Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The Glass Menagerie has a unique structure. It is a memory play, presented in the form of a set of episodes told by a character in the play who serves as the omniscient narrator. This technique of using flashbacks to develop the loose plot is very interesting and skillfully constructed by Tennessee Williams. Tom, as the master puppeteer, successfully focuses attention on his mother and sister. Though he calls himself 'El Diablo', Tom is the opposite of Malvolio, the magician, who presents illusion as reality. Tom, on the other hand, presents reality under the guise of illusion.
In spite of the play being told as a memory, its simple plot follows the traditional curve of dramatic action. The first scene is largely expository or introductory. Tom Wingfield, serving as the narrator, provides Background Information that is necessary for understanding the basic plot and the main characters.
For example, Tom reveals in his prologue that Amanda's husband (and his father) had run away from home sixteen years ago. This desertion has done much to shape the lives and personalities of Amanda, Laura, and Tom. The next five scenes include the rising action, where Amanda tries to manage the lives of her children and find a husband for Laura. Tom dutifully obeys his mother and arranges to bring Jim O'Connor over for dinner, even through he warns Amanda not to expect too much from his friend. Amanda, however, sees Jim as Laura's savior and makes elaborate preparations for his visit, which turns into a fiasco.
The climax is reached in the last scene of the play, when Amanda learns the truth about Jim, that he is to be married to someone else. As a result, her illusions are crushed, and she must face reality.
The falling action is very brief. Amanda turns Tom into the scapegoat, thus insuring that he will desert the family. The conclusion comes when Tom, again as the narrator, tells that he has abandoned Laura and Amanda to become a sailor, but he is riddled with guilt about his desertion. The audience can only imagine the miserable existence that mother and daughter share back in St. Louis.