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Amanda Wingfield
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.

Father Wingfield
Mr. Wingfield, the absent father of Tom and Laura and husband to Amanda, is referred to often throughout the story. He is the ultimate symbol of escape. This is because he has managed to remove himself from the desperate situation that the rest of his family are still living in. His picture is featured prominently on the wall as a constant reminder of better times and days gone by. Amanda always makes disparaging remarks about her missing husband, yet lets his picture remain. Tom always makes jokes about his dad, and how he "fell in love with long distances." This is his attempt to ease the pain of abandonment by turning it into something humorous. It is inevitable that the thing which Tom resents most in his father is exactly what Tom wishes he could carry out in the end...escape! Through his father, Tom has seen that escape is possible, and though he is hesitant to leave his sister and even his mother behind, he is being driven to it.

Laura Wingfield
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 Wingfield
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 O'Connor
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 raises Laura's hopes that they might be together, before he finally reveals to her that he cannot date her. 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."


Setting
The action of "The Glass Menagerie" takes place in the Wingfield family's apartment in St. Louis, 1937. The events of the play are framed by memory - Tom Wingfield is the play's narrator, and usually smokes and stands on the fire escape as he delivers his monologues. The narrator addresses us from the undated and eternal present, although at the play's first production (1944-5), Tom's constant indirect references to the violence of the Second World War would have been powerfully current.

The action of the play centers on Tom, his mother Amanda, and his sister Laura. In 1937 they live together in a small apartment in St. Louis. Their father abandoned them years earlier, and Tom is now the family's breadwinner. He works at the Continental Shoemakers warehouse during the day, but he disappears nightly "to the movies." Amanda is a loving mother, but her meddling and nagging are hard to live with for Tom, who is a grown man and who earns the wages that support the entire family. Laura is a frightened and terribly shy girl, with unbelievably weak nerves. She is also slightly lame in one leg, and she seldom leaves the apartment of her own volition. She busies herself caring for her "glass menagerie," a collection of delicate little glass animals.


Themes

Escape
Tom wishes to escape from his life, just as the magician escaped from the coffin. He is most impressed by the magician's ability to escape without destroying the box or removing a single nail, and he marvels that anyone can accomplish such a feat. Tom's goal is to likewise extricate himself from his life without damage to the coffin that is his family – Amanda and Laura make him feel buried alive – but in the end this turns out to be impossible. Tom escapes, but he remains haunted by the memory, a bent nail forever poking at his conscience. Laura and Amanda, on the other hand, have no possibility of escape - they are both trapped in that coffin by financial insecurity and lack of social opportunity, but Amanda feels it most acutely because it is she who has known and can imagine the outside world. Ultimately, Tom realizes that escape cannot come without an internal price - that there is no such thing as freedom without a terrible cost.
Responsibility to Family
The principal tension in the Wingfield family is responsibility – who is accountable for, and to whom. Tom struggles the most with his role as the breadwinner and caretaker of the family, as it keeps him from expressing himself and living his own life. But Amanda also feels the strain of having a daughter that she will always have to care for, and this is the fear that motivates her desperate search for a husband on which to foist Laura. Mr. Wingfield escapes his responsibility by running away without a trace, while Laura, on the other side of the spectrum, is responsible only for her little glass animals, leaving Tom and Amanda to carry the weight. Try as Tom might, this responsibility is not something easily shirked. Although he ceases to be responsible for his family when he leaves them, he never stops feeling responsible to them.
Abandonment
Each member of the Wingfield family has experienced abandonment. As a unit, they were all abandoned by Mr. Wingfield when he left the family, but this especially applies to Amanda – for her, being abandoned by her husband meant being abandoned by her childhood understanding of men and the world. Laura has been abandoned by the world at large, falling into her own quiet little rhythm outside the perimeter of everyday society. Jim, her one entrance into the real world, also deserts her, pushing her farther back into a hermetic existence. Finally, Tom fears being abandoned by his dreams and goals, and chooses instead to abandon his family the way his father did – becoming another looming absence in the Wingfield family, tantamount to the man whose portrait hovers over the sitting room.
Blue Roses
Laura's high school nickname symbolizes her outcast status – delicate and beautiful as a rose, but of an impossible, non-existent form. This symbolism contrasts with her mother's connection to jonquils, or daffodils – a beautiful yet commonplace flower. Laura, the blue rose, is a misfit, something that can't exist in the real world, no matter how lovely it is as an idea. This symbol also extends to the glass unicorn, a figure that is also beautiful and impossible, and easily broken. Laura, however, is impossibly passive, as well, unable to fit into or take initiative in the normal world. No matter how beautiful or delicate she is, the world rejects her and ultimately will leave her all alone, unappreciated.
Illusions and Reality
Amanda is caught up in the illusion of her genteel old Southern upbringing, which has taught her that a man will support a woman and that there are certain foolproof rules for snagging one. Her experience, however, proves this to the contrary - specifically, when her husband runs out on the family and leaves her to fend for herself, and later when Laura's shyness prevents her from normal socialization. Still, Amanda never stops believing that a gentleman will soon call upon her and make everything right. At the same time, she inflicts these illusions and reality on her children - insisting that if Tom finds a husband for Laura, it will take care of all their problems. The idea that Tom can solve all their problems with a replacement is itself an illusion, one that's quickly eradicated by reality once he brings home a caller for Laura.
Memory
The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, and Tom makes it clear from the beginning that we are seeing events through the lens of his memories, heightening emotions and drawing out significances as memories do. We are also privy, however, to memories within memories – the recollections of Amanda as she speaks of her girlhood, and her futile attempts to relive it. Even Jim is trapped in a cycle of memory, as he yearns to recapture the glory days of his high school career and becomes attached to those who remember him from that time. In the end, however, we are left with the haunting image of Tom's last memories, as he describes the figure of Laura following him through the rest of his guilt-stricken life.
Shattering
The symbol of shattering glass is used in two contrasting yet prominent ways in Williams' script. The first time a glass animal is broken corresponds to the shattering of illusions – Tom's angry speech about where he goes at night, and the Wingfields' first realization that he will inevitably leave them. But when the unicorn breaks, it is in a moment of rare confidence for Laura, as she is dancing with Jim. In that case, the breaking of the glass is a breaking of the shell that holds her in – and the piercing of a hole in her defenses that welcomes a great amount of pain. In the end, Tom reveals in his final recollections that he will forever associate his sister with bits of colored glass behind shop windows – glass hidden (protected?) behind more glass, something too delicate to touch the outside world.