. Music relates to memory and that is what this play comes down to, memories of how it should be, or should I say, the delusions the Wingfield family created.
Overall this book impressed me. It had all the elements a good story should have,(pain, pleasure, humor, distruction and healing). I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking to sit down and sink into a well written story. After all, everyone lives within their own glass menagerie.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2000
This play is one of the most moving, realistic works ever written. Each character is given such an intricate psychology that they feel real.You are able to empathise with each character's pain, hope and reality. For those of you who say it is boring, don't read classics anymore. The play is not about plot but about REAL people in REAL situations with profound symbolism and harsh, harsh reality. From start to finish, this play shapes itself. Every word must be there. Every scene has to exist or the meaning would be lost. Real life isn't exciting, it is filled with emotion and thoughts that no other writer has ever been able to potray so well as Tenesse Williams. This is definately his finest work and a true gem in American Literature.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2014
(By Don’s daughter)

Perhaps I’m the only one that feels this way, but plays have always been difficult for me to read. Raw dialogue with blunt, italicized asides as to direction, expression, or position on the stage is often uninteresting. It’s not until the thing is put on a stage with actors and a crew and lights and sets that I am able to wake up, rub my eyes and focus on what’s going on.

Which is why I’m so surprised that I enjoyed The Glass Menagerie as much as I did. If I liked it this much just in the script format published as a book, how much would I love it on a stage?

The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, which, for those of you who speak only English and not Theatre, means that the action of the story takes place in times past, in the remembrances of one of the characters onstage (this usually involves monologues). The narrator here is Tom, a young man who lived with his nutty, melodramatic mother, Amanda, and his crippled sister, Laura, at the time of this play. Amanda’s husband has been gone for years (the clever line from the play is, “He was a telephone man who fell in love with long distances . . .”) and the little family is quite poor. Amanda is a magazine saleswoman, Tom works in a factory, and Laura is a secretary- or she should be. The painfully antisocial Laura would really rather stay at home where no one can stare at her deformity and polish the collection of glass animals she loves so much. Amanda, disgusted at this outlook on life, sets about finding Laura a husband. Whether she succeeds or not remains to be discovered.

When compared to much of today’s work, this play doesn’t have a lot of action. The set never leaves the tiny apartment the family lives in and there are only four characters onstage (the fourth being Tom’s friend the “gentleman caller”). But somehow, you keep turning pages. You want to laugh at Amanda’s ridiculous opinions. You want to know if and how Tom will escape the job at the factory that he obviously despises. And Laura- will Laura ever be able to step away from her glass companions and become a real presence in the world, or will her bad leg reduce her to little more than glass herself?

And there’s so much more beneath the surface, I’m sure, so much that I can’t find without actually being able to see the play for myself.

I hope to be able to, someday.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2004
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams is what many refer to as a memory play about the Wingfield family set in St. Louis during the 1930's. The narration is doused with nostalgia so the reader never receives a true sense of reality when reading the story. The dialogue is simple and easily understandable. The story's message shines through and the general public can relate to the characters because of this very fact.

Williams interweaves symbolism between characters with their surroundings or objects in several instances throughout the play. Whether Williams is comparing Laura's innocence with the fragility of her glass figurines or Jim, "the gentlemen caller", with the hopes and dreams of the whole Wingfield family, symbolism is a key literary device used in the play.

However, despite the symbolism being intriguing and fun to figure out, the social ideals of the time might be hard for younger generations to understand or relate to. One could easily find Laura's extreme shyness and unwillingness to leave the house for school quite perplexing. Also, the way in which her innocence was revered by Jim for being precious might also confuse some readers. Moreover, Amanda's many stories of gentlemen callers and the pressure she puts on Tom to find one for his sister Laura is not a situation most people are faced with in this day and age. However, if the reader can look past these differences and focus on the family dynamic of the three characters I think they'll be able identify better with the story.

I could connect with the character of Laura's sense of awkwardness because of being "handicapped" and also felt sympathy towards Tom's feelings of obligation for his family. I enjoyed this play very much and would recommend anyone to read it. I think any reader could appreciate this play because it is so easy to read and we all have family and friends who we share a dynamic with similar to the ones provided by the characters in the story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2009
"If all the world's a stage, I want to operate the trap door." ~Paul Beatty

The Glass Menagerie is a classic play of physical and emotional entrapment. The three members of the Wingfield family are all trapped (the mother by her past and the memory of her husband who left her; the daughter by her overwhelming shyness and lack of confidence; and the son by the overwhelming responsibility of caring for his family in a mind-numbing warehouse job). I believe the play is still popular today because most of us can relate to at least one of their plights. You can't help but pity all the main characters. At times our own psyches are just as fragile as Laura Wingfield's glass menagerie.

Somehow, I missed out on this book and play in high school. I am glad I have read the play; now I just need to see it on the stage as it was meant to be seen.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2000
Widely recognized as a work of a true master, "The Glass Menagerie" was pieced together from Williams' own tortured life and is an in-depth study of futility and failure. Centering around the life of the protagonist, a hopeles young man with grand aspirations, stuck forever in a menial job at a shoe-box factory, his pathologically shy sister Laura, and his mother Amanda, who still thinks herself a young woman. The play is quite depressing and, unlike many others, does not have a happy ending. The projector seems to be a wonderful device for conveying the characters' thoughts. The sets is also wonderfully constructed, leaving much to the imagination while conveying the overall sense. I would also recommend watching the film (with Paul Newman), which is near-perfect.
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