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Free Study Guide-The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams-Book Notes
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SHORT PLOT/SCENE SUMMARY (Synopsis)

The play begins with Tom Wingfield introducing the text as a play told from his memory and presenting its participants; he becomes both the narrator of the drama and a main character in the action. Tom is the sole breadwinner of the Wingfield family; his father, who worked for the Telephone Company, deserted the family sixteen years earlier. His wife, Amanda, was left to raise little Laura and Tom on her own. Except for a single postcard from Mexico, the father never communicated with his children.

After giving this background, Tom joins his mother and sister at dinner, where Amanda's pushy, domineering nature becomes apparent. She criticizes Laura and quarrels with Tom. Later, Amanda grows angry that her daughter, who is slightly crippled, has been deceiving her. Instead of attending Rubicam's Business College, Laura has been taking walks in the park and visiting museums, wasting precious money. Laura has been fearful of telling her mother that school gives her nervous indigestion. Amanda, believing that Laura needs to get married, decides to invite some young gentlemen over to be with Laura. When Amanda asks her if there is anyone she feels a particular interest in, Laura reveals that she used to have a crush on Jim O'Connor, the high school hero; but she does not know what has happened to him.


Amanda does not get along well with her son either. She criticizes him for smoking too much and for watching too many movies; she also confiscates his books. There is a big fight between them. When Tom apologizes to her, Amanda seizes the moment alone with Tom and asks him to bring home some male friends to meet Laura.

Tom promises to try his best. A few days later, Tom tells Amanda that a colleague of his, Jim O'Connor, is coming over the next evening for dinner. Amanda is delighted; she makes frenzied, elaborate preparations, almost exceeding her savings. She also pays personal attention to Laura's clothing and goes out of the way to make Laura appear attractive.

When Laura learns that the guest is Jim O'Connor, she tells her mother that if he is the same Jim, her high-school hero, she will not be able to face him. She is so nervous about the young man's arrival that she literally makes herself physically sick; she begs to be excused before Jim arrives. Amanda, however, will stand no refusals and forces Laura to answer the door when the guest arrives. Laura's sickness becomes so intense that she is unable to join the others for dinner. During the meal, Jim reveals he is charming, in an innocent sort of way.

Amanda devises a plan to put Jim and Laura together. She asks Tom to help her wash the dishes and sends Jim to the living room to be with Laura. Amazingly, Laura gets over her bout with her nerves and loses some of her shyness. Under Jim's friendly and optimistic influence, Laura is pleasant and charming. Jim is sufficiently attracted to Laura to giver her a kiss. Laura is overjoyed at the attention; it is her dream come true. At the very next moment, however, her hopes are shattered; Jim reveals that he is engaged to be married. He apologizes for being forward with Laura and leading her on. When Amanda joins them, Jim is honest with her, too. Amanda rashly blames Tom for trying to play a cruel joke on them by bringing over an engaged man. He defends himself, saying that he had no idea that Jim was engaged.

At the end of the play, Tom becomes the narrator again. He is a man torn with guilt. He has left home to become a sailor and pursue his dreams of adventure. He knows, however, that he too has deserted his mother and sister to selfishly pursue his own dreams, just like his father had done. After several years, Tom has still been unable to forgive himself for the injustice done to his family.

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Free Study Guide-The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams-Book Notes
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