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The play is not a traditional drama built on a plot filled with action or outward conflict. Instead, The Glass Menagerie gives a dramatic presentation of a "slice of life" in the Wingfield family. Amanda Wingfield is the main character, who tries to influence the lives of her children and who undergoes some changes herself in the process. As a result, she is the character who comes closest to being a traditional protagonist in the play.
The protagonist of the play is Amanda Wingfield. She lives in a "glass menagerie," a world that is built on illusion and that can be easily broken. Without meaning to be detrimental to her children, Amanda Wingfield foists her unfulfilled dreams on Laura and Tom and fails to see them as individuals with their own wants and needs. Amanda's worried nagging and overbearing concern are responsible for her children's retreat into an unrealistic existence far removed from her; Laura lives in a world of glass animals and phonograph records, while her brother lives in a world of adventurous dreams and motion pictures.
Amanda's antagonist is reality. She does not accept the loneliness and poverty that surrounds her, but lives in a romanticized version of her past. Amanda does not want to see her daughter as handicapped and unattractive to men; she hopes and believes that she can find a gentleman for Laura to marry. In a like manner, she believes that Tom can make something of himself; in order to try and positively influence him, she badgers him to give up his dreams of adventures, his attachment to the movies, and his inclination to poetry.
The climax occurs when the manipulative Amanda learns that Jim O'Connor, Laura's gentleman caller, has no interest in her daughter. As a result, she is forced to face reality; her glass menagerie, the world of illusion she has created, is suddenly broken, much like Jim has broken Laura's glass unicorn.
The play ends in tragedy. Amanda's world of illusion is shattered by the truth of her existence. She is an older woman with no gentleman callers, and neither of the Wingfield children are able to really escape from their past. Laura remains trapped in her world of glass animals, while Tom escapes from his mother and sister to become a sailor. He, however, is filled with guilt about deserting the family and cannot really enjoy his freedom.